The native people who it is believed first settled in this area, The Hohokam Indians, are believed to have settled in this area over 2,000 years ago. The Hohokams are a people shrouded in mystery and they got their name from the Piman Indian word for “the people who have gone”. These settlers came, stayed then disappeared from the valley a long time ago. We know something about them because they left behind some amazing proof of their civilization.
From the blistering plain, they used their engineering skills and imagination to make it possible to grow some crops in the desert. They did this by digging a series of ditches that allowed them to bring sufficient amounts of water to some areas of the valley so that they could plant their corn and other crops there.
These ditches were built along the Salt River so that those waters could be diverted to agricultural use. The skill and ability of the Indians as planners, builders, and farmers is proven to us today by scholars and archaeologists who have studied the area and the people who lived there long ago. Relics tell us today that these communities along the Salt River flourished for nearly 1,500 years.
Then the trail suddenly vanishes! What, if anything, happened is still not clear to us today. Theories are many as to what could have happened.
Some guess that a prolonged drought may have led to crop failures that finally forced the tribe to move away from the area, or even may have killed them. Some disease that we know nothing about today could also have caused this civilization to die off and disappear. Or perhaps the Hohokam Indians are simply the ancestors of the modern Pima Indians who now live on the Salt River and Gila River reservations and the Tohono O’odham who live in southern Arizona.
Anyone of these theories, or a combination of these ideas, could explain the mystery. But all that is known to those who are experts in this area is that the trail of evidence grows cold at about 1459 A.D. and that the hot, dust-swept plains are still and silent as to exactly what happened to the ancient civilization that once thrived there,
Probably the first western man to venture into what is now Arizona was Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado to in 1540. The Spanish were drawn to the New World in their zeal to spread Christianity and in their search for glory and riches. Their adventures saw them travel to what is now South America, Mexico, and the United States, and all along their way, these conquistadores kept hearing tales of never-to-be-found riches. Later Coronado led a legion of explorers further northward as far as Kansas but they found nothing that remotely resembled a mystical city of gold either.
It is widely believed that John Y.T. Smith was the first white settler to arrive n the area. Strong and sturdy, he chose the site to start cutting hay because of the remains of the canal ditches left behind by the Hohokam Indians.
After Smith had gotten used to life in the valley and found that the valley had ample bounty for anyone willing to put in the hard work and time to reap its rewards he invited his friends to come out west and see if they didn’t feel the way he did about the area
Now I invite you to join me in turning the clock back a little bit. In fact, let’s turn it all the way back to, let’s say, 1867. Here we are standing alone on a vast and unsettled desert plain. Don’t waste your time looking for any of the landmarks and places of interest that we take for granted today: Bank One Ballpark, America West Arena, Herberger Theater, Phoenix Symphony Hall, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Science Center, or the Convention Center, Arizona State University, The Biltmore- they’re not here yet!
Look around you and you will see little, outside some historic places that have remained with us to this very day, which you will be able to recognize! No busy city streets swelling with traffic, no sounds of powerful jet engines from the jet aircraft overhead – in fact, no paved roads at all!
The Phoenix area in 1867 may strike you as a little confusing! Just where is the Sheriff? Are there any outlaws on the loose and roaming the countryside? And just how does a six-shooter work, anyway?
Then you happen to see a man headed in your general direction, and, needing some quick information you hurry over to talk to him. In a rush, you introduce your self and then begin with a flood of questions.
The man straightens up, looks you square in the eye, and then, with a good-natured smile says “You’re new to these parts, aren’t you?” The man’s easy manner and friendliness are disarming and you follow along as he strolls toward the local feed store. He introduces himself, “My name is Jack Swilling, how do you do?”
You have just befriended one of the important figures in the founding of Phoenix. You see, Mr. Swilling was an engineer of sorts, and he founded a digging and building firm that began bringing water to the Phoenix from the Salt River.
Jack Swilling was from Wickenburg, Virginia. He was a friend of Smith’s and decided to take the invitation and go out west and see if he might not want to “set up stakes” here in what was later to become Phoenix.
Mr. Swilling made the long and dangerous trek across the country, finally arriving here safe and sound. When Jack Swilling got to the foot of the north slopes of the White Tank Mountains he may have taken a moment to rest and look around. He would have seen the vast Salt River Valley stretching out before him.
As he bent down to sample the dusty earth that he stood on his farming knowledge would tell him that there was a chance for life here. He would see farmland that didn’t have a lot of rocks and that had a long and warm growing season. He was very impressed with the area and, like so many who would follow in his adventurous footsteps; he fell in love with the valley and decided to settle here.
By 1868, he had convinced some friends from Wickenburg to join him out west. He told them of what he had seen and of the great promise that the area held for those brave enough to meet the tough physical challenges of the untamed west. Mr. Swilling must have been convincing because a band of brave settlers did leave from the east to join Mr. Swilling in Arizona. When these folks arrived they began to carry out their plan to make the vast stretches of land they saw before them good for farming. So this band of settlers made a canal from the Salt River and settled in a small farming community approximately four miles east of the present city. And it worked. And they stayed.
It is hard to imagine now because when you look around you, you can see plants, trees, and even flowers all around you. But before there was a way to bring water into the valley there was no life here except for native desert life.
You can still get a pretty good idea of what the area looked like in the days before a lot of settlers brought prosperity to the region by traveling just a short way beyond the valley. You will note that before too long the trappings of big-city life will quickly disappear, vanishing into an expanse of rolling desert sparsely populated by cactus and stark in its natural straight-forwardness.
The Hohokam Indians are thought to have settled this area over 2,000 years ago. They used the water from the Salt River to build irrigation ditches to support agriculture. Their community flourished for nearly 1,500 years until they suddenly vanished. Nobody knows the reason for certain but not a lot is left to show they were still living here after that time. Even the name “Hohokams” is really an Indian phrase of the Pima Tribe that means “the people who have gone”. Even though they are gone we know that they were here because they left their network of ditches behind.
John Y.T. Smith was the first white settler in the area. He chose the site to start cutting hay because of the remains of the canal ditches left behind by the Hohokam Indians gave him the necessary supply of water he needed for framing. Smith knew a good thing when he saw it and quickly invited his friend Jack Swilling from Wickenburg to come out to his place. Jack also thought it very promising, liked the potential and formed a canal company here in 1867.
It is believed that Darrell Duppa, an educated Englishman came up with the name Phoenix.
The myth says that just as the Egyptian Phoenix rose from its ashes and flew, so might the Hohokams be reborn again. It is unclear what Dupa believed the resurrected Braves would do once they discovered settlers on their land, but it makes for a great story anyway.
The growth of the town was slow and steady. Phoenix was filed as a town site in 1872. It was during this time that cotton became a main crop in the valley. In 1887, the railroad arrived in town. Then two years later Phoenix became the territorial capital. When the construction of the Roosevelt Dam was completed the town’s growth increased. The dam ensured that there was a dependable source of irrigation water.
Arizona became a state in 1912, and Phoenix became the capital. During the 1950’s Phoenix spread out 17 square miles. It was a small western town that was best known for its ideal climate for those suffering from asthma.
Up through the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s Phoenix was most famous for its climate, citrus fruits, copper, cotton, and cattle ranching. But it wasn’t until the encroachment of World Phoenix really began to grow with War II. Arizona climate was great for flying and the air force and the defense industry headed to Phoenix to set up shop. Phoenix had the work force and the land needed to set up plants for creating a military buildup. After the war, families headed west to start a new beginning. Then air-conditioning became standard, which made the desert summers bearable. Today tourism has become a leading industry.
The Phoenix area or “Valley of the Sun” is a haven for winter visitors. Tourism also makes Phoenix a great place to live. There are numerous restaurants, shopping areas and recreational spots for all to enjoy.
The relaxed and casual living makes Phoenix a desirable place to live and visit. Phoenix has grown to over 430 square miles and continues to be a town of new opportunities and growth.