By Al Bates
First published March 2, 2013
Re-edited April 2, 2019
In the last article we traced Arizona’s early days as a neglected part of New Mexico Territory and how the Gadsden Purchase started the concept of a political subdivision by that name. Today we look at the shaping of Arizona (literally) by the United States Congress and how its first government was formed.
The debate over splitting Arizona from New Mexico Territory included 18 Congressional bills that produced a variety of proposed shapes. Some proposals split Arizona from New Mexico Territory along a horizontal line while others called for a vertical split. It was not until February 20, 1863, that the Senate finally agreed to a bill that had passed in the House over nine months earlier. President Lincoln signed the statute four days later. The next step was to appoint officers for the new territory, which is where Charles Debrile Poston, the self-designated “Father of Arizona,” comes in.
Poston, a colorful self-promoter, was one of the earliest adventurers to inspect the Gadsden Purchase for potential mineral riches (fabled Spanish silver mines) who, backed by Eastern financial interests, established a productive mining operation headquartered at Tubac. However, with the Civil War and the resulting withdrawal of Union troops from New Mexico Territory, the Apache menace forced him and surviving associates to flee to safer climes.
Poston was soon in Washington where he began, by his description, successful efforts to lobby the President and members of Congress in the cause of territorial status for Arizona. When these efforts appeared to be bearing fruit, he turned his attention to forming the new territorial government with, he hoped, a prominent role for himself. That brings us to the fabled “Oyster Dinner” with a guest list of congressional “lame ducks” and other politicians eager to gain public appointments in the new territory.
Details of the dinner, such as who organized it or paid the bills, are not revealed in Poston’s account, but by being present, he was able to get the consolation post of Territorial Indian Agent, but only after all the plum assignments had been doled out. His contention in later years that his influence on the lame ducks aided in final passage of the territorial creation bill is self-serving and probably inaccurate.
Preparations for the journey from Washington, D. C. were made with the goal of having the newly appointed officers in Arizona before 1863 ended (thus ensuring they were eligible for that year’s pay), but were delayed by the death of Governor-to-be John A. Gurley.
The final slate of territorial officers included: Governor John N. Goodwin, Secretary Richard C. McCormick, Chief Justice William F. Turner, Associate Justice William T. Howell, Associate Justice Joseph P. Allyn, District Attorney Almon Gage, U. S. Marshal Milton Duffield, Surveyor-General Levi Bashford, Superintendent of Indian Affairs Charles Poston and the Reverend Hiram W. Reed, Postmaster.
The bulk of the Governor’s party traveled west over the Santa Fe Trail, arriving at Santa Fe on November 26. Poston and Marshal Duffield traveled separately to Tucson (via San Francisco), arriving in January 1864, where they expected to meet the Governor’s party. (One proposed version of the Organic Act included a provision that the seat of government be in Tucson, but that item was removed, leaving the location to be selected by the governor.)
Plans had changed and when the Governor’s party left Santa Fe, their destination was the new gold diggings in the Central Arizona Highlands and the eventual establishment of Arizona’s first Territorial capital on the banks of Granite Creek.
Conclusion – by Dave Lewis
With Prescott as Arizona’s first capital in 1864, we conclude “How Arizona Got on the Map”. Through twenty-six articles our authors traced our beautiful land from mammoths to American Indian cultures; from Coronado and Cardenas to Bill Williams, Pattie, Sitgreaves, Whipple and Ives; from precarious Spanish settlements to Tubac, Tucson, Yuma, and Prescott.
Along the way, Arizona was once the unnamed province of the Hopi, Navajo, Yavapai, Yuma, Apache and Hualapai; at times, part of a large Spanish claim, an independent Mexico and New Mexico Territory; and eventually, a Territory with its own name. Few U.S. places experienced so many changes to find their unique identity.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at https://www.sharlot.org/articles/days-past-articles.l. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to email@example.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 2, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or assistance with photo requests.