It might seem immigration laws, rampant foreclosures and a congresswoman’s shooting define Arizona as a state.

But are today’s events all there is to Arizona?

Consider where we’ve been.

Arizona welcomed minorities in schools before Brown v. Board of Education desegregated the nation’s classrooms.

New suburban neighborhoods drew new residents from across the nation.

And decades of bipartisan politics secured some of the world’s most impressive water projects to sustain Arizona’s future.

As Arizona enters its 100th year leading up to the 2012 centennial, the state's rich and complex history warrants a review.

Monday marks the state's 99th birthday and year-long efforts are underway across Arizona to commemorate the centennial. Communities are assembling their histories and translating how the past influences our lives today.

The Tribune looks at selected events in the state’s history, with an emphasis on what’s happened since statehood and how it’s affecting today’s events.

Official state historian Marshall Trimble provides some insight. He was born in Mesa and spent his formative years in the East Valley.

Trimble said Arizonans of a century ago wouldn’t recognize how freeways, urban development and chain stores have hidden so much history. But he’s thrilled at how much hasn’t changed in eons.

“What I love about this state is only 17 percent of it is private land,” Trimble said. “There are many places where you can go in an hour and be in the middle of nowhere. Very few states, if any, offer that sanctuary for people who want to get out of the craziness of the city and out into wide-open spaces.”


Arizona’s 200,000 residents welcomed statehood in 1912, though the area was among the least-populated new states. Ranchers and miners joined Indians who’d lost their lands and Mexicans who found themselves in a place of shifting borders. Today, 28 percent of Arizonans are of Spanish and Mexican descent.

Mormon settlers were sent from Utah in 1854 and in 1877 established what is now Mesa. The young religion banned polygamist practices in the late 1800s but state police raided a fundamentalist sect in Colorado City in 1863. The stories of broken families created a backlash and recent crackdowns still make headlines.

Native Americans tried to move beyond decades of economic deprivation in the 1990s with controversial gaming revenues. A federal battle is now brewing over whether the Tohono O’odham can create new reservation land in Glendale to build the first Arizona casino in a city.

Many of the state’s 6.5 million residents know Arizona’s history through movies, having grown up in other states.

Trimble laments too many Arizonans don’t know the history beyond movies about the old West. He advocates the centennial as a reason to promote history and calls for signs at notable places.

“Have it out there for people to read and appreciate their history and they’ll respect your place or they’ll say this place has a story and has a history,” he said. “Otherwise, they’ll think nothing ever happened here.”


The early years of statehood set the stage for our sometimes rocky politics, with two men trying to act as governor after a disputed election. Incumbent Democrat George W.P. Hunt narrowly lost the 1916 race to Republican Tom Campbell but Hunt refused to leave his Capitol office. Both took the oath of office the next year and performed what duties they could.

A recount and court battles brewed until Campbell left his “office” at home 11 months later. The two continued to battle, each winning and losing the governorship to each other for many elections.

But Arizona was politically progressive in ways that still shape our lives. The state’s constitution gave people the power to pass laws through referendums and initiatives. Arizona’s fathers wanted judicial recall as well, but President Howard Taft refused to grant statehood with that power. The provision was dropped, but independent-minded Arizonans restored it after statehood.

Arizona voters approved women’s suffrage in 1912, eight years before the 19th Amendment enfranchised the nation’s women. Voters elected women to the Legislature in 1914, making them among the first to become lawmakers in the nation.

U.S. Rep. Carl Hayden became the state’s first congressman and spent decades securing funds for water projects that made it possible to sustain agriculture and new cities. The bipartisan cooperation between congressmen, governors and state lawmakers lasted for decades as Arizona secured water rights, though such collaboration is unlikely today.

Democrats enjoyed a stranglehold on the state until waves of Midwesterners settled after World War II and Republicans won major victories in the 1960s. That decade ushered Barry Goldwater into national prominence with his 1964 presidential bid and his new brand of conservatism to the Republican party.

One of the state’s lowest times began with Evan Mecham’s election to governor in 1986. He repealed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in his first official act, saying it was created illegally and that King didn’t deserve a holiday. Mecham came to office vowing to smash powerful interests and corruption. But he became more known for putting his foot in his mouth while offending women, gays, Jews, Japanese-Americans and other minorities. A boycott resulted that cost Arizona tourism, conventions and what was to be its first Super Bowl. Mecham faced a recall election along with impeachment and an indictment over campaign funds. Mecham was removed from office after 15 months but was later cleared of charges.

Another blow came in 1991 with lawmakers and lobbyists convicted for taking bribes in the AzScam debacle, taking what they thought was mob money to pave the way for organized gambling.

Then Gov. Fife Symington was convicted of bank fraud in 1997, forcing him out of office. President Bill Clinton later pardoned him, but a decade of turmoil hurt Arizona’s image.

National coverage of the scandals battered Arizona’s reputation. Trimble considers the Mecham and AzScam period a low in Arizona history. He compares the boycotts and image then to today’s controversy over SB 1070.

“You can’t blame the Arizonans saying stop the outside interests from coming in and telling us how to run the state,” he said. “They’re going to say, ‘Clean up the problems in your own state.’”


Prehistoric inhabitants and pioneers struggled with drought and massive floods that made life difficult and sometimes deadly. The Salt River was tamed with Roosevelt Dam providing reliable water and electricity one year before statehood. Hoover Dam on the Colorado River followed in the 1930s. The Central Arizona Project diverted more Colorado water to Phoenix and Tucson, with approval in the 60s and completion in the 90s. The $4 billion effort was the largest, costliest water project in U.S. history.

The CAP brings gives Phoenix and Tucson more reliable water supplies but also includes water to tribes who’d been deprived of water for decades.


Early Arizona celebrated the famed five Cs that made the state an economic powerhouse: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton. These elements remained strong through World War II, when manufacturing and military started a turning point. A huge shift began in 1948 with a Motorola plant in Phoenix that began a high-tech industry. A young, educated workforce flocked to Arizona and reshaped the state with new business and political leaders. Motorola paved the way for the state to produce the Apache helicopter, computer chips, biotech research and solar energy.

The Baby Boomers rushed to new master-planned communities like John F. Long’s Maryvale in Phoenix and Del Webb’s Sun City. They were models for neighborhoods across the nation and in the East Valley, while also raising alarms about sprawl and congestion. Runaway growth resulted in the Valley having the most underdeveloped freeway system in the nation by the mid-1980s after decades of fights over the need and location of highways. A 1960 freeway plan developed by transportation firm Wilbur Smith & Associates resembles today’s freeway system but voters didn’t approve funding until the mid-1980s. Only I-17 and parts of I-10 and U.S. 60 existed until then, with the loop system built in the last two decades. Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert’s explosive growth depended heavily on the new roads.


Arizona was a pioneer in letting women vote. It also let blacks in public schools before the nation did. Schools and universities welcomed blacks, including those who returned from WWII. What is now Arizona State University refused to play Texas teams when ASU wanted to put black players on the football field, Trimble said. Arizona students revolted at the Texas position long before the civil rights movement, he said.

“We set an example and word went out all over the country to black athletes,” he said.

The influx of African-Americans helped Frank Kush lead Arizona State University football to its enviable successes in the 1960s and '70s, Trimble said.

The atmosphere helped usher in a sports and economic powerhouse — spring training. Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck moved from Florida in 1946 because he signed Larry Doby as the American League’s first black player and Veeck feared Floridians wouldn’t welcome Doby. The New York Giants owner moved, too. Spring training became a major tourism draw and a controversial expense to construct new ballparks. Mesa voters approved a $99 million deal for a new Chicago Cubs complex in 2010, with completion anticipated in 2013.

Professional sports came to Arizona in 1969 with the Phoenix Suns, followed by the Cardinals in 1987. The Suns’ Jerry Colangelo later helped establish the Arizona Diamondbacks and bring the Phoenix Coyotes, making the Valley one of the few places in the U.S. with all four major sports leagues.


Gov. Jan Brewer is trying to jump-start the state’s economy with a new Commerce Authority that will attract high-tech industries and entrepreneurs. She also ordered a new branding campaign for Arizona to restore its battered image.

Trimble is worried political compromises that were key in Arizona’s pivotal moments have become less likely in recent decades because of increasing acrimony.

“I just hope we get better behavior from people,” he said. “It seems to be getting worse but I hate to be a pessimist so I’m going to be an optimist because that’s more my personality. Things will change.”

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