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Once comprising a single territory, Arizona and New Mexico diverged in many ways long before each became a state 100 years ago.

The path to statehood for New Mexico and Arizona began decades before the territories were admitted into the Union as the 47th and 48th states in 1912. In the summer of 1856 William Claude Jones, U.S. attorney for New Mexico Territory, called a meeting in Mesilla (near present-day Las Cruces) at which he and 57 others signed a petition to Congress that the territory—which encompassed all of present-day Arizona and New Mexico— be divided into two territories by a boundary running eastwest along the 34th parallel. Not to be outdone, Tucson in August 1856 held its own meeting, at which 260 signatories requested the territory be divided. Charles Debrille Poston, a Kentucky-born miner based in Tubac, proposed naming the new territory Arizona.

Some say the name was a corruption of the Spanish words árida (“dry”) and zona (“area”)—which would have been a real bastardization, since the proper Spanish construction is zona árida. Others suggest it came from a mining district near the Mexican border called La Real de Arizonac, derived from the Papago Indian words ali (“small”) and shonak (“place of the spring”). Whatever the case, you couldn’t blame anyone for wanting the territory halved.

Congress established New Mexico Territory on September 9, 1850, and ratification of the Gadsden Purchase in April 1854 added 29,670 acres to the territory. That brought New Mexico to more than 235,000 square miles, including parts of present-day Colorado and Nevada. Tucson and Yuma were some 500 and 700 miles, respectively, from the territorial capital in Santa Fe. Settlers in the southern part of the territory protested they had no representation in the legislature, no protection from Indian raids, etc. “We had no law but love, and no occupation but labor,” Poston later said. “No government, no taxes, no public debt, no politics. It was a community in a perfect state of nature.”

Nothing came of the petitions in Washington, however, something residents had come to expect. The first move for statehood had preceded that disappointment.

As early as 1850 New Mexico had tried to enter the Union as a state. Although Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny had claimed New Mexico for the United States when his army reached Las Vegas (New Mexico’s, not Nevada’s) on August 15, 1846, New Mexico did not officially become part of the United States until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified in 1848—and another two years passed before it became a territory.

Blame the delay on the slavery issue. Northern leaders opposed any new territories that would expand slavery; Southern leaders fought for the opposite. New Mexicans suffered.

“During the course of this long battle in Congress,” Helen Haines wrote in her 1891 book History of New Mexico: From the Spanish Conquest to the Present Time, 1530–1890, “New Mexico occupied an anomalous position, being neither territory, state, province or department but merely a newly conquered district with no definite status or mode of government, while all civil authority was subordinated to military rule. A natural feeling of hostility still existed between Mexicans and Americans, and there were constant apprehensions of a fresh revolt, while even continual watchfulness on the part of the authorities could not prevent frequent dissensions and complications.”

In September 1849 a convention assembled in Santa Fe and elected a delegate to Congress, Hugh N. Smith. The following year he went to Washington to appeal for territorial status, but the House of Representatives refused to seat him.

Another party didn’t want territorial status but statehood. Even the border was in dispute, with Texas claiming eastern New Mexico all the way to the Rio Grande. Texas, always land hungry, sent commissioner Robert S. Neighbors into the disputed territory to divide the district into counties and hold county elections. The Texas “invasion” prompted the territorial and state factions in New Mexico to form a truce and organize a state constitution, which voters approved on June 28, 1850. Even that, however, was in dispute. Elected state Governor Henry Connelly, a Santa Fe trader and physician, and Lt. Gov. Manuel Alvarez put the new constitution into effect without waiting for approval from Washington. But Lt. Col. John Monroe, who had assumed military and civil authority for the area in October 1849, refused to recognize the new government, saying, “The state government of New Mexico has no legal existence until New Mexico shall be admitted into the Union as a state by the Congress of the United States.”

That didn’t stop one of the newly elected senators, Richard H. Weightman, from traveling to Washington to present the state constitution to Congress, request admission into the Union and claim his seat in the Senate. By the time he reached the capital, however, he discovered that the Compromise of 1850 had thwarted any hope sprawling New Mexico had of statehood. Drafted by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky earlier that year, the compromise amended the Fugitive Slave Act, abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C., allowed California to enter the Union as a free state and established a territorial government in Utah. It also settled the Texas/New Mexico border dispute. The federal government paid Texas $10 million, which the state needed to pay off debts, and established the eastern boundary of New Mexico at 103 degrees west longitude. And the September 9 Organic Act established a territorial government for New Mexico. As “state” senator Weightman was out of a job. In March 1851 the new territorial government became official, and the first Legislative Assembly met in Santa Fe that June, swearing in James S. Calhoun as governor.

Despite New Mexico’s status as an American territory, much of it remained Mexican. A Mexican garrison remained in Tucson until 1856—two years after ratification of the Gadsden Purchase. Even as Mexican troops filed out of town that March, Virginian Bill Kirkland led a party to unfurl the U.S. flag atop Edward Miles’ mercantile.

Still, the territory attracted new settlers, and New Mexico saw its population grow (excluding Indians) from 61,547 in 1850 to 93,516 in 1860. The Gadsden Purchase helped attract many of these settlers to Arizona. In 1858 John Butterfield began operating the Overland Mail stagecoach route from Missouri to California, which passed through the southern territory. The Army established additional posts: Defiance, about 30 miles northwest of present-day Gallup, and Fillmore, about six miles south of Mesilla, in 1851; Burgwin, about 10 miles south of Taos, in 1852; Thorn, on the Rio Grande near present-day Hatch, in 1853; Craig, near the northern end of the Jornada del Muerto, in 1854; Stanton, on the Rio Bonito, in 1855; Buchanan, a few miles west of Sonoita, Ariz., in 1857; and Mojave, on the east bank of the Colorado River opposite present-day Needles, Calif., in 1859. The largest of these posts was Fort Union, established in 1851 about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas on the Santa Fe Trail’s Mountain Branch. Three posts would sit on this site, with construction of the third version beginning in 1862. This would include an ordnance depot and serve as the territory’s general supply depot.

The growth brought good and bad. “Tucson is cursed by the presence of two or three hundred of the most infamous scoundrels it is possible to conceive,” Captain John C. Cremony related in 1860. “Innocent and unoffending men were shot down or bowie-knifed merely for the pleasure of witnessing the death agonies. Men walked the streets with double-barreled shotguns, hunting each other as sportsmen hunt for game. In the graveyard there were 47 graves of white men…and of that number only two died natural deaths.” Few others liked Santa Fe much, either, finding the village dirty, impoverished, smelly and superstitious. The population in the northern and southern parts of the territory continued to request a division, but it would take a Civil War to make that happen.

In the spring of 1861 Confederate officials approved a plan by Henry Hopkins Sibley to lead a Texas army into New Mexico to secure gold and recruits and then seize the ports of California. Sibley was commissioned brigadier general, and in November he led a 3,700-man force out of San Antonio, certain New Mexicans would support the Southern cause.

He had good reason. Meetings in Mesilla and Tucson led to a move for the southern part of the territory, christened Arizona, to secede. Folks in Tucson played “Dixie” after news of Fort Sumter reached town. The mood in Arizona was definitely pro-Confederate. Even before Sibley left San Antonio, Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor led his Texas Mounted Rifles into New Mexico to protect “the citizens of Arizona.” After he readily defeated a Union force from Fort Fillmore, The Mesilla Times ran the headline ARIZONA IS FREE AT LAST! The Confederate Congress introduced a bill to recognize Arizona as a Confederate territory, which President Jefferson Davis signed into law on February 14, 1862—50 years to the date before Arizona became the 48th state in the Union. The boundary was designated at the 34th parallel, but the Confederacy reserved the right to take over the rest of New Mexico, which was Sibley’s intention.

Proclaiming themselves liberators, Sibley and his force entered New Mexico and headed up the Rio Grande Valley, hoping to live off the land and eventually conquer Albuquerque and control Santa Fe, the western terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. Another 200 soldiers, commanded by Captain Sherrod Hunter and dubbed the “Arizona Volunteers,” headed west, arriving in Tucson on February 28. Hunter may have wanted to venture farther west to capture Fort Yuma and assist Southern sympathizers in California. Meanwhile, Colonel James Henry Carleton was leading the California Volunteers—a Union force 1,800 strong—east. Learning of a Confederate patrol near Picacho Pass (also known as Picacho Peak), Carleton sent Lieutenant James Barrett to capture the secessionists. They clashed on April 15, 1862, at the rise of volcanic remnants about 50 miles northwest of Tucson that served as a beacon on the Gila Trail. The Battle of Picacho Pass is considered the westernmost battle of the Civil War, although “battle” is used loosely. The skirmish involved barely two-dozen men, left Barrett dead and inflicted a handful of casualties on both sides. The Confederates claimed victory but, facing Carleton’s overwhelming force, had to withdraw from not only Picacho but also Tucson and Confederate Arizona.

By then Sibley had retreated as well. On February 20–21 the Confederates had defeated Colonel Edward Canby’s force at Valverde, and Canby withdrew back to Fort Craig. Sibley left the enemy at his rear and moved north but soon learned that New Mexicans weren’t overjoyed at assisting a bunch of Texas invaders. He claimed Albuquerque on March 2. Next came Santa Fe. Yet the territory was far from in Southern control, and Sibley knew he would have to defeat the Federals at Fort Union. Marching toward the fort, the Confederates engaged a force that included many Colorado volunteers at Glorieta Pass in late March. The Texans held off the enemy for what appeared a hard-fought victory, but then the Coloradans hit the Confederate supply train, burning nearly 80 wagons and killing between 500 and 600 horses and mules. The Colorado leader, and hero of the day, was a Methodist minister and major named John Chivington. Two years later he would earn a place in history as a notorious villain for leading the massacre of Cheyenne Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado Territory. With no supplies, no help from the locals and a disillusioned army, Sibley retreated.

The Confederate invasion and declaration of Arizona as a Confederate territory might have finally prompted Washington into action. On March 12, 1862, the House of Representatives took up H.R. 357, which proposed to divide New Mexico Territory into two territories. Instead of the east-west boundaries, the territory would be divided on a north-south line at roughly—though not specified in the resolution— 109 degrees west longitude. Introducing the bill was James M. Ashley, a Republican from Ohio. Ohio? Well, Cincinnati handled much work of the Sonora Exploring and Mining Co., and many Ohioans would profit from a federal Territory of Arizona. The bill also addressed the slavery issue, noting, “That there shall neither be slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory…and that, from and after the passage of this act, slavery or involuntary servitude is hereby forever prohibited in all territories now organized.”

The bill passed the House, 72–51, on May 8, 1862. Getting through the Senate took more effort. Illinois Sen. Lyman Trumbull argued that Arizona didn’t have enough people— only 6,482 residents. When the bill came up again in 1863, Ohio’s Benjamin Franklin “Bluff” Wade countered Trumbull’s charges: “Are we to be told that we must not organize our territories, that we must not develop our wealth because we are involved in civil war?” The Arizona Organic Act passed the Senate, 25–12, on February 20, and four days later President Abraham Lincoln signed the law that created Arizona Territory. Arizona and New Mexico were separate at last—but they would almost enter the Union as a single state more than four decades later.

Before the “jointure” movement, Arizona and New Mexico went their separate ways. It wasn’t easy for Arizona. Lincoln named Ohio Congressman John A. Gur-  ley as Arizona territorial governor, but he died on August 19, 1863, without ever leaving Washington. John Noble Goodwin of Maine, who had been appointed the territory’s chief justice, replaced Gurley as governor.

The new officials made their way to Arizona and took the oath of office during a snowstorm at Navajo Springs on December 29, 1863. Secretary Richard C. McCormick said: “The flag which I hoist in token of our authority is no new and untried banner. For nearly a century it has been the recognized, the honored, the loved emblem of law and liberty.” Tucson thought it would become the territorial capital, but the leaders most likely remembered those fire-breathing secessionist sympathizers in southern Arizona, especially Tucson. Instead, Goodwin proclaimed the capital would be at or near recently established Fort Whipple, near the Chino Valley mines. They arrived there at noon on January 22, 1864.

The mining operations had moved southeast, and the fort would soon follow. In the spring authorities selected a new town site about 20 miles south, naming the capital Goodwin, after its new governor. Granite was also suggested, but McCormick, having read William H. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico, recommended Prescott. And so it was. Goodwin surveyed the town site himself, insisting the streets be 100 feet wide, and Prescott was dedicated on May 30. The first sale of lots netted almost $4,000. McCormick began publishing the Arizona Miner, the first newspaper north of the Gila River, and the first territorial Legislature met in Prescott on September 26. In 1867 Tucson would take over as capital, but Prescott resumed its place 10 years later. Finally, in 1889 Phoenix became capital.

While Arizona initially seemed happy with territorial status, New Mexico kept looking for statehood. An 1872 convention drew up a state constitution, but the effort failed. Another bid came in 1889, only again to be defeated.

“It took New Mexico 62 years to become a state, and the most prominent stumbling block was, in my opinion, race and language,” says Tomas Jaehn of the Fray Angélico Chávez History Library in Santa Fe. “Congress tried several times to limit the enabling act language to ‘English only,’ and it took key congressional officials like Antonio Joseph [in the late 19th century] and, later, A.A. Jones and some ‘maneuvering’ via the constitution draft to get around this language limitation. Eventually, the U.S. House Committee on the Territories dropped the ‘English only’ verbiage, and Spanish language and Hispanic culture had its proper place in the state of New Mexico.”

New Mexicans thought they had a supporter in Theodore Roosevelt. In June 1899, during the first Rough Riders reunion in Las Vegas, he said, “You can count me in, and I will go back to Washington to speak for you or do anything you wish.” In May 1901, during a train stop in California, President William McKinley refused to promise statehood. But after McKinley’s assassination that September, New Mexicans learned Roosevelt wouldn’t do anything they wished. The territory didn’t need presidential support, but it did need Congress.

In the early 1900s Congress considered bringing in four new states—Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Indian Territory—but then decided “jointure” to be a better option, with a better chance of passing, “the political goal,” Mark B. Thompson writes, “being a limitation on the number of U.S. senators representing the wide open spaces of the American West.” Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory, which had been divided into two territories in 1890, would join and enter the Union as one state (which happened in 1907 when Oklahoma became the 46th state). Under the plan Arizona and New Mexico would also rejoin in an attempt to secure state status.

Irish-born lawyer Bernard Shandon Rodey had previously been elected a delegate to New Mexico’s 1889 constitutional convention. Elected as a nonvoting congressional delegate of New Mexico Territory in 1900 and again in 1902, Rodey believed that a rejoined Arizona and New Mexico was the best path to admission as a state. He also thought the state would again split into two states.

New Mexicans favored statehood. After all, the plan had the capital as Santa Fe, not Phoenix. The debate raged in Arizona, New Mexico and Washington before Ohio Senator Joseph B. Foraker proposed the two territories vote on jointure. If either rejected it, jointure would be dead.

In November 1906 Arizonans and New Mexicans voted. “Reports from all the counties of the territory [New Mexico] indicate that with few exceptions the vote will be favorable to jointure,” The New York Times reported on November 6. But Arizona? “Late reports,” the Times continued, “from Arizona would seem to warrant the prediction that joint statehood will be defeated in that territory by a large vote.”

New Mexicans voted 26,195–14,735 for jointure, but Arizonans rejected the measure, 16,265–3,141. Jointure was dead, and the move for separate statehood for Arizona and New Mexico was back on, especially after William Howard Taft won the 1908 presidential election. Taft reportedly favored statehood for both territories.

Arizona and New Mexico again held constitutional conventions in 1910. Thirty-five of New Mexico’s 100 delegates to the constitutional convention were Hispanic. They made certain the constitution protected citizens’ right to vote regardless of “religion, race, language or color.” It further ensured that Hispanic children could not be denied public-school education and would “enjoy perfect equality with other children in all public schools.” Although some wanted additional measures —voting rights for women in all elections (not just school elections) and less protection for special-interest groups —on January 21, 1911, New Mexicans ratified the constitution, 31,742–13,399.

Arizona’s state constitution included a provision that allowed all public officials, including judges, to be subject to recall. Knowing Taft’s objection to the recall provision, the Rev. Seaborn Crutchfield, chaplain of the convention, prayed: “Lord, we hope that President Taft will not turn down the Constitution for a little thing like the initiative and referendum. Lord, don’t let him be so narrow and partisan as to refuse us self-government.” On February 9, 1911, Arizonans ratified the constitution, 12,187–3,302.

In August Congress passed a joint resolution admitting New Mexico and Arizona as states. It was now up to the president. As expected, despite the Rev. Crutchfield’s prayer, Taft vetoed Arizona’s measure, again stating his case against the recall of judges, though indicating that Arizona could, after statehood, insert the provision into its state constitution without any objection from the federal government.

Within a week Congress passed another joint resolution that excluded the recall of judges in Arizona, and Taft signed that measure. It went back to Arizona, where the electorate approved the deletion of judges from recall. On January 6, 1912, President Taft signed the proclamation making New Mexico the 47th state. After signing, he said to the New Mexico delegation: “Well, it is all over. I am glad to give you life. I hope you will be healthy.” The following month, at 10 a.m. on St. Valentine’s Day, movie cameras recorded Taft signing the proclamation that made Arizona the 48th state. It marked the first time in history a president had signed a law while being recorded by moving film.

When word reached Arizona, church and school bells pealed, and exuberant citizens fired pistol shots. Folks in Bisbee detonated dynamite, nearly blowing off the top of a mountain. One Phoenix couple had delayed their wedding until statehood, wanting to be the first married in the state of Arizona. Upon hearing the news, the couple exchanged their vows, with a 3-year-old boy serving as ring bearer. That young ring bearer, by the way, was Barry Goldwater, future five-term U.S. senator from Arizona.


Johnny D. Boggs of Santa Fe is a Spur- and Wrangler-winning novelist and magazine writer. Recommended reading: Arizona: A Short History, by Odie B. Faulk; The Last Gunfight, by Jeff Guinn; and Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride, by Michael Wallis.

Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.