On March 12th, 1868, Jack Swilling and his crew completed work on the first modern canal in the Salt River Valley. And that was the very first step towards the creation of the modern city of Phoenix, Arizona.
If you've never heard of Jack Swilling, or any of this, it's not surprising. As a "founding father" Jack really wasn't the kind of person that we tend to make statues of. In fact, he's a bit of an embarrassment. If you know about Jack, you know that. He was an ex-confederate soldier, a violent alcoholic, and a criminal. And no, I'm not putting him down, that's just who he was. And since he really hasn't fit in well with the squeaky-clean image that we would like for historic figures, he's kinda been shuffled aside. And I agree that we don't want to glorify people who were like that, but we do want to remember what he did. He created Phoenix, Arizona.
|Jack Swilling and his adopted Apache son in 1867|
I've known a lot of people like Jack. And I can't defend much of what they do. From what I've read about him, he was just a little crazy. His drink of choice was whiskey, which he took with a very powerful painkiller that was popular then, laudanum, which was a perfectly legal mix of opium. It's illegal now, but it wasn't then, but it was still just as powerful. I try to imagine sitting around with Jack, maybe drinking some of his whiskey, and hoping that he wouldn't accidentally shoot me while he twirled a six-shooter and took more laudanum. But he must have been a very convincing guy.
Jack Swilling managed to convince investors to help pay for a canal that would bring water into an empty desert. And make no mistake, the Salt River Valley was a desert. No one lived there, and no one had since the Hohokam people, hundreds of years ago. It was a war zone protected by the Apaches, who lived northeast of the valley, and still do. The Pimas lived south of the Salt River Valley, along the Gila River and all of the way to Mexico. But the Salt River Valley was empty. If you could stand there in the 1860s, you'd see a lot of desert, and off in the hills, like the White Tanks or the Papago Buttes, you'd keep an eye out for Apaches. They didn't like people trespassing there.
|The Arizona Miner in 1868, Prescott, Arizona|
The article at the top of this post, which is from the Prescott newspaper "the Arizona Miner" in 1868 mentions the completion of the canal, on March 12, 1868. Of course, the paper would have had articles about a lot of things that people were doing, like digging for gold, that sort of thing. And this article would have just been another one of those "optimistic attempts", except for one very important thing, it was incredibly successful. And it's the city of Phoenix, Arizona.
Library of Congress link to the article at the top of this post is here: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016242/1868-04-18/ed-1/seq-2.pdf
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