In Part I I broached that long before Phoenix existed there was an ancient canal network that distributed water away from the Salt and Gila Rivers of Southern Arizona to irrigate large portions of desert that supported perhaps 400,000 people once upon a time. The ancient Hohokam people built those canals. But then, poof, they leave the stage by 1300 AD. No one knows what happened to them.
However, another people entered the stage in 1540. Nothing was ever to be the same again.
They were white-skinned men from Europe’s Iberian peninsula who sailed unknown waters west to plant their flag on lands they never knew existed. They did this not for fun. They did this for God, Gold and Glory. They were the Spanish Conquistadors. It did not take them long to reach Arizona.
They first landed on Caribbean islands in 1492. By 1513 they were crossing the Isthmus of Panama. A Spaniard named Balboa was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean then.
By 1519 Hernan Cortez was marching Spaniards into the heart of the New World’s most powerful empire in the Valley of Mexico. That was the Aztec Empire. On August 13th 1521 the Aztecs fell. Their capital Tenochtitlan was destroyed. From the ashes of this city rose another one we now call Mexico City.
The gold plundered from the Aztecs was prodigious. This whetted Spaniards appetites. It made their ears itch for stories of more lands brimming with gold awaiting their conquest.
A new story came in 1536. A Spaniard shipwrecked in Florida had walked from that swampy peninsula back to Old Mexico, and brought tales of fabulous wealth in lands now called Arizona and New Mexico. Thus, an expedition was formed. Francisco Coronado was to lead it. He first entered Arizona in fall of 1540.
Though Coronado’s expedition encountered Indians we now call Pueblos, Apaches, Navajos, Comanches, Wichitas and even Pawnees; though they ventured thousands of miles past beautiful mountains and through endless seas of grass; though they even saw a Grand Canyon; their cities of gold were mere mud huts now in Kansas. Coronado returned to Old Mexico a failure – though the exploration was epic!
But gold and conquest did not leave the hearts of Spaniards. In the 1600’s they planted colonies in New Mexico. In the early 1700’s they planted presidios in Texas.. In the late 1700’s they planted presidios along the California Coast. They even put people in the scorching deserts of Southern Arizona at a placed called Tucson.
But all these outposts were at the far outer rim of their New World empire. Settlement here was minimal. Military assistance was minimal. And all the while the most powerful country the world had ever seen was beginning to grow from places called Virginia and Massachusetts. Shockingly soon they would reach Arizona.
In 1820 the Republic of Mexico overthrew Spanish colonial rule. A new country was born. Mexico inherited what we now call Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and even parts of Wyoming.
But Mexico couldn’t hold these lands either. It lost Texas in 1836. In 1846 the Mexican-American War started. Here our red-haired protagonist from South Carolina named Jack Swilling, mentioned briefly in Part I, first enters the story. He marches down to Mexico City with General Winfield Scott to conquer it. The Americans did – along with New Mexico and California.
In 1848 Mexico and America signed The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty gave the United States those lands mentioned in the above paragraph. President James K. Polk made America stretch from sea to shining sea. Manifest Destiny was reality.
However, the final addition to the Lower 48 Landmass was the Gadsen Purchase of 1853. The Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty established the Gila River – which once watered those Hohokam Canals – as the southern border until it hit the Colorado River at what is now Yuma. Then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis wanted the last southern third of Arizona because the land was flat enough for a railroad to connect El Paso, Texas to San Diego, California. North of the Gila a train could not pass.
(On a sidenote… Jefferson Davis wanted this railroad, which became the Southern Pacific, because, in the event a Civil War was to happen, Texas and the Confederacy would still have rail access to the Pacific Ocean for trade with the Orient – this too would help a Phoenix rise.)
These former Mexican lands would soon see an unprecedented influx of soldiers, forts, miners, wagons, settlers and other vanguards of a new civilization, to start filling the empty spaces. California received the most because of the discovery of gold there in 1848. But Arizona was open to settlers too. Jack Swilling came here too.
Everything was set to change. Within such a short period of time a Phoenix would rise out of the desert that most whites, formerly, considered a god-forsaken hell-hole.