- Author: Douglas Towne
- Category: History
- Issue: Dec 2011
From maverick men to ceiling-shattering women, Arizona has no shortage of colorful characters that helped shape our great state.
Not your average temple-building Zoroastrian silver prospector, Charles Poston, a.k.a. the “Father of Arizona,” literally put Arizona on the map. The former California gold rusher relocated to the Southwest to explore the mineral potential of lands obtained from Mexico in 1853. Three years later, he secured funding to start the Sonora Mining and Exploration Company in the town of Tubac, located in what was then called the New Mexico Territory. Poston served as mayor, judge and treasurer of Tubac, which prospered as a silver mining outpost until Apache attacks forced its abandonment during the Civil War.
Fleeing to Washington, D.C., Poston befriended President Abraham Lincoln while lobbying for the creation of a separate Territory of Arizona. Trumpeting the area’s vast mineral wealth, Poston sold Congress on the idea, and Arizona became a territory in 1863. Poston, a Republican, served as the territory’s first delegate to Congress but was not reelected, largely because of his refusal to return home to campaign.
In his later years, grieving over the loss of his wife and daughter, Poston traveled to India, where he converted to Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of the Persian empire. Upon returning to Arizona, he began construction of a Parsi fire temple on a hill outside Florence. He died in 1902, having never completed his “Temple to the Sun.” In 1925, his remains were interred in a pyramid atop the hill, which was renamed “Poston Butte.”
Back when the Salt River regularly deluged Downtown Phoenix like a rain-swollen Nile, numerous water wranglers tried to tame its fickle flow. None were more successful than Benjamin Fowler. As chairman of the Maricopa County Water Storage Committee, Fowler started lobbying in Washington, D.C. in 1900 for the authority to issue county bonds to fund construction of a storage dam on the Salt River.
With the passage of the 1902 National Reclamation Act, Fowler switched tactics and worked with pals of President Theodore Roosevelt to construct a federally-financed dam at the confluence of the Salt River and Tonto Creek. To facilitate this proposal, Fowler helped form and became the first president of the Salt River Valley Water Users’ Association in 1903. Its dedicated members pledged more than 200,000 acres of their private land as collateral for a federal government loan to construct a water storage and delivery system.
The project was approved, and construction began in 1903 on what was to become Theodore Roosevelt Dam. When President Roosevelt dedicated it in 1911, the structure was the world’s largest masonry dam and became the lynchpin in transforming the Valley into a major agricultural and metropolitan region.
Maybe it was something in the Salt River water that made the Hayden family such hydraulic titans. Charles Trumbull Hayden, who ran Hayden’s Ferry and Hayden Flour Mill, helped found the city of Tempe and Tempe Normal School (now Arizona State University). His son, Carl Hayden, was famous for wrangling Colorado River water and bringing it to central Arizona. A Stanford University graduate, Carl was elected Maricopa County treasurer and, subsequently, sheriff. The Democrat became the first Congressman from the newly-minted state of Arizona in 1912, spearheading the development of natural resources and infrastructure. He helped create Grand Canyon National Park and fund the San Carlos Project on the Gila River, which included the Ashurst-Hayden Dam. In 1926, he was elected to the first of seven Senate terms, and became the longest-serving U.S. Senator in history at the time.
Carl introduced Central Arizona Project legislation to bring Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson in 1946. Congress denied funding until Arizona received a favorable decision in the 1963 Supreme Court ruling Arizona v. California. The $4 billion legislation, the most expensive water project in U.S. history, was reintroduced and approved on September 30, 1968. President Lyndon Johnson declared the occasion Carl Hayden Day. President John F. Kennedy once said of Carl, “Every Federal program which has contributed to the development of the West – irrigation, power, reclamation – bears his mark, and the great Federal Highway program... in large measure is his creation.”
George Wiley Paul Hunt
A teenage runaway from Missouri, George Wiley Paul Hunt zigzagged across the West before landing in Globe, Arizona, with nothing but a few bucks and a burro. Nevertheless, he prospered. Nicknamed “Old Walrus” for his girth and handlebar whiskers, Hunt was a bullish campaigner. He represented Globe in both houses of the territorial legislature and was president of the Arizona Constitution Convention, which penned the state’s constitution. In 1912, Hunt was elected the first governor of Arizona and served a total of seven nonconsecutive two-year terms, earning him another sobriquet, George VII. The Democrat likely missed out on becoming a U.S. Senator in 1920 when a political rival urged President Woodrow Wilson to appoint him to a far-flung diplomatic position; Hunt became ambassador to Siam (now Thailand) for two years.
A Progressive Era populist, Hunt supported reforms such as women’s suffrage, income tax, child labor, worker’s compensation, old-age pensions and compulsory education. In later years, Hunt fought against the Colorado River Compact, which he felt ceded California too much water. A popular saying of the era was, “While Jesus walked on water, Hunt ran on the Colorado River.” Hunt died in 1934 and was interred in a white pyramid atop a hill in Papago Park.
How’s this for a housemate? Arizona’s first Congresswoman, Isabella Greenway, née Selmes, spent much of her youth on a North Dakota ranch her family co-owned with Theodore Roosevelt. She became lifelong friends with his niece, Eleanor, and served as a bridesmaid at her wedding to Franklin Roosevelt in 1905. Isabella married and was widowed twice, the last time in 1926 to John Greenway, who managed a mining company in Bisbee.
Isabella’s interest in social activism motivated her to found the Arizona Hut, a Tucson furniture factory employing disabled World War I veterans. When the Great Depression slowed furniture sales, Greenway had her workers build the Arizona Inn and outfitted the hotel with their furniture. The inn is still in operation today.
She became Arizona’s Democratic national committeewoman and had the honor of seconding the nomination of Franklin Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic convention. That same year, Greenway also became the sole U.S. Representative from Arizona, winning a special election. She worked for New Deal reforms, including projects to improve Arizona’s economy and provide employment. Greenway was reelected in 1934 but retired from public office in 1936, even though it was speculated she would have run unopposed in both the primary and general election. She died in 1953 in Tucson.
Credited with reinvigorating the American conservative movement in the 1960s, Barry Goldwater grew up in a prominent Phoenix mercantile family that founded Goldwater’s department store. A pilot during World War II, Goldwater retired as a Major General. In 1949, he entered politics by winning a seat on the Phoenix City Council and became vice-mayor.
A staunch Republican, Goldwater was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952 in a major upset. Known for his anti-communism and labor reform stances, “Mr. Conservative” articulated his philosophy in The Conscience of a Conservative, published in 1960. He ran for president against Lyndon Johnson, famously stating at the 1964 Republican Convention, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Goldwater lost in a landslide.
He returned to politics in 1968, winning three more Senate terms. Despite helping conservatives such as Ronald Reagan to prominence, his Libertarian views sometimes conflicted with his party’s right wing. Always quotable, Goldwater remarked on the issue of gays serving in the military, “You don’t need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight.” He died in 1998.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor came a long way from a childhood bereft of running water or electricity on the Lazy B Ranch near Duncan, Arizona. Lazy she wasn’t: In 1946, O’Connor attended Stanford University, where she earned undergraduate and law degrees. Finding work as a lawyer proved problematic because of her gender, so she raised a family and co-founded a legal firm.
The Republican became Arizona’s assistant attorney general in 1965. She was appointed to the Arizona State Senate in 1969 and was reelected twice. She eventually became the first female state Senate majority leader in the U.S. In 1975, O’Connor was elected to the Maricopa County Superior Court and subsequently appointed by Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979.
O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to become the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981. Despite opposition from each party’s fringe, she was confirmed 99-0 by the Senate. O’Connor went on to serve 24 years on the nation’s highest bench, often as the deciding swing vote on the court. Although usually siding with the conservative bloc, O’Connor was known for her moderating influence. She retired from the Supreme Court in 2006.
Morris and Stewart Udall
Morris and Stewart Udall
The westernmost and easternmost point of America and its territories – Point Udall, Guam, and Point Udall, U.S. Virgin Islands – are named after Morris and Stewart Udall, respectively: a fitting tribute for brothers whose legacy spans every point in between.
Born in St. Johns, Arizona, Stewart and Morris (“Mo”) both attended the University of Arizona in the 1940s, earning undergraduate and law degrees and playing on the school’s basketball team. The older of the two, Stewart, flew combat missions over Europe during World War II. His political career began on a Tucson school board and continued with three terms in Congress starting in 1954. In his eight years as Secretary of the Interior, Stewart helped create national parks, environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, and cultural institutions such as the Kennedy Center and the National Endowments for Arts and the Humanities. A respected author in his post-political career, he died in 2010.
Between his undergraduate and law degrees, Mo played a year of pro basketball for the Denver Nuggets. When Stewart became part of President John F. Kennedy’s cabinet in 1961, Mo won his House seat and kept it for 30 years, focusing on the environment, American Indians and campaign reform. In 1976, Mo finished second to Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination for president. Deemed by a journalist “too funny to be president,” Mo used the quote as the title of his 1980 autobiography. He resigned from Congress in 1991 while battling Parkinson’s disease and died in 1998.
Like many great civil rights leaders, César Chávez found passion through personal hardship. Born in Yuma in 1927, Chávez lived in a modest adobe home with his family for a decade until his parents lost the home in an unscrupulous real estate arrangement. They subsequently moved to California’s San Joaquin Valley to become migrant farm workers, and after eighth grade, Chávez dropped out of school to help support his family.
Following a stint in the Navy, Chávez returned to California in 1948, where he was influenced by a local priest to devote his life to social justice. For a decade, he worked for the Community Service Organization, educating migrant workers about their voting rights. Chávez launched what would become the United Farm Workers organization in 1962. He utilized non-violent methods such as strikes, boycotts, marches and fasts to draw attention to farm laborers’ poor wages, difficult working conditions and pesticide dangers.
In 1972, Chávez fasted for 24 days at the Santa Rita Center in south Phoenix to protest a new state law denying farm workers the right to strike or boycott to improve working conditions. Chávez died in San Luis, Arizona, in 1993, but his slogan, “Si, se puede,” loosely translated “Yes, we can,” endures today.
Known as “the Thoreau of the American West,” author Edward Abbey was famous for his über-environmentalism and anarchist tendencies. A Pennsylvania native, he became captivated with the Southwest on a trip to the Four Corners area when he was 17.
Abbey earned philosophy and English degrees from the University of New Mexico in the 1950s. He was editor of the school newspaper until forced to resign after publishing the article “Some Implications of Anarchy,” which included the quote, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” Abbey subsequently attended Edinburgh University as a Fulbright scholar.
National Park Service jobs provided the background for a number of his books, including the 1968 Desert Solitaire, which many consider to be among the finest nature narratives in American literature. During that time period, he moved to the Tucson area and worked at the University of Arizona. Abbey also excelled at writing fiction, most notably The Monkey Wrench Gang, which became the bible for eco-warriors everywhere. Abbey died in Oracle, near Tucson, in 1989, and according to his wishes, was placed inside his old sleeping bag and buried by friends at an unknown location (reputedly the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness in southern Arizona).
Hailing from a pioneer Flagstaff ranching and mercantile family, Bruce Babbitt helped shape Arizona – and the nation – by championing conservation work. Babbitt studied geology at the University of Notre Dame, geophysics at the University of Newcastle in England, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1965.
After working as a civil rights attorney, Babbitt returned to Arizona and was elected attorney general. In 1978, he became the state’s youngest governor after the sitting governor resigned and his successor passed away. Babbitt was reelected twice, focusing on water management and education. Babbitt sought the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination and received positive press but withdrew from the race after doing poorly in the initial primaries.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Babbitt his Secretary of the Interior, a position he held for eight years. His work included facilitating the restoration of the Florida Everglades, protecting the Endangered Species Act, and starting the National Landscape Conservation System to protect scenic and historic federal lands. Twice during his time in Clinton’s cabinet, Babbitt was considered for the Supreme Court but was passed over in part because he was considered so vital to the Interior Department.
Overcoming unimaginable hardships as a prisoner of war for more than five years in North Vietnam, “maverick” Arizona conservative politician John McCain has long been a major force in national politics. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958 to become a naval aviator. During the Vietnam War, McCain almost died aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal when a missile accidentally fired from a nearby plane ignited his aircraft. In 1967, his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over North Vietnam; severely injured, McCain became a prisoner in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”
After he retired from the Navy in 1981, McCain was elected as an Arizona Congressman in 1982; he won a Senate seat in 1986. Gaining national visibility in the Senate, McCain ran for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination but lost in a fierce campaign to George W. Bush. In 2004, he was so favorably viewed by the electorate that John Kerry reportedly considered him for the Democratic vice-presidential slot. In 2008, McCain was the Republican nominee for president but lost in the general election to Barack Obama. He was reelected for a fifth Senate term in 2010.
Inspired to act after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Pat Tillman shocked the nation by walking away from a lucrative NFL contract to become an Army Ranger.
Born in Fremont, California, Tillman excelled at football in high school and earned a full athletic scholarship at Arizona State University in 1994. Tillman became a star linebacker and was voted the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He also graduated a semester early with a 3.84 GPA. Selected as the 226th pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 NFL Draft, Tillman went on to start 10 of 16 games in his rookie season at safety.
In 2002, Tillman turned down a $3.6 million contract from the Cardinals to enlist in the Army with his younger brother, Kevin. After basic training, they were assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After graduating from Ranger School, the Tillmans were deployed to Afghanistan, where Pat was killed on April 22, 2004. Originally reported as a hostile-fire incident, Tillman’s death was later attributed to friendly fire. His legacy lives on with the Pat Tillman Foundation, which provides educational resources to military families.