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

The "in-between" history of Phoenix, Arizona


My fascination with Phoenix history is what I call the "in-between" history. If you're more dramatic than I am, you could call it "hidden history" or "forgotten history" or even "history that isn't taught in school". If you consider yourself knowledgeable about Phoenix history, and know nothing about it, or very little, don't be surprised, and please don't be offended.

OK, you can set aside your history books, take off your graduation cap (you know, the kind that looks like you're balancing a board on the top of your head), and relax. No, there won't be a test, and everything won't be arranged in a particular order. It's a mess. Because that's what really history is. And no, it's not a conspiracy man. This stuff isn't hidden away, it's just been forgotten, neglected, shuffled aside. It doesn't fit in nicely to school curriculums, it doesn't make for a "page-turning novel of suspense", it won't get you cheering in a movie theater with that "feel good" thing that comes from watching something like a Disney movie. It's just an ordinary story of ordinary people living ordinary lives. And I find it fascinating.

Jack Swilling, founder of Phoenix, displaying unsafe gun handling techniques with his adopted son. 

Let's start with Jack Swilling in the 1860s. I didn't go to school in Phoenix, but I wouldn't be surprised if they just skipped over him entirely when talking about the founding of Phoenix. He was a violent drunkard ex-Confederate with a Mexican wife and an adopted Apache son. And no, I'm not talking smack about Jack, that's what he was. Kinda hard to make a nice "squeaky-clean" founding father out of him. So the history that I'm interested in mostly starts with him and his gang of friends who decided that they would dig a canal and live in an area that was a war zone for the Apaches and the Pimas, and was mostly dirt and cactus and got to over 100 degrees every summer. Whether Jack was crazy, or merely "touched" would be hard to say, but no one in their right mind would do anything like he did. But his project was successful, and modern Phoenix is here because of him, his friends, and their whiskey. I'd say that Jack and his friends never drew a sober breath and probably never took a bath. If you Google Darrell Duppa, who named Phoenix, you will find that he was a long-haired, unshaven hermit who would probably make the average homeless person in Phoenix nowadays look clean and shiny. I said this wasn't going to be pretty.

Now let's take a look at the Pima (Akimel O'odham) Indians. And this is where it gets really difficult for the historian. Because the history of Phoenix is just an additional chapter to the history of the Pima people. And it's not the story of Cowboys and Indians. Nor is it a "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" story. It's all about an alliance. And once you begin to understand that alliance, you realize that the Pima Communities aren't near Phoenix, Phoenix is near them. Simple answers don't work here, and if you want to understand it, you'll have to do a lot more than express cliches. You have to face some very horrible truths, not just about horrific violence between tribes, but the horrific violence of man's inhumanity to his fellow man. If you can stand it, read James McClintock's "Arizona the Youngest State". I had to skip over a lot of it, it's just too brutal for me. I appreciate the truth, but I doubt I'll be able to read that book again.

My interest for Phoenix history often makes people want to hand me history books, or give me pamphlets from museums, or go on guided tours. But what interests me isn't in those places, nor would I imagine it ever would. It's just too messy. So I share it here as I learn more. I am drawing no conclusions and I have no agenda, other than learning more.

Thank you for walking with me.


Image at the top of this post: 1888 ad for the Grand Central Livery Feed and Sale Stable, Corner of Center (Central) and Madison, Phoenix, Arizona.


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