Santa Cruz is the smallest county in Arizona. Approximately 50,000 people call this county home. The county has 1,238 square miles, but it only has 1.2 miles of water. While the county was originally known as great cattle country, it then became known for its mines before it got the reputation as one of the primary drug corridors in the United States. This county has played an exciting role throughout Arizona’s state history, and it continues to play an important role today. Many current residents are committed to seeing Santa Cruz county rise again to offer young people a reason to not leave the county where Nogales is the county seat.
Santa Cruz County Arizona Overview and History
Santa Cruz county lies along the United States’ border with Mexico. It lies to the east and south of Pima County. The county takes its name from the Santa Cruz River that runs through it. Originally, the home to many Native American tribes, the area has been fought over between Mexico and the United States. Most of the Native Americans living there raised crops in the area where the water never freezes while trying to avoid the warring Apache Indians.
History records that the first European to travel to Santa Cruz County was Fray Marcos de Niza, but he already found an area where Apache, Yaqui and Hohokam Native Americans resided. One of the reasons that many Native American tribes were drawn to the area was that water in Santa Cruz River, Sonoita Creek and Harshaw Creek flowed throughout the year making it ideal for growing crops. After arriving in Sonora, Mexico, he crossed into what is now Arizona near the present day town of Lochiel, Arizona, in Santa Cruz County in 1539. After completing his report, he then returned to Mexico.
Reports indicate that the Coronado Expedition was the next to enter the region. This expedition that left Mexico and ended in Kansas was designed to reach the Seven Cities of Gold, although that name would not be invented for almost 300 more years. These explorers were looking for gold, and they never discovered the rich mines that would help build this county. Eventually, however, many early settlers were drawn to the county from the north and the east to seek their fortune in the mines.
The Santa Cruz River was named by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino during the late 17th century, and the word Santa Cruz means holy cross in the Spanish language. Father Kino is best known for proving that the Baja Peninsula was not an island, but he is reported to have enjoyed the area around present-day Santa Cruz county the most. During his time in Mexico and the United States, he established 24 visiting preaching stations and worked exhaustively with the Pima Native Americans along with the Tohono O’odham and Sobaipuri tribes.
Despite the fact that he only lived 24 years and one day in the region, he is credited with creating a way of life that many still try to carry on today. While he was working in California, he was invited by the Native Americans to come explore the area and help them. After his arrival on March 14, 1687, he first traveled through much of the region and Mexico before building his first mission on the east side of the Santa Cruz River in 1691. While the exact location of that mission has been lost in history, he opened a second mission a year later naming it Mission San Xavier del Bac.
The Mission San Xavier del Bac was surrounded by natural springs and soon Father Kino introduced the Native Americans to better farming techniques helping them learn to grow herb, vegetable and fruit seeds that he imported from Europe because they were able to withstand the growing conditions in Southern Arizona better. He also introduced goats, cattle and other animals giving him the reputation of being one of Arizona’s original ranchers. He is responsible for the creation of the mission that is found within Tumacácori National Historical Park that can be visited by people coming to Santa Cruz County today. During his lifetime, he raised 20 imported cattle to a herd of more than 70,000.
In 1752, Father Kino was also responsible for overseeing the construction of the first fort in the area. The ruins of the fort that was built to protect settlers and the local Native Americans from the warring Apache Native Americans would later become the first state park in Arizona. This fort was the first European settlement in the county and has since developed into Tubac, Arizona.
Throughout this period, the area that is now Santa Cruz county belonged to Mexico. The United States government purchased the land as part of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 in order to settle lingering conflicts following the Mexican-American War. Arguments still abounded claiming that the United States should pay Mexico for injuries to settlers caused by Native Americans while the United States government argued that they should be compensated for injuries caused to citizens of the area by Mexican rebels. Finally, United States President Franklin Pierce sent the United States Minister to Mexico James Gadsden to negotiate with Santa Anna so that a southern railroad could be constructed. Santa Anna who needed money to put down other rebellions agreed to sell Gadsden 45,000 square miles for $15 million.
When word reached Washington D.C., however, the United States Congress changed the terms of the agreement. They eliminated any payment to citizens who had been hurt in the area and paid Mexico $10 million for 29,670 square miles that included present-day Santa Cruz. The southern border of the United States has remained at the same location since then despite the fact that many lawmakers at the time thought that the border would eventually expand further south into Mexico.
Arizona became the last state admitted to the contiguous United States on February 14, 1912. While many of the counties were formed by the first state legislature, Santa Cruz County was named a county by the 20th assembly of Arizona lawmakers. Governor Murphy was instrumental in seeing that Santa Cruz County was formed.
Nogales, Arizona – County Seat Overview and History
Nogales is the county seat of Santa Cruz. The name means walnut tree, and the city was named after a large walnut grove that originally stood in the mountains separating Nogales, Arizona, from Nogales, Mexico. Considered sister cities, the two comprise the largest international border between the two countries. While many from outside the area still try to stir up trouble frequently, the two local governments usually work well together. Numerous families have members living on both sides of the border.
Prior to the Gadsden Purchase, the city was the starting point for the Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition that explored the region for Spain. Nogales is located on the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail that runs from this starting point to Coronado, California. Those wanting to follow the trail can learn more about the trail at the 1904 Courthouse that serves as its starting point.
While the Gadsden Purchase made the area part of the United States in 1853, it was not, however, until Major William H. Emory surveyed the land in 1855 that it was determined that part of the city laid in the United States.
The area may have been totally deserted after its first pioneer settlers arrived, however, if it were not for Pete Kitchen. With the Civil War in full swing in 1854, the fort built to protect citizens from the warring Apache was abandoned with soldiers leaving here to fight in more decisive locations like Kansas and Arizona.
Kitchen owned a farm about five miles north of the present city where he grew vegetables. His home where he resided with his wife sat high on a hill. Many citizens from around the area worked for the Kitchen while others came to enjoy Donna Roy Kitchen’s famous hot chili. Both of the Kitchens were excellent with a rifle. Therefore, when the Apaches would try to raid the area, they often ended up dead and the earliest citizens could live in peace as word spread among the Native Americans. In fact, many found Donna Ray’s shooting skills remarkable. When she heard that Apache Native Americans were approaching, she would tie up her skirts to resemble trousers and grab her gun to defend her homestead.
Eventually, after Donna Ray’s death, Kitchen sold his ranch for $60,000 and moved in with his niece in Tucson. He developed a gambling problem and when he passed away on August 5, 1895, the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society paid $40 for his burial.
The city of Nogales, Arizona, was originally called Isaacson, Arizona, after Jacob Isaacson who was originally born in Gulding, Russia. Along with his older brother Isaac, the pair made their way to London before eventually immigrating to Chicago where he became an itinerant peddler for a time. By 1880, the pair had made their way to the Santa Cruz area where they opened a general store in a mud hut that they built by hand believing that the railroad would soon arrive with customers wanting to buy goods for their new homesteading adventures.
It is reported that Hispanic residents could not pronounce the Jewish immigrant’s name, so when the United States Postal Service opened a location there in 1883, the name of the city was changed to Nogales. Isaacson became the first postmaster of the city. Isaacson, however, would never see the railroad arrive because he moved to Los Angeles in 1883.
Just 10 years later, Nogales was incorporated. Within a year, Anton Proto was elected mayor. Anton had immigrated to the United States from Greece with his brother Louis about 1873, and he became a naturalized citizen on August 19, 1875, in San Francisco, California. After moving to Tucson, Arizona, and later to Sonora, Mexico, the two brothers opened a bakery in an adobe-style building in Nogales in 1884. Soon, three nephews joined the brothers in their thriving bakery business. Anton and Louis eventually added to their trade by starting a ranching business where cattle and horses were raised. They were also important players in the area’s timber, mining and oil exploration businesses. The brothers fell in love with women of Mexican heritage.
Anton was one of the first political figures in Nogales. He was instrumental in the formation of the Nogales Protective Association, served on the first city council and was elected to be the first mayor of Nogales. With his election, Anton became the first mayor in the United States of Greek descent.
Despite being incorporated and having a government, the city did not actually own any property until 1896 when Henry Ossian Flipper petitioned the government for a one square mile plot of land to create the city of Nogales, Arizona. By the time that Flipper found himself in Nogales, he had already led a distinguished life. He was born a slave in Georgia, but he went on to attend Atlanta University before being accepted into the West Point Military Academy. In 1877, Flipper graduated as the first African-American graduate of color at West Point. Flipper was sent to Texas where he was responsible for helping wipe out malaria in the state. Eventually, Flipper was assigned to work under Colonel William Rufus Shafter who did not like working with a man of color. Eventually, Shafter was able to have Flipper dishonorably discharged from the service, and Flipper spent the rest of his life vehemently denying the changes.
After his discharge, Flipper worked as a surveyor with numerous mining companies before he finally ended up in Nogales in 1887. A year later, city leaders hired him to defend the San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales Mexican land grant. When the case went to the United States Supreme Court, Flipper served as the government’s only witness. The case was overturned declaring the land part of Arizona and saving the homesteads of numerous residents in the Nogales area. He was a prolific writer having edited the Nogales Sunday Herald for several years and establishing the Old Santa Fe newspaper.
The oldest known map of Nogales, Arizona, was drawn by William Bradford Jr. in 1899. Bradford was a railroad engineer from California, and many of the original town lots were laid out based on descriptions from his map that experts say was remarkably done given the time period and the lack of tools.
The future of Nogales looked extremely bright in the early 1900s as the city had earned the right to be named the county seat in 1899. By that time, Nogales had its first high school that graduated its first class of five students in 1899. A hospital was six years away, and the area was filled with many ranchers and miners who lived peacefully with their neighbors to the south.