Statehood Day: Ten Great Arizonans You Have Never Heard Of

By Tom Prezelski

Originally posted to Rum Romanism and Rebellion

It is statehood day, so I wanted to write something special. This was written a few years ago and posted in a few different places. I was going to re-visit this list, but I decided that I still like my choices, since you still have not heard of most of these. My call to the reader to feel free to take issue with this list still stands.


February 14th is, among other things, Statehood Day in Arizona. This means that someone, somewhere, will publish the inevitable “greatest Arizonans who ever lived” or “people/events that changed Arizona” lists in newspapers or blogs. The results of these lists are predictable. They nearly always, for instance, include Barry Goldwater. I have nothing against Goldwater’s inclusion, but the late Senator is a little like the Beatles; yeah they were great; yes, things are different because of what they did, but that does not mean that they are not over-rated.

So I am making my own list. This list will not include easy choices like Goldwater, Kino and Poston, names which should already be familiar to most readers. Instead, I take this opportunity to highlight some of the individuals whose names should be familiar, but have instead slipped into relative obscurity despite their role in shaping the Arizona we all know and love.

My standards in making this list are fairly simple. First, the named individual must no longer be alive and must have no institutions, streets, towns, parks, or substantial monuments named for them. Naturally, the individual must have made a lasting, positive contribution to Arizona during their lifetime regardless of the length of their residency in the state. This last one is, of course, highly subjective, and I will have to admit not only to my geographic bias as a Tucsonan but also my political bias as a Democrat. Anyone who has an issue with one of my choices, or someone I did not choose, should feel free to make these views known.

Yaqui Flag1. Antonio Siraumea (~1686-?): A Yaqui Indian who worked as a laborer in the mines of Sonora, in 1736, Siraumea stumbled upon a remarkably rich silver vein while prospecting in a remote canyon near what is now the international border west of Nogales. The subsequent rush of miners to the site, and Siraumea’s ultimately successful fight to retain his rights to his discovery, led to a long and complex legal battle, assuring the region’s lasting reputation for mineral wealth which would forever be associated with the name of an otherwise obscure ranch at the mouth of the canyon, a place called Arizona.

Urrea2. General José Cosme Urrea (1797-1849): Born in Tucson to a prominent military family, Urrea rose to fame in the Mexican Army. Commanding a brigade during the war against rebelling Tejanos and Texan colonists, Urrea scored a string of impressive victories and emerged as the most respected Mexican general in the war. An advocate of democracy and reform, Urrea became a leader in the opposition to the dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Anna. During his service as Governor of Sonora (which included a substantial portion of what is now Arizona), Urrea negotiated a peaceful settlement to an unnecessary war with the Tohono O’odham, ushering in an era of friendly relations that continues in Southern Arizona today.

Great_Western3. The Great Western (1812-1866): A “camp follower” who attached herself to General Zachary Taylor’s army during the war with Mexico, the woman named Sarah was dubbed The Great Western after a famous steamship for her six foot tall “Amazon” frame. A shrewd businesswoman, she made successful investments in real estate, livestock, and other ventures, as she continued to follow the Army. Now named Sarah Bowman, she arrived at Fort Yuma in 1852, where she worked as a laundress and hospital matron at the post even as she ran businesses that catered to the soldiers. In 1854, she acquired land on the opposite bank of the Colorado River where she established a restaurant, boarding-house, bar, and brothel. The civilian settlement that rose up around these businesses eventually became the city of Yuma. When she died, she was buried at Fort Yuma with full military honors in recognition of her long and dedicated service to the Army.

Manuelito4. Manuelito (1818-1893): Manuelito had already risen to a position of leadership among the Navajo by the time New Mexico (which then included Arizona) was conquered by the United States in 1846. He relentlessly defended Navajo lands from incursions by these newcomers even as he had from the Mexicans, Pueblos, and Utes before them, through war and, when possible, negotiation. In 1865, his band was among the last to be deported to Bosque Redondo after General Carleton’s extensive and brutal campaign. When the reservation there proved a failure, Manuelito was among the Navajo leaders to successfully argue with General Sherman for a return of their former homeland. The Navajo emerged from their captivity with an unprecedented sense of solidarity as a people, and Manuelito stood prepared to argue for their sovereignty and their rights. In 1876, he travelled with a delegation to meet with President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington D.C. and got an expansion to the Reservation, his first of four successful efforts to secure more land for the Navajo, creating what would become the largest Reservation in the United States.

Crossportrait5. Colonel Edward Ephraim Cross (1832-1863): Cross already had extensive experience as a journalist before he arrived in Tubac, in what was to become Arizona, in 1857. He invested in area mines, and reported on the region as a correspondent to newspapers Back East. In 1859, he and other local investors had a printing press, the first one in what would become Arizona, shipped from Ohio via Cape Horn and Cross became editor of The Weekly Arizonian, the area’s first newspaper. Cross’ strident editorial policy made a few powerful enemies and he sold his interest within a few months. In 1860, he went to Sonora to take a commission in the insurgent forces of Benito Juarez until returning to the States with the outbreak of the Civil War. Commissioned a Colonel in the New Hampshire Volunteers, he received a reputation as a colorful and fearless officer before being killed at Gettysburg. His press remained in Arizona and was used for some of the earliest government printing after Arizona became a territory in 1864, as well as, at various times, newspapers like the Tucson Citizen and Tombstone Epitaph. The press remained in operation intermittently at various locations in Arizona until well into the 20th Century.

Josesphine_Hughes6. Elizabeth Josephine Brawley Hughes (1839-1926): Josephine Hughes came to Arizona to join her husband (see #7) in 1871. She became a crusader for numerous causes for social improvement, helping to organize the first protestant Church in Arizona (1876) and advocating for public schools. At various times, she assumed many editorial and management duties at the Arizona Star, particularly during her husband’s absences as he pursued politics. In 1880, she organized the Arizona chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and became involved both locally and nationally in the women’s movement, particularly in promoting the cause of suffrage. Her son, State Senator John T. Hughes, worked for suffrage in the First State Legislature, but, after he was stifled, the two organized a successful initiative effort to secure the vote for women in Arizona in 1912, eight years before the passage of the 19th Amendment. For her lifelong work, Governor George W.P. Hunt dubbed her “The Mother of Arizona.”

Louis_Hughes7. Governor Louis Cameron Hughes (1842-1915): A Union Army veteran who worked his way through college as a machinist, Hughes arrived in Arizona in 1871. A Democrat, he quickly entered politics, serving on the Tucson City Council and as Pima County Attorney. After serving a brief and stormy tenure as Territorial Attorney General under Republican Governor A.P.K. Safford (1873-1874), Hughes founded the Arizona Star as a platform to promote his political views. He was an early leader in the progressive movement, promoting radical ideas such as women’s suffrage, organized labor, and election reform. Appointed Territorial Governor by President Grover Cleveland in 1893, he was able to restore reason and fiscal restraint to Arizona’s government, but his term was cut short by the machinations of the numerous enemies he had earned due to his liberal views. He retained a substantial following, however, and the progressivism that he promoted eventually came to dominate the Democratic Party and guided the drafting of the Arizona State Constitution.

Morenci_Strike8. Wenceslao “Three-Fingered Jack” Loustaunau (1869-1906): A humble blacksmith who worked for the Arizona Copper Company at Metcalf, Loustanau rallied fellow mine workers to protest a cut in wages for Mexican-American employees instituted as a cynical reaction to new labor laws passed by the Territorial Legislature in 1903. With stirring rhetoric, Loustanau inspired a strike that quickly spread to nearby Clifton and Morenci and involved as many as 5000 people. The Arizona Rangers and the National Guard were sent in to break the strike and Loustanau was arrested and eventually sent to Yuma Territorial Prison where he died a few years later. Though the strike was ultimately a failure, Loustanau, with no help from established labor unions or anyone else, was successful at drawing nationwide attention to labor conditions in western mines. He also succeeded, even if briefly, at organizing working people, and Mexican-Americans in particular, around a common cause to an extent that had never before been seen in Arizona.

Oblasser9. Father Bonaventure Oblasser, O.F.M. (1885-1967): Father Bonaventure was sent to Arizona in 1910 as a part of renewed Franciscan missionary efforts among the Tohono O’odham. During his three decades in the region, he built over a dozen churches in the remote villages of the Papagueria. Believing that the boarding school system was harmful to the culture, Oblasser created a system of day schools so that children could be educated in or near their own communities. He came to be an advocate for the Tohono O’odham, organizing the successful lobbying effort that created the Reservation in 1915 and helping the Tribe fight an old lawsuit that sought to take title to their lands. With the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, Oblasser participated in the drafting of the Tribe’s first constitution, striving to make a document that codified the O’odham’s traditions.

Sam_Goddard10. Governor Samuel Pearson “Sam” Goddard Jr. (1919-2006): Goddard came to Arizona after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II to attend the University of Arizona Law School. Establishing himself as a lawyer in Tucson, his civic involvement led him to pursue politics and he was elected Governor of Arizona as a Democrat in 1964. Recognizing that Arizona was changing rapidly, he pursued a bold agenda as Governor, which did not endear him to a legislature dominated by a coalition of Republicans and conservative rural “Pinto” Democrats. Nevertheless, he accomplished much in his single term, including the establishment of a state budget office, an Arts Commission, and, most importantly, the passage of a sweeping civil rights law. He was actively involved in the fight for Arizona’s share of Colorado River water at a critical time in the development of the Central Arizona Project, and strengthened ties with his counterpart in Sonora. After his term, he remained active as Chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party and as a member of the Central Arizona Project board.

One response to “Statehood Day: Ten Great Arizonans You Have Never Heard Of

  1. The only reason I have heard of Gov. Sam Goddard is because he is father is Terry Goddard, former Attorney General and three time candidate for Governor of AZ. Now that Terry is running for Sec. of State, perhaps there may be someday another Governor Goddard.