Santa Cruz is the smallest county in Arizona. Approximately 50,000 people call this county home. The county has 1,238 square miles, but it only has 1.2 miles of water. While the county was originally known as great cattle country, it then became known for its mines before it got the reputation as one of the primary drug corridors in the United States. This county has played an exciting role throughout Arizona’s state history, and it continues to play an important role today. Many current residents are committed to seeing Santa Cruz county rise again to offer young people a reason to not leave the county where Nogales is the county seat.
Santa Cruz County Arizona Overview and History
Santa Cruz county lies along the United States’ border with Mexico. It lies to the east and south of Pima County. The county takes its name from the Santa Cruz River that runs through it. Originally, the home to many Native American tribes, the area has been fought over between Mexico and the United States. Most of the Native Americans living there raised crops in the area where the water never freezes while trying to avoid the warring Apache Indians.
History records that the first European to travel to Santa Cruz County was Fray Marcos de Niza, but he already found an area where Apache, Yaqui and Hohokam Native Americans resided. One of the reasons that many Native American tribes were drawn to the area was that water in Santa Cruz River, Sonoita Creek and Harshaw Creek flowed throughout the year making it ideal for growing crops. After arriving in Sonora, Mexico, he crossed into what is now Arizona near the present day town of Lochiel, Arizona, in Santa Cruz County in 1539. After completing his report, he then returned to Mexico.
Reports indicate that the Coronado Expedition was the next to enter the region. This expedition that left Mexico and ended in Kansas was designed to reach the Seven Cities of Gold, although that name would not be invented for almost 300 more years. These explorers were looking for gold, and they never discovered the rich mines that would help build this county. Eventually, however, many early settlers were drawn to the county from the north and the east to seek their fortune in the mines.
The Santa Cruz River was named by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino during the late 17th century, and the word Santa Cruz means holy cross in the Spanish language. Father Kino is best known for proving that the Baja Peninsula was not an island, but he is reported to have enjoyed the area around present-day Santa Cruz county the most. During his time in Mexico and the United States, he established 24 visiting preaching stations and worked exhaustively with the Pima Native Americans along with the Tohono O’odham and Sobaipuri tribes.
Despite the fact that he only lived 24 years and one day in the region, he is credited with creating a way of life that many still try to carry on today. While he was working in California, he was invited by the Native Americans to come explore the area and help them. After his arrival on March 14, 1687, he first traveled through much of the region and Mexico before building his first mission on the east side of the Santa Cruz River in 1691. While the exact location of that mission has been lost in history, he opened a second mission a year later naming it Mission San Xavier del Bac.
The Mission San Xavier del Bac was surrounded by natural springs and soon Father Kino introduced the Native Americans to better farming techniques helping them learn to grow herb, vegetable and fruit seeds that he imported from Europe because they were able to withstand the growing conditions in Southern Arizona better. He also introduced goats, cattle and other animals giving him the reputation of being one of Arizona’s original ranchers. He is responsible for the creation of the mission that is found within Tumacácori National Historical Park that can be visited by people coming to Santa Cruz County today. During his lifetime, he raised 20 imported cattle to a herd of more than 70,000.
In 1752, Father Kino was also responsible for overseeing the construction of the first fort in the area. The ruins of the fort that was built to protect settlers and the local Native Americans from the warring Apache Native Americans would later become the first state park in Arizona. This fort was the first European settlement in the county and has since developed into Tubac, Arizona.
Throughout this period, the area that is now Santa Cruz county belonged to Mexico. The United States government purchased the land as part of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 in order to settle lingering conflicts following the Mexican-American War. Arguments still abounded claiming that the United States should pay Mexico for injuries to settlers caused by Native Americans while the United States government argued that they should be compensated for injuries caused to citizens of the area by Mexican rebels. Finally, United States President Franklin Pierce sent the United States Minister to Mexico James Gadsden to negotiate with Santa Anna so that a southern railroad could be constructed. Santa Anna who needed money to put down other rebellions agreed to sell Gadsden 45,000 square miles for $15 million.
When word reached Washington D.C., however, the United States Congress changed the terms of the agreement. They eliminated any payment to citizens who had been hurt in the area and paid Mexico $10 million for 29,670 square miles that included present-day Santa Cruz. The southern border of the United States has remained at the same location since then despite the fact that many lawmakers at the time thought that the border would eventually expand further south into Mexico.
Arizona became the last state admitted to the contiguous United States on February 14, 1912. While many of the counties were formed by the first state legislature, Santa Cruz County was named a county by the 20th assembly of Arizona lawmakers. Governor Murphy was instrumental in seeing that Santa Cruz County was formed.
Nogales, Arizona – County Seat Overview and History
Nogales is the county seat of Santa Cruz. The name means walnut tree, and the city was named after a large walnut grove that originally stood in the mountains separating Nogales, Arizona, from Nogales, Mexico. Considered sister cities, the two comprise the largest international border between the two countries. While many from outside the area still try to stir up trouble frequently, the two local governments usually work well together. Numerous families have members living on both sides of the border.
Prior to the Gadsden Purchase, the city was the starting point for the Juan Bautista de Anza Expedition that explored the region for Spain. Nogales is located on the Juan Bautista de Anza Historic Trail that runs from this starting point to Coronado, California. Those wanting to follow the trail can learn more about the trail at the 1904 Courthouse that serves as its starting point.
While the Gadsden Purchase made the area part of the United States in 1853, it was not, however, until Major William H. Emory surveyed the land in 1855 that it was determined that part of the city laid in the United States.
The area may have been totally deserted after its first pioneer settlers arrived, however, if it were not for Pete Kitchen. With the Civil War in full swing in 1854, the fort built to protect citizens from the warring Apache was abandoned with soldiers leaving here to fight in more decisive locations like Kansas and Arizona.
Kitchen owned a farm about five miles north of the present city where he grew vegetables. His home where he resided with his wife sat high on a hill. Many citizens from around the area worked for the Kitchen while others came to enjoy Donna Roy Kitchen’s famous hot chili. Both of the Kitchens were excellent with a rifle. Therefore, when the Apaches would try to raid the area, they often ended up dead and the earliest citizens could live in peace as word spread among the Native Americans. In fact, many found Donna Ray’s shooting skills remarkable. When she heard that Apache Native Americans were approaching, she would tie up her skirts to resemble trousers and grab her gun to defend her homestead.
Eventually, after Donna Ray’s death, Kitchen sold his ranch for $60,000 and moved in with his niece in Tucson. He developed a gambling problem and when he passed away on August 5, 1895, the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society paid $40 for his burial.
The city of Nogales, Arizona, was originally called Isaacson, Arizona, after Jacob Isaacson who was originally born in Gulding, Russia. Along with his older brother Isaac, the pair made their way to London before eventually immigrating to Chicago where he became an itinerant peddler for a time. By 1880, the pair had made their way to the Santa Cruz area where they opened a general store in a mud hut that they built by hand believing that the railroad would soon arrive with customers wanting to buy goods for their new homesteading adventures.
It is reported that Hispanic residents could not pronounce the Jewish immigrant’s name, so when the United States Postal Service opened a location there in 1883, the name of the city was changed to Nogales. Isaacson became the first postmaster of the city. Isaacson, however, would never see the railroad arrive because he moved to Los Angeles in 1883.
Just 10 years later, Nogales was incorporated. Within a year, Anton Proto was elected mayor. Anton had immigrated to the United States from Greece with his brother Louis about 1873, and he became a naturalized citizen on August 19, 1875, in San Francisco, California. After moving to Tucson, Arizona, and later to Sonora, Mexico, the two brothers opened a bakery in an adobe-style building in Nogales in 1884. Soon, three nephews joined the brothers in their thriving bakery business. Anton and Louis eventually added to their trade by starting a ranching business where cattle and horses were raised. They were also important players in the area’s timber, mining and oil exploration businesses. The brothers fell in love with women of Mexican heritage.
Anton was one of the first political figures in Nogales. He was instrumental in the formation of the Nogales Protective Association, served on the first city council and was elected to be the first mayor of Nogales. With his election, Anton became the first mayor in the United States of Greek descent.
Despite being incorporated and having a government, the city did not actually own any property until 1896 when Henry Ossian Flipper petitioned the government for a one square mile plot of land to create the city of Nogales, Arizona. By the time that Flipper found himself in Nogales, he had already led a distinguished life. He was born a slave in Georgia, but he went on to attend Atlanta University before being accepted into the West Point Military Academy. In 1877, Flipper graduated as the first African-American graduate of color at West Point. Flipper was sent to Texas where he was responsible for helping wipe out malaria in the state. Eventually, Flipper was assigned to work under Colonel William Rufus Shafter who did not like working with a man of color. Eventually, Shafter was able to have Flipper dishonorably discharged from the service, and Flipper spent the rest of his life vehemently denying the changes.
After his discharge, Flipper worked as a surveyor with numerous mining companies before he finally ended up in Nogales in 1887. A year later, city leaders hired him to defend the San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales Mexican land grant. When the case went to the United States Supreme Court, Flipper served as the government’s only witness. The case was overturned declaring the land part of Arizona and saving the homesteads of numerous residents in the Nogales area. He was a prolific writer having edited the Nogales Sunday Herald for several years and establishing the Old Santa Fe newspaper.
The oldest known map of Nogales, Arizona, was drawn by William Bradford Jr. in 1899. Bradford was a railroad engineer from California, and many of the original town lots were laid out based on descriptions from his map that experts say was remarkably done given the time period and the lack of tools.
The future of Nogales looked extremely bright in the early 1900s as the city had earned the right to be named the county seat in 1899. By that time, Nogales had its first high school that graduated its first class of five students in 1899. A hospital was six years away, and the area was filled with many ranchers and miners who lived peacefully with their neighbors to the south.
Santa Cruz County Arizona Courthouse Overview and History
The calmness before the storm broke in 1901 when Collector of Customs Will M. Hoey was arrested on embezzlement charges for smuggling in Chinese citizens and his assistant was found dead. It seems that Hoey had been letting Chinese citizens pass across the border as long as their certificates were marked with a letter A while other people of Chinese descent were being denied passage. In order to get the A on the certificate, people had to pay between $50 and $500 to Hoey. When the United States Secret Service got wind of the scheme, possibly through Hoey’s assistant, the man was relieved of his post. Hoey was sent back to Washington D.C. where he was severely reprimanded.
Nonetheless, after being recognized as the county seat in 1899, the first court cases were heard in Santa Cruz County. Nogales’ community theater was used as a courtroom for the promissory note trials that were tried by Willis P. Harlow in 1901. This trial was so famous that it got coverage across the United States as Harlow had been a prominent business person before settling in Nogales.
Soon, county commissioners laid out plans to build the first courthouse and the first county jail in the same building. On January 5, 1902, Congress authorized the building of a county courthouse in Nogales. The commissioners debated about the location of the building before finally agreeing to purchase a lot at the intersection of Morley Avenue and Court Street for $2,000 from Anton Proto.
The first plans were drawn up before a suitable building site was established. The county commissioners denied all the bids after a building site was finally located, and Trost & Rust was given the nod to start building the new building containing the courthouse and four jail cells on November 17, 1902. The only difference between their original denied plans and the final accepted ones was that a half-basement was added after the commissioners found and agreed on a suitable site. While many agreed that the extra space would be nice, the main reason for the change was that the site sat on a hill and adding the half-basement eliminated the need to make the site level before work could proceed.
The two-story building that can still be viewed at 21 East Court Street is built in a Neoclassical style. James Vandervort served as the main contractor of the stone building project. In the beginning, Charles E. Perkins oversaw the construction work. Shortly after the work began, however, Perkins got very sick, and he was replaced by Charles Spraker. After completing work on the courthouse, Spraker went on to be instrumental in the operation of the nearby El Copeta Mines.
This original stone courthouse building that faces west is constructed of rusticated tufa stone that was mined locally, and the building has a flat roof with a silver-colored dome. A figure sits on top of the building intended to represent justice. The building was completed in 1904 with the county spending $28,200 on its construction. Amazingly for a building that has lasted more than 114 years, there were apparently no blueprints ever developed to lead the building’s contractors. At the time of its completion in 1904, many considered the courthouse the finest courthouse in the entire country.
The county used the building for more than 84 years before Cochise College moved into the facility. In 2013, the college moved to a new location in Nogales leaving the building empty for a short while. The location served as the starting point of the Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic Trail that over 240 settlers followed in 1775 and 1776 that resulted in the founding of San Francisco, California. As of 2018, the building is used to house the Arizona Rangers Museum that is open to the public on Saturdays. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
The area surrounding the courthouse has also been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike most of Nogales where people of different ethnicities and income levels lived next door to each other, the homes surrounding the courthouse were intended for wealthy families. George F. Marsh laid out the streets in the area and was responsible for the construction of many of the homes. He created a land plot in 1907 with the construction of many of the homes beginning in 1909. The hilltop setting was designed so that the homes would be built around a central square. Visitors to the area can still view many of the homes along with the original layout.
Santa Cruz County Arizona County Sheriff
As of 2018, the sheriff in Santa Cruz County is 74-year-old Tony Espirada. This Spanish-speaking sheriff has overseen the county’s law enforcement efforts since 1991. He has been re-elected six times by the citizens of the county that are 80 percent Hispanic.
Expirada is credited with many many positive changes in the county. He firmly believes that families should be kept together if possible. Yet, he works closely with federal immigration officers to detain people who are illegal immigrants and choose to break the law within his jurisdiction. He is an active participant in many local organizations including the Boys and Girls Club. He is also responsible for the creation of one of the earliest school resource officers programs in the country.
The sheriff first entered the United States after being born in Mexico in 1944. He was brought into the county by his mother along with his three brothers. His father was already living in the United States and had obtained legal permission for his family to join him.
Since 1899, there have only been 17 sheriffs in Santa Cruz County in Arizona. The first one was William H. Barnett who was appointed to the office by Arizona Governor Murphy. William H. Barnett apparently did not get along well with the county commissioners because he resigned after only about nine months in office. The local newspaper reported that while tendering his resignation he said that here was what the county supervisors had been gunning for while throwing his letter of resignation on the table.
Following Barnett’s resignation, Thomas F. Brodrick served in the office for one year. Brodrick had entered law enforcement as a town marshall, then worked as a deputy under Barnett. After quitting as Santa Cruz sheriff, he went on to become a deputy United States marshall. He is reported to have told a state promoter that some desperados should be imported from the Eastern United States to liven up the place as he had too much time on his hands. Therefore, he says that he kept dreaming up how he could run for new offices as he loved campaigning.
The first election for sheriff was held in 1902 with Tommy Turner winning. During the three year tenure of Turner, trouble heated up a little bit in Santa Cruz County. One night when the sheriff was headed to investigate cattle rustlers, a young boy ran up to the sheriff telling him that a woman was being killed near the Nogales Cemetery. The sheriff and his deputy arrived on the scene to find Andres Espiridion beating a Native American woman. When Andres refused to stop, Sheriff Turner fired on him. His horse spooked, so Turner got off and fired again. This time he fatally struck the man causing the first death by a law enforcement officer in Santa Cruz County.
Turner’s deputy Dan Sheeby also had an interesting run-in with cattle rustler Fernando Valenzuela. After chasing him for about 10 miles during which time more than 25 shots were exchanged between the two men, Dan Sheeby was able to shoot Valenzuela’s horse out from under him. Valenzuela hid behind the dead animal and was able to shoot off part of Sheeby’s hat before he could get the man tied up. When he bought the man to Sheriff Turner and the town’s citizens found out what had happened, Sheeby was made the town’s first deputy sheriff.
The appointment did not last long, however, because Sheeby got into a fight with Richard W. Harrison. After punches were exchanged, Harrison was shot by Sheeby. Then, cowboys brought Sheeby to Turner who locked him up for manslaughter. While Turner was able to stand off the cowboy lynch mob who insisted Sheeby was to be killed on the spot, Turner eventually transported his deputy-turned-murderer to Tucson where he was convicted. He was sentenced to ten years but had his sentence pardoned after serving nine years.
In 1905, Turner left office to be replaced by Harry J. Jackson who served for three years. Jackson was replaced by William S. McKnight in 1911. McKnight was born in Illinois but had made his way to the Nogales area as a young adult working for several mining companies before becoming a butcher. He rotated between being a miner and a butcher until he was finally appointed a mounted custom house inspector. Since these were political appointments, it was not unusual for men to lose their jobs if the other political party took control of Washington D.C. After losing his appointment, he received a contract to furnish beef to the men residing at Fort Huachuca during which time he saved up enough money to open a general mercantile in Tubac, Arizona. He was working there when he was elected sheriff, and he moved to Nogales.
In 1917, Raymond R. Earhardt was elected sheriff of Santa Cruz County. He was born in Ohio, but like McKnight had moved to Arizona as a young man to work in the mines. He was extremely popular with residents of the county who elected him twice as sheriff, then elected him twice as mayor. Then, he went on to serve a term in the House of Representatives in Arizona before becoming the state’s treasurer.
The only sheriff to die in the line of duty in Santa Cruz County was George J. White who was elected to the office in 1921. On August 21, 1921, a store in Ruby, Arizona, belonging to Frank and Myrtle Phearson was robbed. White and a deputy were able to apprehend Placido Silvas and Manuel Martinez after a year of hard detective work. The two were arrested and tried. They were sentenced to time in the state penitentiary in Arizona. While White and a deputy were transporting the prisoners, White lost control of the car. The accident instantly killed him and left his deputy seriously injured.
Several other men have served as sheriff in the county, but a woman has yet to be elected to the office. The sheriff is elected every four years. Since Tony Espirada says that he does not intend to seek another term, Santa Cruz County will soon have a new sheriff in town. Yet, it will be a long time before Expirada’s service is forgotten because the detention center is named in honor of his legendary service.
Nogales Police Department
Marshal JK Wright was the first person to serve as chief of the Nogales, Arizona, police department. He took office in 1912, but he was arrested by the United States Border Patrol just a few months later along with two other men for being in violation of the United States neutrality law. The three men were tried and found guilty of bribery and selling United States guns and ammunition to Mexico in support of their president and against President Woodrow Wilson. The Battle of Nogales soon happened on March 13, 1913. Wright, however, did not give up his position until 1914.
The second chief was Marshal A. Dumbauld who served from 1915 to 1917. Dumbauld was born in Illinois, and he made his way to Nogales where he was a rancher. After serving the department, he went on to serve on the Board of Supervisors, became the Santa Cruz County Treasurer and the Arizona State Examiner.
While Charles Fowler served from 1917 to 1919, J.J. Lowe was elected in 1919 and held the position for 21 years. Cattle rustling in the area was a real problem with the police force often being sent to assist sheriff’s officers.
Unlike the sheriff’s office where only 17 men have served during the county’s history, the city has had 28 police chiefs. In fact, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada has served as interim police chief on three different occasions before moving to the county side in 1991. In recent years, the department has encountered many conflicts between city officials and the department’s chief law enforcement official. Therefore, a new official has been appointed frequently.
The current police chief is Roy Bermudez. He worked for the Nogales Police Department for 33 years before being appointed to oversee its operations beginning in 2017. In making the announcement, City Manager Carlos Rivera said that Roy had shown tremendous growth during his time with the city. Roy is a 1984 graduate of Nogales High School, and he started his law enforcement career just three weeks after his graduation. He was promoted to assistant chief in 2007, but when the top position came open in 2012, he was not considered because he did not have a college degree. Roy has since earned his bachelor’s degree from Capella University. He hopes the police department becomes known for its ability to use technology, its community policing initiatives and its ability to be innovative.
There is no doubt that the department has their hands full, but they are committed to being successful for the sake of the citizens who proudly call Nogales home. One of the initiatives that Bermudez proposes is involving more citizens in police work. Therefore, you can take an active part in building a positive community now and far into the future.
Santa Cruz County Jail
The first building used as a jail in Santa Cruz County was leased from Edward Marsh. It contained 12 rooms. After the courthouse was completed in 1904, the Pauley Jail Building Company of Saint Louis, Missouri, installed four cells.
A lot has passed between then and now when the Santa Cruz Arizona Detention Center located at the Tony Estrada Law Enforcement Center opened. This facility opening in 2011 has both wings for men and for women. It is considered a medium-security facility. Citizens of Santa Cruz county continue to finance the detention center through a half-cent local sales tax. Often, inmates from Tucson, Arizona, are housed here when their county jail reaches capacity.
In the past, inmates at the county jail had a special reason to be good while behind bars. While officers first attempt taking away privileges and other means to get someone to behave, they can resort to feeding them meatloaf. The inmates often have other names for this loaf made of meat and vegetables as they often call it disciplinary diet loaf, prison loaf or management loaf. Officials say that it only takes serving it once or twice a year to bring inmates back in line. The meatloaf resembling particle board is served with water to wash down the carrots and other vegetables that often fall out of its sides. The version served in Santa Cruz County is made of ground beef. It can only be served for three days in a row without special approval from the jail’s warden. Prisoners who follow the rule are often treated with special food like ham and sweet potatoes on special occasions.
Getting from Santa Cruz to Phoenix
Phoenix is located 180 miles north of Santa Cruz. If you are going to drive from Santa Cruz to Phoenix, then the easiest way to do it is to simply get on AZ-82 East and AZ-83 North until you reach Interstate 10 in Vail, Arizona. Then, take Interstate 10 until you reach Phoenix passing through Tucson, Marana and Ejoy, Arizona. The entire trip will take you about three hours to complete.
It is possible to fly from Santa Cruz to Phoenix. American, Alaska, United and Southwest all service this route from Nogales International Airport. If you have a choice, however, driving is usually preferred as it takes about five hours to hop on a plane to get between the two cities.
The Tufesa Bus Line also services a route between the two cities with frequent stops along the way. One of the advantages of taking the bus is that you can often find cheap tickets, so if money is a problem, then this may be the perfect solution for getting between the two cities.
Santa Cruz County and Nogales, Arizona, have a colorful past filled with many interesting characters. Most families are firmly committed to seeing life on both sides of the border get better in the future. There are many reasons to believe that the future of Arizona’s smallest county with the largest international border crossing will be bright. Just like the first settlers who saw promise in their new surroundings, a positive mental attitude will help make the future even brighter. The area is constantly changing from being filled with ranchers and mining activities to being a major international city. You can be part of the change.