What do you do with all that land? Seriously. What?

Men at the District of Columbia asked this about the lands of the Mexican Cession – the newly annexed lands from Texas to the Pacific Coast.

What is there? How do we get across it? Where are the mountains? Where are the rivers? What paths can we make?

What Indians are there? What mineral wealth is there? What flora and fauna are there? What else can be known? How can it add to the material wealth of the growing United States of America?

More questions can be asked. But first it must be explored. So that’s what the US Army did. They found the paths of least resistance across the newly aquired lands. And those paths are still used today in the form of US Highways and Interstates.


But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. As said in Part II, the new 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. Arizona’s saguaro-studded landscape was open to settlers too. (And for those who don’t know, the “saguaro” is that iconic cactus with arms and spears that you see in no other American state but Arizona – and it’s also the Mexican state of Sonora just south of Arizona.)

Our red-haired protagonist first mentioned in Part I, Jack Swilling, was one of them. After fighting in the Mexican-American War, and returning home to Georgia, he sauntered into Arkansas during the 1850’s. There he began work as a teamster for the Leach Wagon Road Company out of Fort Smith. This took him to Arizona in 1858. There gold fever hit him.

This fever first took him to a dirty, nothin’ of a town called Los Angeles, California. But no gold was found there. Swilling then returned to Gila City, not too far south from present day Phoenix, to make money from a gold rush out there, and then work for the famous Butterfield Overland Mail Company, which followed the first military road made across Southern Arizona, and now is, more or less, Interstate 10.

Gila City went bust. Swilling moved to Pinos Altos to run a saloon. This is when the Civil War started, specifically, on April 12, 1861.

After the blue coats left Arizona to fight upon Virginia battlefields, Swilling helped organize the Arizona Guards to protect miners from Apache attacks, as the soldiers had been doing. Swilling being a Southerner, he then led the Arizona Guards to be absorbed into the Confederate Army of mostly Texas volunteers that had marched west and captured Tucson in 1862. Swilling helped reinforce the Confederate garrison there.

However, Union numbers were to prevail. Tucson was re-captured by Federals after three months of Confederate occupation. Swilling, obviously being something of a pragmatist, then worked with the Union Army, as a courier for General Carleton, and then as a scout against Apaches, as war between them and any white-skinned man was in full swing by 1862, and would last for another twenty-plus years.

By 1863 though, Swilling was done with military service. Gold fever possessed him once again. He found some in the Bradshaw Mountains, located northwest of present Phoenix, and made a small fortune.

The Civil War ended in 1865. After puttering back down to Tucson, getting married and puttering back to the Bradshaws, inspiration came upon our red-haired protganist in 1867.

Remember, by 1867 the American West was changing dramatically. The United States government was intent on solidifying its control over the whole American landmass. Thus, it did not fully disband the massive number of bluecoats conscripted to fight the Confederacy. Many were sent west to initiate a new war against the tribes of the Great Plains and Inter-mountain West. This especially included Apache.

Many forts were established. Fort Grant on the confluence of the Verde and Salt Rivers was one of the God-forsaken hellholes that Congress had allotted funds to. But, as much as soldiers hated fighting in Arizona (and caused them to pass the time in the most amusing ways), their zealous operations from this fort had secured the area by 1867.

Through all this, atsome point during his ramblings across Arizona, the very precise incline of an ancient Hohokam canal grabbed the attention of Jack Swilling. He wondered how productive of agriculture the Salt Valley lands could become if these ancient ditches were once again moving water from the river to soils beyond the banks. Inspiration had come upon our red-haired protaganist. Swilling borrowed $400 and started the Swilling Irrigation company. Swilling’s Ditch began in September 1867.

The initial profit Swilling saw was to be in selling the increased production of hay, from newly irrigated lands, to the animals at Fort McDowell. Thus, the fort was the first source of money nurturing an infant economic center. With secure revenues from McDowell, Swilling would thereafter have capital for more ditch-digging, and thus make available more land for more profitable agriculture in the Salt Valley.

Stuff like this fascinates me. Why in the hell would anyone ever live in the Phoenix Valley before air conditioning? Money. Seriously, sweat soaking every fabric on your body under a blazing sun was worth all the suffering for realizing a dream as perfectly American as Swilling’s would prove to be.

The American West was made by such dreams. It is one helluva story. And Phoenix’s story only gets better hereafter.

Seriously, most have no idea how America’s lands evolved to be as they are.