“It was here, standing above this awe-inspiring and treacherous canyon wall, that I had found myself. It was at that very moment, gazing into the canyon where my grandfather and his father had struggled to tame this wild land, that I knew I was of this place. This land forged by time, creation and destruction. Its very air was my breath, its soil my flesh, and its history, its peoples history, my heart.” This is an excerpt from an essay I had written two years ago about “finding myself” entitled Arizona and I.
I was born in Phoenix in 1980, and have lived here my whole life. I am an archeology major and hope to find and preserve Arizona’s history, both of its peoples and its geology. I have traveled all over this wonderful country of ours, and after staying in Montana with my father, California with my grandparents and even Wyoming for a while, I have always been drawn back to the desert. Arizona is my home. No matter where my adventure of a life takes me, I know where I came from, and where I will return.
After taking an Arizona geography class, reading, and listening to my grandfather speak, I learned so many amazing things about Arizona. Some things that I learned changed my perception of this place, and I began to understand Arizona and its history in a different way. Think about the names of the states and even the cities in these other states of the southwest. They all have Spanish names except one…us! New Mexico, California, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada all have Spanish origins. Arizona is believed to be an Aztec word, arizuma, which means “silver bearing”. This shocked me! Our name was really quite unique.
One could not talk about Arizona history without naming several Native American tribes, and for times sake, I will only mention a few. I was really struck by some of the Hohokam, and Apache history and its direct relevance to Arizona history. The Hohokam inhabited Arizona’s Salt River valley as long as a thousand years ago. These were complicated people. Over time, their numbers grew and they were forced to find better means to support their people. The Hohokam built hundreds of miles of canals all around what is now Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa and Phoenix. When settlers arrived in Arizona long after the Hohokam had mysteriously disappeared, they began to reuse the canals made by these ancient people. Today Phoenix’s canal systems are designed around these old canals, and are still used today. This in fact is how Phoenix got its name; a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Hohokam cities.
The Apaches, as everybody knows, were a force to be reckoned with in their day. This in fact is why we don’t have a Spanish named state or many Spanish cities. The Apaches were so fierce that they successfully kept out Spanish invaders from the late 1400s until the late 1700s. Three Hundred years! By that time, the Spanish and Mexican settlers had spread into California, Nevada, etc. These were fairly well developed places and Arizona was very much a rural place.
My family has a long history here that I am very proud of. My first relative to move here was my great great grandmother on my grandfather’s side of the family, Mollie Hudgins. She moved her family here from Ohio by a horse drawn wagon in the mid to late 1800’s. They were the first to settle what is now Laveen. What is interesting is that the town was going to be called Hudginsville, but for a reason that is not really known to us, it was called Laveen after another family. Mollie raised her children here until they grew, then some moved to Phoenix where they had my grandfather, Earl Goodman. My grandfather was a Geologist, an English Teacher and in the summers, a forest ranger in the White Mountains just east of New Mexico. My mother, as a child, and I have grown up camping and fishing that territory our entire lives. My grandfather taught me about Arizona’s tectonically active past. We trekked this entire state as if it were our own backyard and I will always remember and love those exciting years.
On my grandmother’s side, the first to make it here was my great grandfather Paul Thompson who rode his horse here from Texas in the early 1900’s. I see this fondly as one of the last real cowboy adventures. He settled in Arizona as a carpenter and general “fix anything” kind of person. He married Leda Thompson and had my grandmother. Her stories about him are amazing. In one story, my grandmother remembers herself and her mother going with Paul to live in tents while he was commissioned by the country to help build I-10. Ecstatically I said, “Grandma, you are talking about the Federal Interstate Highway Act!”, and she would say, “Really? I didn’t know that!” What history, I love it! Paul went on to help in the construction of the Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam and many others. He literally helped build Phoenix from the ground up.
In conclusion, I must say that I was excited when I saw this assignment. I love my state and my connection with it. I know that many people think of Arizona and they think of desert and that is all. Arizona is so much more than that. We are the living history of this nation and an enduring symbol of the American West. Among the Seven Wonders of the World and having one of the most diverse, unique and vibrant deserts in the world (the Sonoran Desert), we hold an important place in the intriguing complexity of our earth. Among these ancient deserts, lush forests, untamed wilderness and timeless landscapes are the people of Arizona and the beautiful cities and small hometowns in which they’ve built and reside. We truly live in a sacred land, and I am proud to call it my home.