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Cuentos de Nuestros Padres
Stories of Our Fathers
Our Mexican American Community

En Espanol

Hispanic Tucson
by Gus Chavez, History Department, Desert Vista Campus, Pima Community College

Pima Rancheria and Mission: Prior to the arrival of missionaries, the area that is now Tucson was home to Piman Indians. Archeologists have found evidence which indicates that Indians had been living on the Tucson site dating back to 700 to 900 A.D. When Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino passed through the Tucson area in the 1690's he found the Pima rancherias scattered along the Santa Cruz River surrounded by cultivated fields of squash, beans, maize, melons, cotton and tobacco. Kino named the Indian village located at the base of what is now "A" mountain and west of the Santa Cruz River "San Cosme de Tucsón". In the early 1770s the church of San Agustín del Tucsón was completed and Tucson continued to be a visita to San Xavier del Bac.

Presidio of San Augustin of Tucson: From 1775 to 1821 Tucson was under Spanish rule and was part of the region known as Pimería Alta which included the area that is now known as southern Arizona and northern Sonora. On August 20th, 1775 Lieutenant Colonel Hugo O' Conner of the Royal Spanish army selected and surveyed the site for the building of the Presidio of San Agustín del Tucsón and laid the foundation for the beginning of the modern day City of Tucson. The Presidio site located on the east side of the Santa Cruz River was selected because it had access to water, pastures, and woodlands; all the resources necessary for the settlers to survive in the rugged desert. In addition the site was an excellent location to protect the surrounding settlements and the overland route from Mexico to California which led to the founding of San Francisco by Juan Bautista de Anza. In 1776 the Presidio soldiers along with their families moved from the Presidio of Tubac founded in 1752 to the new Tucson Presidio site. These first soldiers were a true representation of the ethnic diversity that existed on the Sonoran frontier. Spaniards, Mestizos, Coyotes, Mulatto and Moriscos were all represented in the 27 soldiers of the Presidio of Tucson. While there was friction between the Indian inhabitants and the Hispanic settlers, a spirit of cooperation developed for the mutual protection from Apache raids and for economic survival. Both Pima Indians and Hispanic settlers worked side by side in cultivating and irrigating the fields and protecting the settlements from Western Apache raids. The Soldiers known as soldados de cuero wore protective leather jackets when fighting Apaches. When the soldiers were not fighting they served as mail couriers, escorts for missionaries, settlers and supply trains. By 1804 the population of Tucson and the surrounding area was over 1,000 and was composed of Mestizos, Indians and Spaniards. These settlers grew corn, wheat, beans and vegetables and were successful in stockraising claiming more than 7300 head of cattle, sheep and horses. By the end of the Spanish period Tucson was prospering as more Mestizos settlers and retired soldiers moved near and around the Presidio displacing the Pima Indians.

Presidio del Tucson Under Mexico: In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain. The Mexican flag now flew over the Tucson Presidio. The change of power meant little to the soldiers and settlers of the Presidio since the capital of Mexico was hundreds of miles away and provided little protection from Apache raids. In 1825 Tucson elected its first mayor under the new government. The settlers were now cuidadanos or citizens of Mexico and part of the State of Occidente which included Sonora and Sinaloa. In 1831 the census reported 465 people living in Tucson. Renewed Apache attacks, a divided Sonoran government and the exodus of Sonoran settlers for the gold fields of California in 1848 left the pueblo of Tucson as the only populated settlement in the Southern Arizona Region.

Tucson and the Arizona Territory: From 1821 to 1848 all of Arizona was part of Mexico. However, almost half of the entire northern portion of Mexico had been annexed at the outcome of the war with Mexico between 1846 and 1848. The territory taken over in that war became the southwestern United States which included Arizona north of the Gila. In 1854, the United States acquired the northern portion of Sonora under the Gadsden Purchase. The land south of the Gila River which included Tucson was now part of the United States. The Mexican pioneer settlers of Tucson were now officially American citizens and part of the New Mexico Territory. In 1864 when Arizona became a separate territory, Tucson, the most populated and important trading Center in Arizona, was denied the territorial capital because of the large Mexican-American population with influential and wealthy Mexican-American businessmen. Anglo-Americans were fearful that the Mexican-American would dominate local and territorial politics. The first Anglo-Americans who came to settle in Tucson married Mexican women. These first Americans and the Mexican-American community lived in harmony during the 1860's and 1870's. The population was still primarily Mexican and Mexican-American and the businessmen dominated the trade from Mexico that supplied goods and supplies to the settlers, miners, ranchers and the military. But the cordial relationship between the Mexican-American and Anglo-American community began to change in the 1880's. A major economic, social, demographic and political shift occurred in Tucson with the arrival of the railroad in March of 1880. The railroad brought wealthy entrepreneurs who invested and soon dominated the trade in mining, ranching, retailing and agriculture. The railroad brought goods and supplies from American suppliers. The Mexican businessmen could not compete against wealthy entrepreneurs and corporations and soon lost out. The railroad also brought more Anglo-American women which resulted in the decline of intermarriages between Anglo-American men and Mexican women. By 1881, a year after the arrival of the railroad, the dominant Mexican-American population rapidly declined as more and more Anglo-Americans arrived. Influential Mexican families soon were excluded from Anglo-American social events. Business and residential expansion soon reflected segregated communities with the Mexican population moving south of the downtown area. Adobe was replaced by brick and lumber as the preferred building material. In the political arena there was a definite absence of Hispanic representation in city, county and territorial positions in comparison to the total Mexican population of Tucson. To counter the loss of political and economic power and rising prejudice among the Anglo-American population the Mexican-American community organized the Alianza Hispano-Americana, Club Mexicano Republicano and Club Democrático Mexicano and were successful at electing influential individuals to public office. Despite the barriers encountered by the Tucson Mexican-American community, it successfully organized mutual aid societies, its own theaters, fiestas and religious activities. Certain individuals, both men and women, attained recognition as pioneers and settlers for their contributions to the social, cultural, economic and political development to the old pueblo.