This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Jack Swilling, the founder of Phoenix, Arizona


If you've done some research on the history of Phoenix, you've heard of Jack Swilling. He organized a company that built the first modern canal in Phoenix, right after the Civil War. But if you're wondering why there aren't statues of him, or even much official mention of him, it's because he's, well, difficult to portray as an idyllic "founding father". I'll tell you what I know of him.

I've known people like Jack. They're driven to do some amazing stuff. They blaze trails, they don't listen to people who say that it can't be done. They often fail. But Jack succeeded, and people must have thought he was crazy. Or at least a little "touched".

Jack Swilling is difficult to put into history books. Nowadays we really don't want to idealize violent alcoholics, which Jack was (no, I'm not talking smack about Jack - he drank a lot and he was a very violent man). He married a Mexican woman and had an adopted Apache son (that's him there standing next to his adopted father - and he is usually erased from photos of Jack Swilling). Oh yeah, and Jack was an ex-Confederate soldier. So he's difficult to explain, and he offends some people. But I'm a history adventurer, and a time traveler, and I think he's great.

Learning about Jack Swilling appeals to me because like all real history, his story is complex. I've seen stuff written about him that either "waters down" his life, or seems to apologize for him. But Jack doesn't need apologies. He never set out to be a celebrity, he was just like millions of other people who have big dreams. His dream came true, and it's called Phoenix, Arizona.

1920 article proposing a memorial to Jack Swilling

Trinidad Escalante Swilling Schumaker in the 1920s. She's buried in the St. Francis Cemetery, under the name of her second husband, Henry Shumaker.


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