February 14, 1912 – Arizona Joins the Union as the 48th State

Arizona is the sixth largest state in area and the 14th largest in population. It is one of the “Four Corners” states, having borders with New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, as well as one point in common with the southwestern corner of Colorado. Arizona’s border with Mexico is 389 miles long, along the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

Historically part of the territory of Alta California in New Spain, Arizona became part of independent Mexico in 1821. As part of the settlement of the Mexican–American War, Mexico ceded to the U.S. the northern 70% of modern-day Arizona above the Sonora border along the Gila River in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. (The U.S. agreed to pay $15 million for more than a half-million square miles of Mexican territory.)

The southernmost portion of the modern-day state was acquired in 1853 through the Gadsden Purchase.

Gadsden Purchase Area

Gadsden Purchase Area

In 1853, the entirety of present-day Arizona was part of the New Mexico Territory, which had been formed in 1850. White settlers in what became Arizona petitioned Washington for a separate Arizona Territory, hoping for U.S. Government protection from Mexicans and Apaches. They were turned down, however. When the Civil War broke out, Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the missed opportunity and created the Confederate Territory of Arizona. As Arizona journalist Jana Bommersbach once noted:

That finally got Washington’s attention, and President Abraham Lincoln swept in, creating the Territory of Arizona on Feb. 24, 1863. He established the boundary line that divides it from New Mexico to this day.”

After Arizona was split off from the Territory of New Mexico to form the Arizona Territory, it briefly became part of the Confederacy. It returned to U.S. territorial status after the Civil War. It did get the help from the government it had sought however; the army built a series of forts to act as a buffer between Native Americans and settlers.

Although Arizona was no longer a part of the Confederacy, after the Civil War it endeavored to preserve the pre-Civil War culture of White privilege and supremacy through the use of race-based exclusion laws. (See especially, Kristina M. Campbell, “Rising Arizona: The Legacy of the Jim Crow Southwest on Immigration Law and Policy After 100 Years of Statehood,” 24 Berkeley La Raza Law Journal 1 (2014), online here.)

Fort Whipple served as the territory’s first capital. The capital was soon moved to Prescott and then, a couple of years after the end of the Civil War, to Tucson. In 1877, it returned to Prescott before moving to Phoenix in 1889.

In 1891, just 28 years after becoming a territory in 1863, the residents petitioned for statehood, without receiving satisfaction.

Nevertheless, thousands of Arizona men answered the call for a volunteer army in 1898 to fight in the nation’s first overseas war: the Spanish-American War. They became Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. The Arizona troops were led by Prescott Capt. William “Bucky” O’Neill, who was killed and whose tombstone says it all: “Who would not die for a new star on the flag.”

Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the top of the hill which they captured, Battle of San Juan / by William Dinwiddie.

Still, Congress denied the territory statehood.

In 1903, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories proposed combining Arizona with New Mexico and admitting the area as one state. They called it “jointure,” and while New Mexico liked the idea, Arizona didn’t, declaring in a petition: “We prefer to remain a territory indefinitely rather than lose our identity.”

Arizona started calling itself the “47th state” in anticipation of things turning around, and in 1910, Congress told the territory to write a constitution. Voters passed it on February 9, 1911 but President William Howard Taft vetoed it because of a provision including the recall of judges.

Arizona removed the recall of judges and went back to voters, who approved the sanitized constitution. It hoped to be admitted on February 12, the birthday of President Lincoln. But Taft didn’t sign off on statehood until February 14, 1912. Meanwhile, New Mexico, which didn’t tinker with Taft’s rules on a constitution, was admitted as the 47th state on Jan. 6, 1912, making Arizona the 48th.

After the Civil War, Texans brought large-scale ranching to southern Arizona. The era of large-scale mining in Arizona began in 1858 when Jacob Snively found gold in Gila City, east of Yuma. Gila City became the first of the region’s many boom towns. Mining for silver and copper came next.

As True West Magazine reports:

. . . the copper strikes really began in the mid 1800s. Still, it took the Southern Pacific Railroad’s arrival at Gila Bend in 1879 and the coming of electric power (thus, a need for copper wires) to lead to better copper-mining ventures. Even then, only roughly 1.7 million pounds of copper were hauled out a year from the 1880s till 1917. From World War I until the Great Depression, copper mining exploded . . . .”

The population didn’t explode much though until after the World War II, with the widespread availability of refrigeration and air conditioning.

The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Arizona was 7,276,316 as of July 1, 2021. Of that number, 31.7% identify as Hispanic or Latino. Just 5.2% of the population is black.

About one-quarter of the state is made up of Indian reservations that serve as the home of 27 federally recognized Native American tribes, including the Navajo Nation, the largest in the state and the United States, with more than 300,000 citizens. Arizona has the greatest percentage of its acreage designated as Indian tribal land in the United States.

Navajo Indians from Arizona were enlisted to transmit secret communications for the U.S. Marines after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Known as Navajo Code Talkers, they created an oral code the enemy was unable to decipher, fulfilling a crucial role during World War II and saving countless lives.

One of Arizona’s greatest challenges is the state’s water supply. It has a desert climate, and depends on water from four sources: Colorado River water, surface water other than Colorado River water, groundwater and effluent. Colorado River water, shared by Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Mexico, is a constant source of political strife. When there is less water in the Colorado river reservoirs, Arizona and Nevada have to start cutting back on their take, pursuant to a deal made with California in 1968. The state closely monitors drought conditions and water supplies; you can see the stats here. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States in terms of water capacity, is a lake on the Colorado River formed by the Hoover Dam. The reservoir serves water to the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, providing sustenance to nearly 20 million people and large areas of farmland. The outlook as of early 2018 was “dismal.” You can see from the photo below the effects of drought plus increased demand.

White areas show decline of water level in Lake Mead (Photo: Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic)

Arizona’s continued population growth puts an enormous stress on the state’s water supply. Arizona the second fastest-growing state in the U.S. in the 1990s (the fastest was Nevada). The state encourages water-saving initiatives, such as drinking beer made from recycled water. You can read an update on the legal struggles over the water supply here.

Population estimates of the Phoenix metro area was 4,673,634 in 2018, making it the 11th largest Metropolitan Area in the nation by population. Metropolitan Phoenix and metropolitan Tucson (close to 1 million) are home to most of Arizona’s people.

Southern Arizona is known for its desert climate, with very hot summers and mild winters. Nevertheless, you can find ski resorts in Arizona, even in Tucson. In addition to the Grand Canyon National Park, there are several national forests, national parks, and national monuments. (Arizona’s Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and one mile deep.)

Many people think of Mormons as living mainly in Utah, but as of 2010, the Association of Religion Data Archives reported that the three largest denominational groups in Arizona were the Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and non-denominational Evangelical Protestants. In fact, the religious body with the largest number of congregations is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In Tucson, many people put Christmas lights on saguaro cacti (pronounced ‘sah-wah-roh’). Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert. [The Sonoran Desert straddles part of the United States-Mexico border and covers large parts of the U.S. states of Arizona and California and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.]


Saguaros, the largest cacti in the United States, are very slow growing. A ten-year-old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds.

This cactus is one of many desert cacti that put out both flowers and fruit; the saguaro flower is the state flower of Arizona. But the saguaro doesn’t produce its first flower until it is about 50 years old! The white blossoms open only at night, last less than 24 hours and are pollinated by moths and bats.

Another special biological phenomenon you can find in Arizona is the javelina. Javelina (the “j” is pronounced as an “h”), also known as collared peccary, are medium-sized animals that look similar to a wild boar. They have long, sharp canine teeth but they are vegetarians.

Javelina mom & baby

There is great regional food in Arizona, especially in the south, where the Mexican and Native American populations influence the cuisine. In fact, Tucson has such great things to eat and drink that in 2015 it became the first city in the U.S. to be designated a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

Prickly Pear Margarita

For Arizona laws and quick links, see this handy guide from the Law Library of Congress, here.


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