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Tucson's Foundation, Westside's Heart

Gabriel Figueroa and Ricky Martinez

You can see "A" mountain from practically anywhere on the Westside. People love to go up there to look down at the city. What some residents don't know is that people have lived at the foot of "A" mountain for at least a few thousand years. In fact, the foot of "A" mountain was the "birthplace" of Tucson.

The first residents of Tucson

Why did Native Americans, thousands of years ago, settle at the foot of "A" mountain? Because it was one of the few areas along the Santa Cruz where water was pretty reliable. According to Gayle Harrison Hartmann, a Tucson archaeologist, "the bedrock under the ground forced water to the surface." Good water meant rich soil and good farming.

By 300-500 A.D. Hohokam farmers were settling around "A" mountain. "Hohokam" is a Pima Indian word meaning "those who have vanished." When Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino-a Jesuit missionary from Spain-visited the area in 1692, he found the land occupied by the O'Odham, Piman-speaking peoples. The O'Odham lived at the foot of Sentinel Peak in a village called "Stjukshon." The word roughly translates to "spring at the foot of a black mountain."

Cultural resources


"A" Mountain and its surrounding area are full of cultural resources. As Diana Hadley, an environmental historian who lives at the foot of "A" Mountain, explains, "Cultural resources are any physical remains of a previous culture that [show how] ... people lived." "A" Mountain cultural resources include Hohokam pictographs, ruins, and pithouse remains. If you walk around "A" mountain you might also see mortices-mortices are the bowls that the Indians used to grind things like chiles and mesquite beans. Other resources include the remains of Warner's Mill and the site where the convento was (roughly the northeast corner of Brickyard Lane and Mission Lane), one of the buildings of the San Augustin del Tucson mission community, established by Padre Kino.

19th century picture of the Santa Cruz River [33K]

19th century picture of the Santa Cruz river springs which attracted many of Tucson's first inhabitants to the base of "A" Mountain.

Why the "A"?

On November 6, 1914, the University of Arizona Wildcats prevailed over Pomona College in a spectacular 7-6 football victory. This spurred Albert Condron, a member of the football team, to suggest to one of his teachers that a class assignment should be to survey Sentinel Peak for the location of an "A." A second 7-3 victory over Pomona College on Oct. 23, 1915 spurred Condron, now student body president, to accomplish the project. On November 13, 1915 , students began to clean the area and dig trenches in the shape of an "A" [20K]. The cost of it all together was $397, paid for with donations from the student body. After the "A" was put up and white-washed, many people began to call it "A" Mountain instead of Sentinel Peak (though you still see "Sentinel Peak" on maps). The "A" is 70 feet wide and 106 feet long.

Panoramic view to the north from [30K]

Panoramic view to the north from "A" Mountain, overlooking the Westside.

Crater or Quarry?

The quarry at 'A' Mountain [24K]

The quarry at "A" Mountain provided rocks for Tucson's foundations over the course of many years.

People in the neighborhood don't really know the truth about the quarry. There is a myth that it was hit by a meteor. But that's all that is: a myth. The truth is, it was a quarry, not a crater. Gilbert Jimenez (b. 1926, Barrio Anita) used to go to the quarry with his father, a general contractor. He remembers that the name of the quarry in the thirties was "Griffith Construction." Jimenez reports that Griffith had "a crusher...he would dynamite the rock and...put it in the crusher for different sizes. From half-inch to two-inch rock. Some of the fences you see at the University [are made of] quarry rock. Inside the quarry there is a door that they made for the dynamite...that is where they put the dynamite. The door is no longer there...[a] hole is [but] not the door." The "A" Mountain quarry rock is basalt, a dark grey or black volcanic rock. You can see houses and fences built with this rock on the Westside and throughout the West University District.

"A" Mountain was almost quarried to the ground. In the late 1920s, James R. Dodson and Christine Dodson claimed "A" mountain via the Homestead Act. They wanted to quarry all of "A" mountain. Tucson residents fought them in court. The Dodsons argued that "A" Mountain rock was more valuable than the rock of surrounding mountains. When residents argued that they wanted to keep the mountain because of the "A" and because it was a beloved residential park, the Dodsons countered that there were other mountains to climb. Ultimately, the residents won and "A" Mountain was saved.

(Sources: Gayle Harrison Hartmann, archaeologist, 7/8/97; Carolyn Grossman and Suzanne Myal, Discovering Tucson: A Guide to the Old Pueblo and Beyond, Fiesta Publishing: 1996; Diana Hadley, environmental historian, 7/2/97; Gilbert Jimenez 7/7/97; Halka Chronic, Roadside Geology of Arizona, Mountain Press Publishing Company: 1983; Julieta Gonzalez, National News Coordinator News Services, University of Arizona, 6/25/97; Arizona Daily Star, 10/16/29; Arizona Daily Star; Tucson Citizen, 10/31/86; Arizona Daily Star, 3/12/89)

Favorite memories

Stories my nana told me... El Tejano: "My Dad used to tell me that years ago there was this man...they used to call El Tejano....He was a stage coach robber and my dad said that one day he robbed a stage coach and he took the gold coins-because they carried gold at the time. So they followed him to try to catch him and he went up the side of "A" mountain on his horse and he stashed the gold coins somewhere [on the mountain] and he got away. My dad used to go up and look for the gold." (Gilbert Jimenez, 7/7/97)

"["A" Mountain] used to be covered with orange flowers...We just used to go pick the flowers, you know, we used to go up from Riverside up [there]. It was a fun day for us because it was like a hiking day, you know. We used to take our lunch up there."
(1930s memory: Lydia Carranza Waer, 6/30/97)

"I said to my Dad, Let me have the keys to the car. I never took any instructions fordriving but I used to watch my Dad drive. He gave me the keys, and I have a younger sister, Terry; I said, Terry let's go for a ride. By golly, I got in the car and I was able to drive it and that is the way I learned how to drive, stickshift. I know this isn't the thing I should have done but we drove up 'A' mountain.... We got back safely and when we got back my Dad asked me, Where did you go? I didn't know you could drive. [I told him]...you taught me, you just didn't know."
(1940s memory: Gilbert Jimenez, 7/7/97)

"We used to pack bologna sandwiches and go up to the mountain and have a picnic with soda and stuff."
(1950s memory: Jorge Lespron, 6/25/97)

Post-WW II sightseers enjoy a view shared by many since Tucson's earliest years. [24K]

"Sometimes my mom would be really cool on the weekends and instead of going and picking us up at my tia's house on a Friday she would let us stay there Friday night and sometimes if we got really lucky, if there was no school on Monday for some reason... we got to stay Sunday night...with my tia and so what happened was my cousin Martin and everybody in the neighborhood [would] go up to "A" mountain and just hang out with people up there."
(1970s memory: Josť J. Ibarra, 7/1/97)

"[There's an] Easter pilgrimage that Bishop Manuel Moreno [leads] up there. Three years ago was the first time I went....
(1990s memory: Bertha Sanchez, 6/24/97)