Friday, October 30, 2009

Will the Arizona Centennial Be the Last?

At this point, 2012 seems an inauspicious year for celebration. First, Arizona is suffering the worst economic depression since the 1930s. Where will the money come from for a huge birthday bash? The Associate Press reported in May that fundraising for the centennial celebration was at a standstill and there would be almost no funds for celebration in next year’s state budget. Will there be more money in 2011, or 2012? After electronics and housing have gone bust, what will be the next big thing bringing prosperity to the state?

And then, haven’t you heard? The world will end on December 21, 2012 according to the Mayan Long Count Calendar. Of course, others say its just a publicity stunt to make millions for Hollywood, that the Mayans who still live by the old calendar will simply start counting the days over again in 2013, sort of like the Europeans did in the year one. After all, we did survive Y2K. But just remember, we have been warned.
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The Adams Hotel, largest and finest in the valley at the time, burned to the ground in 1910. Located at Central and Adams Street in Phoenix, it was built of brick with spacious wooden sleeping porches all around. It wasn’t an apocalypse, however, all the hotel staff and guests managed to escape with their lives. Rebuilt in poured concrete, the second Adams Hotel survived until demolished in 1973. Now the Crown Plaza occupies the site. The fire hose in the picture is trained on the Gooding Building across the street to protect it from exposure to the heat.


While mourning the dead, after clearing away the wreckage, life went on following some horrendous disasters in Arizona’s past. Hundreds of Navajo residents of Arizona died during the Long Walk to New Mexico and back in 1864-1868. For about a hundred innocent Aravaipa Apaches, mostly women and children, the world ended April 28, 1871 in the Camp Grant Massacre. Those disasters were not accidental.


Probably the first mass casualty disaster in Arizona history took place when the flood-swollen Hassayampa River overtopped Walnut Grove dam at 1:30 a.m., February 22, 1890, causing the 110 foot high rockfill structure to crumble. A lake of 50,000 acre-feet, one of the largest volumes of water ever released by a dam failure in the US, rushed downstream 31 miles to Wickenburg. The resulting apocalypse swept away to their deaths between 70 and 100 residents living along those miles.

See: Wayne Graham, “Dam Failure Inundation Maps-Are They Accurate?” US Bureau of Reclamation

Coffins are stacked nearby as volunteers search for bodies in the burned wreckage of two Southern Pacific passenger trains that collided on the single track southeast of Tucson in 1903. A temporary passing track (in the foreground) to bring help trains had been constructed the same afternoon.(photo from Leslie’s Weekly February 26, 1903)


Several train wrecks in Arizona over the years have been accompanied by loss of life. On the night of January 28, 1903 two passenger trains collided head-on near Esmond siding 14 miles east of Tucson. Much of the wreckage caught fire and burned, killing more than 20 passengers and crew.

See: William D. Kalt, III, “I’ll Meet You In the Corfield,” pp. 357-374, The Journal of Arizona History, Winter 2004.

When two airliners collided over the Grand Canyon in 1956, they didn’t meet head-on as our graphic implies. They were both flying west-to-east and came together at an oblique angle in each other’s blind spots.


Probably the greatest loss of life in a single accident in Arizona occurred June 30, 1956 when two of the largest and fastest prop liners collided over the Grand Canyon. The TWA Super Constellation and United Air Lines DC-7 both left LAX that morning within three minutes of each other, headed respectively to Kansas City and Chicago. Their planned routes crossed with 2,000 feet of vertical separation over the Painted Desert. Instead, the TWA pilot requested approval to fly over thunderclouds, putting the Constellation at the same altitude as the United plane. Initially denied permission by air traffic controllers, the TWA flight was then allowed to fly above the thunderstorm keeping watch for the other plane.

The United pilot didn’t see the Constellation coming up from below and the TWA pilot could not see the DC-7 approaching from above and behind. All 128 people on both planes died horrible deaths, but not before suffering many long seconds of knowing what was happening to them. The left wingtip of the DC-7 tore off the Constellation’s tail while the propeller blades sliced open the rear fuselage, sending the wreckage four miles straight down into the canyon as blankets and magazines fluttered in the clouds. Damage to the DC-7 denied it enough lift to survive and it quickly lost altitude, smashing straight into a rocky butte just after the pilot radioed a final message. description of crash and body recovery operation. description of the crash and photos of recent visit to crash site.


The worst hotel fire in Arizona history was equally horrifying. Shortly after midnight, December 20, 1970, fire broke out in the Pioneer Hotel on Stone Avenue in downtown Tucson. Flames and thick smoke spread rapidly through the top eight floors of the 11-storey building built in 1929, trapping many guests in their rooms. The building survived, twenty-eight guests did not.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Scenes in old Ajo, Arizona
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The Tucson, Cornelia & Gila Bend Railroad ran 42 miles of single track from the Southern Pacific at Gila Bend to an attractive mission style depot at one end of the plaza in Ajo.

New Cornelia was always a surface mining operation and the unused open pit is still there of course, occupying almost as many acres as the town site. At first, steam engines pulled gondolas, later, electric locomotives were used.

The centerpiece of the planned community is a palm fringed plaza completed in 1917. At the northeast end was a flagpole opposite the railroad depot, and at the other end a bandstand. Two business blocks were on either side, housing the company store, post office, Oasis theater and shops. This is the block on the northwest side around 1938.

Hispanic, African-American, Asian and Native American families had to live in segregated neighborhoods until recently in most Arizona communities. Most classrooms were integrated until about 1910, then separate classes, teachers and even schools were assigned to students of color until the Supreme Court decision of 1954.

Hotel Cornelia, built in 1916, is located at 300 La Mina Avenue in Ajo. The building was more recently occupied by Cameron Realty and Jon Jon's Day Spa.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A is for Ajo, Alpine and Apache Junction. Arivaca, Ash Fork and Avondale.
Don’t forget Adamana, Ahwatukee and Anthem!
B is for Benson, Bisbee and Bullhead City. Also Bagdad, Buckeye, Bowie and Bylas.
C is for Calabasas, Casa Grande and Chandler. Not to be left out, Cameron, Camp Verde, Carefree, Cave Creek, Chinle, Chloride, Clarkdale, Clifton, Cochise, Colorado City, Concho, Coolidge, Cottonwood and Courtland.
Now we know our Arizona ABCs. We can’t name them all, but we’ve made a start. We’ll go through the alphabet to give short histories of each community. When we reach “Z” we will start over with communities passed over. We begin with Ajo.

"Ajo is where summer spends the winter"

Pronounced AH-hoe, like the Spanish word for garlic, the name of the mining town 42 miles south of Gila Bend may have come from the Papago word for paint, because the tribe collected a copper pigment there [Arizona Handbook(1986)]. Spanish prospectors found rich silver-copper ore there and Americans followed in 1854 after the Gadsden Purchase annexed the site to the USA. Ajo was probably the first copper mine in Arizona [Rock to Riches(1966)].

Early attempts at large-scale production had to wait for better technology and John C. Greenway, manager of Calumet & Arizona at Bisbee and a former Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt. He acquired New Cornelia mine stock and set about building a large operation in the remote desert. A railroad was built from Gila Bend in 1915 and a model company town laid out around a classic Hispanic Plaza with buildings in the southwestern mission style, all the rage at the time.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was created in 1937 to preserve a region of the Sonoran Desert south of Ajo. The organ pipe cactus is a saguaro that branches at the ground rather than higher up on a central trunk.

Phelps Dodge acquired the New Cornelia mine in 1931 but had to close it the next year due to falling copper prices during the depression. Reopened in 1934, the huge open pit became the leading copper producer in the state until bested by the Morenci mine in 1943. At first copper concentrates were transported by rail all the way to the C&A smelter at Douglas, but a smelter at Ajo was completed in 1950. Eventually the business cycle again played havoc with prosperity and the mine closed for good in 1985.

Former Phelps Dodge workers now anchor a retirement community and Department of Homeland Security keeps a sizable presence of border patrol agents and customs officers at Ajo. The historic Curley School (1919) was restored in 2007 to become Curley School Artisan Housing. While the last tall smoke stack at the old Phelps Dodge smelter was demolished the same year, some mining continued, with a contractor salvaging precious metals from the old slag pile.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Arizonac or Arizona?

The American historian Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918) created a publishing company in San Francisco in 1852 that grew into a veritable history factory with a large staff researching and turning out popular histories of western states, including History of Arizona and New Mexico, 1530-1888. One of Bancroft’s maps (above) locates “Arizonac” while another (below) names the place “Arizona.” Spanish officials writing in the 18th Century never used the “Arizonac” spelling, according to Donald T. Garate (see “Arizona Is a Basque Word” posted 10-16-09), even though Arizonac is the plural form of Arizona in the Basque language. The rancho near the 1736 silver discovery was apparently for the first time erroneously named Arizonac on a map drawn in Mexico City.

This postcard from around 1905 shows the lush broadleaf trees and shrubs that grow on the hills and in valleys along small streams around Nogales and extending into Mexico. For modern pictures of the hills surrounding the Arizona ranch in Sonora, see the resource material at Tumacacori National Historic Park website, or the website for Rancho Esmeralda guest ranch.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Arizona Is a Basque Word

“Arizona” is an expression in the Basque language meaning “the good oak tree.” It is used to designate a place where good oak trees grow. Ethnic Basques, whose homeland is the region around the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, were among the Spanish settlers in the land of the upper Pimas, or Pimeria Alta in the 17th and 18th centuries. Pimeria Alta would centuries later be within the states of Sonora, Mexico and Arizona, USA.

The region called Arizona became widely known long before it became part of the USA because in 1736 hundreds of pounds of pure silver were discovered laying on top of the ground in the form of balls and flat sheets near “la rancheria del Arizona,” to quote contemporary documents. The Planchas de Plata discovery became a sensation known around the world, and it must have seemed fitting 120 or so years later to name the new US territory Arizona, considering it was still a place of gold and silver mines. But those miners who lobbied for the new territory believed the word to be from the Pima language and they thought the ranch actually established by a Spanish citizen of Basque heritage had been instead a Pima or Papago village, one of the Indian rancherias established by mission padres.

As a result, for the next hundred years, every history book said “Arizona” was likely derived from the name of an indigenous village “Aleh-zone” or “Arison” or “Arizonac,” meaning the place of the little or young spring. It was a believable explanation for Americans who didn’t have access to the original Spanish documents or the Basque language. Documents that never spelled the place “Arizonac,” but instead “Arisona,” or “Arissona,” or more commonly “Arizona.”

Then, more than 20 years ago, Dr. William A. Douglass, Director of the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada at Reno suggested that “Arizona” was likely a Basque word applied to a rancho in the oak covered hills of Sonora about 15 miles southwest of the silver discovery and 40 miles southwest of Tumacacori mission. After all, there are or have been other small communities named Arizona, in the US and Latin America as far away as Argentina, and named before there ever was an Arizona Territory. And most of these Arizonas have a Basque connection. And though the Basque term would now be spelled “haritzonak” according to recent orthography, 300 years ago “arizona” would have been the spelling. Donald T. Garate, historian at Tumacacori National Historic Park has researched and verified the theory of Basque origin and written two convincing papers crediting the obscure language used by some of Europe’s oldest inhabitants for the naming of Arizona.

Are all the history books of the past hundred years wrong? It sure seems so if you read the 18th Century Spanish documents quoted by Garate. State Historian Marshall Trimble has been convinced. Will the idea of a Basque origin of “Arizona” spread in today’s Information Age?

[see “Arizona. A land of good oak trees.”(27 pages, 2006), and “Arizona (Never Arizonac)” (33 pages, 2006) by Donald T. Garate; Arizona “The Good Oak Tree” (2 page pamplet, 2007) by A. Badertscher. All are available at the Tumacacori NHP website]
“Arizona. A land of good oak trees.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy 100th Birthday Arizona ! (almost) 1912-2012
Recalling the past hundred years and before—the renown episodes, the forgotten history and the secrets.

Arizona 1912 – 2012
The Sonoran Desert State – The Grand Canyon State – The Mountain Forest State