Though the Old Pueblo, as it's known locally, is modern and lively, Tucson's Old West heritage will surprise you. Tucson has some of the finest cultural offerings in Arizona—a large university, historic sites, fine museums, and a great variety of restaurants and nightlife. Yet you can actually see most of the city's downtown sights by walking.
Tucson lies in a broad valley of the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2,400 feet. The mountains ringing Tucson offer splendid scenery and great hiking. In just minutes, you can get out of the city to enjoy a range of vegetation and climate zones equivalent to traveling from Mexico to Canada!
The Early Farming Culture tilled the soil of the Tucson Basin as far back as 2000 B.C. and appears to have been the first group in the Southwest to have villages, canal systems, pottery, bow and arrow, and trade routes. These people lived in pit houses, some of which were very large and likely had ceremonial functions. About A.D. 150 this group gave way to the Hohokam, who continued farming the river valleys until breaking up as a culture sometime around 1400. It's likely that some of the Hohokam survived to become the ancestors of today's Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham tribes.
The first Spanish visitors found an Akimel O'odham village, Stjuk-shon (stjuk means "dark mountain" and shon is "foot of"), at the base of Sentinel Peak, the hill with the large "A" now painted on it. Spaniards adopted the name as "Tucson" when laying out the Presidio of San Agustín del Tucson in 1775. Attacks by roving Apache made fortifications necessary, so adobe walls 12 feet high and 750 feet long enclosed the new settlement. Mexico inherited Tucson from Spain after the 1821 revolution, but little changed except the flag.
Tucson joined the United States with the Gadsden Purchase in June 1854, but 21 months of boundary-marking and bureaucratic delays passed before the arrival of American officialdom in the form of the army's First Dragoons. Although Apache continued to menace settlers and travelers, Americans began to arrive in force, and the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach soon opened service to Tucson. To cope with the desert climate, Anglos adopted much of the food, building techniques, and other customs of the Mexicans. You'll see the results of these practices, as well as of Anglo-Mexican intermarriage, in Tucson's cultural mix.
When U.S. army troops headed east to fight in the Civil War, Confederate cavalry under the command of Captain Sherrod Hunter came west and easily captured Tucson in February 1862. Union troops led by Colonel James Carleton marched in from California two months later, clashing with the Confederates at Picacho Pass, on the Butterfield Road about 42 miles northwest of Tucson. After this battle, the most westerly significant skirmish of the Civil War, the outnumbered Confederates retreated.
Tucson's Wild West years continued after the Civil War, and men rarely ventured unarmed onto the dusty streets. Still, the town prospered, serving as the territorial capital from 1867 to 1877. By 1880, when the first train rolled in, the population had grown to over 7,000. The Arizona Territorial University opened its doors in 1891 on land donated by a saloonkeeper and a pair of gamblers. Davis-Monthan Field brought Tucson into the aviation age and became an important training base during World War II. Many of the airmen and others passing through the city during those hectic years returned to settle here. With new postwar industries and the growth of tourism, the Old Pueblo has boomed ever since.
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