The University of Arizona is a fine modern institution with terrific collections of Western materials, but in the beginning, Tucson wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of getting the school. What do we want with a university? What good will it do us? Who in hell ever heard of a university professor buying a drink? In 1885 the Tucson saloon fraternity was asking such questions. Arizona’s 13th Territorial Legislature—full of liquor and corruption and known as the “Thieving 13th”—met in Prescott, the capital, to divvy up the spoils of future taxations. In order of importance, the legislators had to decide early that year where to locate the future capital, the insane asylum and the university.
Tucson merchants raised a whopping $5,000 ($100,000 in today’s money) to send leading citizen Fred Maish and attorney C.C. Stephens to Prescott to bring the capital to Tucson or, as Stephens was told, “suffer the consequences.” Bad weather caused the Tucson delegation to arrive late, and by that time Prescott had rallied enough votes to keep the capital. Stephens supported the asylum for Phoenix and was happy to accept the consolation prize— Arizona’s first university.
When Stephens returned home, so-called friends and neighbors insulted him and generally treated him with contempt. Death threats inspired Stephens to hire a bodyguard. When he called a meeting at the Opera House to discuss the matter, he was forced to leave in the face of a stream of profanity and well-aimed debris, including rotten eggs, spoiled vegetables and even a cat. For the record, the cat had died prior to being launched at Stephens, so no animals were harmed in the making of this history. A disappointed saloonkeeper said, “What do we want with college students—they don’t drink?” But Arizona’s first university opened east of town in 1891 and came to accept students who weren’t teetotalers. The university’s athletic teams were never called the Arizona Flying Cats, but they would become the Arizona Wildcats.
The University of Arizona established its “Special Collections” archive in 1958. Its mission is to “maintain collections of rare books and unique archival materials that make possible in-depth research on selected topics.” The personal scrapbooks of editor/Indian agent/newspaperman John Clum, a friend of Wyatt Earp’s, can be found there among the many special books, manuscripts, maps and photographs. The focus is on Arizona materials, but there are also items from elsewhere in the Southwest, Mexico and the world at large.
Special Collections is located on the entrance level of the Main Library on the Tucson campus (at the southwest corner of University Boulevard and Cherry Avenue). It is open to the public. For further information call 520-621-6423, visit www.library.arizona.edu, write University of Arizona Libraries, P.O. Box 210055, Tucson, AZ 85721, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. edu. Roger Myers, associate librarian and archivist, provided assistance for this article.
Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.