Tucson's first non-native permanent residents were Spanish soldiers and Franciscan missionaries who moved into the new Tucson presidio in the fall of 1776. After a decade of almost continuous fighting against fierce nomadic Apaches, peace was established under a new Spanish policy that encouraged the Apache to settle near presidios in return for food rations.
Spanish settlers, attracted by the relative safety of the Tucson presidio, soon arrived to farm the banks of the Santa Cruz River, to mine in the surrounding hills and to graze cattle.
The Spanish were able to essentially "partner" with resident Pimas and Papagos along the Santa Cruz River, initially working out farmland and irrigation agreements, and using these more settled Native Americans as an early warning system against hostile Apaches.
After Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, an economic depression curtailed the support to Apaches settled around the Tucson presidio and Apaches resumed raiding ranches in Southern Arizona.
As difficult economic times eased, Tucson saw the beginning of Anglo-American immigration - mostly people passing through, like trappers, California gold seekers, soldiers and transcontinental route explorers.
When the U.S. took over Tucson in 1854 with the Gadsden Purchase, Tucson was still a Mexican village of perhaps 500 people. As anthropologist Thomas E. Sheridan wrote in his book "Los Tucsonenses," "(Mexicans) and their descendants continued to raise families and run businesses in Southern Arizona. They became cattlemen, freighters, Indian fighters and merchants. They built schools, erected churches, established newspapers and enforced the law. Without them, territorial Tucson could never have been created. They helped transform a little finger of Sonora into a commercial center of the southwestern United States."
Anglos who prospered did so in partnership with Mexicans and catered to the larger Mexican population. Anglos and Mexicans joined Pima and Papago Indians in expeditions against their common enemy - the Apache. Before the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived, Tucson was "a unique bi-cultural and bi-ethnic" town," according to Sheridan.
Historian Manuel G. Gonzales, in his book "Mexicanos," wrote, "The most lucrative economic endeavor in the 1860s and 1870s was long-distance freighting. … Tucson was ideally suited to service both the pueblos of Sonora … and the New Mexican settlements along the Rio Grande."
Tucson blossomed in the 1870s. By 1880 Tucson's population exceeded 7,000 people, 70 percent of whom were Mexican.
The coming of the railroad in 1880 reoriented most of the major commercial routes through Tucson from north and south to east and west. This effectively ended the lucrative wagon freighting connection with Mexico and stimulated a mining boom in Southern Arizona that required enormous amounts of capital from East Coast and West Coast business interests.
"The advent of corporate capitalism spelled disaster for the Mexican entrepreneurs of Tucson," historian Gonzales wrote. Tucson was changing from an agricultural economy to an urban center.
The Mexican population of the Arizona Territory was overwhelmed by the huge influx of newcomers from the East. These Anglos were less tolerant of cultural diversity than their predecessors and figured there was less to gain by cultivating good relations with Mexicans.
After a decade of economic depression in the 1880s - with a significant decline in population - and a decade of recovery in the 1890s, the population of Tucson had recovered to just over 7,500, but the percentage of Mexicans had dropped to 45.
Influential Mexican pioneers
• Jesús Maria Eliás (1829-1896) was born in Tubac to a prominent Sonoran family. A rancher and a farmer, he was also active as a tracker and Indian fighter, having lost six members of his family to Apache raiders. He served as an army guide in 1863 in a successful attack on Apaches in Aravaipa Canyon, and led the 1871 Camp Grant Massacre where a group of vigilantes from Tucson annihilated a group of peaceful Apaches, mostly woman, children and elders. Eliás served in three Territorial Legislatures as a representative of Tucson and Pima County.
• Pedro Aguirre (1835-1907) was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, one of three brothers whose father in 1852 set them up in Las Cruces, N.M., in a freighting business along the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and New Mexico. The brothers moved to Arizona in the late 1850s to start a freighting business from Tucson to Yuma and Sonora. While American mining was developing along the border with Mexico, in 1870 Aguirre started the Arizona & Sonora Stage Line in Tucson to carry mail and passengers between Tucson and Altar, Sonora, Mexico. Aguirre established a ranch west of Arivaca that today is the headquarters of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. He also helped establish the Arivaca Land and Cattle Co.
• Estévan Ochoa (1831-1888), was "the most respected of the Arizona traders," according to historian Manuel G. Gonzales. Ochoa was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, like the Aguirre brothers, and for a while partnered with them in trading along the Santa Fe Trail. Ochoa came to Tucson in 1860 and partnered with Anglo Pinckney Randolf Tully in what became the most successful and one of the largest freighting firms in Arizona. During the Civil War and the occupation of Tucson by Confederate forces, Ochoa left Tucson rather than swear allegiance to the Confederacy. After the war, he returned to Tucson. Ochoa represented Pima County in three Arizona Territorial Legislatures, and was elected as Tucson's mayor in 1875, the only Mexican to hold the position in Arizona's territorial period. He also helped form the town's first Mexican mutual-aid society.
• Mariano Samaniego (1844-1907) was born into a prosperous family in Bavispe, Sonora. Before the Gadsden Purchase, Samaniego worked in his widowed mother's mercantile establishment in Mesilla, N.M. He started a freight line that operated from New Mexico to as far east as the Mississippi River. Before he moved to Tucson in 1869 Samaniego married a daughter of the Aguirre family, thus joining the two influential families. In Tucson Samaniego continued freighting, ran a harness shop, became a cattle rancher and developed a modern irrigation system. In 1881 Samaniego sold his freighting business. From the early 1890s to the early 1900s Samaniego ran his own stagecoach service to Arivaca and Oro Blanco, mining towns south of Tucson. He served four terms in the Territorial Assembly, terms on the County Board of Supervisors and Tucson City Council, and as Pima County Assessor. Samaniego was one of the founders of the Hispanic American Alliance, served on the first Board of Regents for the University of Arizona and was president of the Arizona Pioneers' Historical Society.
• Leopoldo Carrillo (1836-1890) was born in Moctezuma, Sonora, moved to Tucson in 1859 and was for a time a long-distance freighter. Within 10 years Carrillo was one of the most prominent businessman in Tucson. He built the first ice cream parlor, bowling alley, two-story building and the first fired-brick building here. He was a member of the first school board and established the Republican Party in Tucson. Carrillo owned several homes, nearly 100 houses that he rented out, a ranch west of the Santa Cruz River and another at Sabino Canyon. The federal census in 1870 identified Carrillo as the wealthiest person in Tucson. In 1885 Carrillo opened an eight-acre public park, Carrillo Gardens.
• Carlos Velasco (1837-1914) was born in Hermosillo, Sonora. Educated as a lawyer, he became a judge in 1857 at age 20 and won a seat in the Sonoran legislature two years later. His political career in Sonora was interrupted by government conflicts, and Velasco fled to the United States in the mid-1860s. He came to Tucson, worked in his brother's general store for a few years, returned to Mexico in the early 1870s, again became disenchanted with the government, and returned to Tucson for good in 1877. In 1878 he started a Spanish-language newspaper, El Fronterizo, that championed Mexican causes and lasted for 36 years. In 1894 Velasco was the major founder of the Hispanic American Alliance that supported Mexican economic and political objectives.
On StarNet: Read Bob Ring's recent columns at azstarnet.com/bobring
This is the first in a three-part series about the people who most influenced Tucson history between 1850 and 1900. This week: Tucson's Mexican pioneers. Next week: Tucson's Anglo-American pioneers. Week three: Tucson's Jewish pioneers.
E-mail Bob Ring at email@example.com Sources: "Arizona - A History" (Thomas E. Sheridan, 2012); "Los Tucsonenses - The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941" (Thomas E. Sheridan, 1997); "Mexicanos - A History of Mexicans in the United States" (Manuel G. Gonzales, 1999); "Occupied America - A History of Chicanos" (Rodolfo F. Acuña, 2011); Tucson Citizen; "Tucson - The Life and Times of an American City" (C.L. Sonnichsen, 1987); Tucson Territorial Pioneer Project (2008); Wikipedia.