By Terry Munderloh
Arizona Territory was created by passage of an act of Congress on February 20, 1863, by President Lincoln who appointed John Gurley as governor. When Gurley died before taking office, John M. Goodwin was appointed in his place. Goodwin arrived in Arizona Territory in December of 1863, and at Navajo Springs declared the Territory of Arizona. He then continued toward central Arizona and set up the provisional capital at Fort Whipple, then located at Del Rio Springs.
Governor Goodwin soon set out on an exploration trip of the new territory and caused a census to be taken. Upon his return to Fort Whipple, he moved the provisional seat of government and the fort to sites along the upper reaches of Granite Creek. These sites later became the town of Prescott. Based on the census, he established three Judicial Districts named as voting districts with voting precincts. The First Judicial District comprised everything south of the Gila River and east of the original Yuma County, the Second District included what later formed Mohave and Yuma Counties, the rest of the territory being the Third District.
On May 26, 1864, Governor Goodwin issued a proclamation for the holding of an election of the first Territorial Legislature. The election was held on July 16th, and nine Council members and 18 members of the Lower House were chosen. By convening the First Territorial Legislature Assemblage at Prescott on September 26th, of that same year, Goodwin designated Prescott as the site of the first capital. Perhaps his intentions for that location were to avoid any trouble with Confederate sympathizers in the Santa Cruz Valley and a recognition of the importance of Northern Arizona. Thus, a territorial government and governing body were established and Arizona politics were born.
One of the first legislative acts was the geographical designation of Arizona's first four counties: Mohave, Yuma, Pima and Yavapai. Yavapai County, in this original form, was the largest single county ever created in the United States. It was an empire of approximately 65,000 square miles, practically equal in size to all of New England. The fact that the majority of our present-day counties were taken wholly or in part from the original Yavapai has caused historians to call her "The Mother of Counties". As the territory's population increased, the boundaries of the original counties changed and changed again. Legislative representation likewise increased and individual counties focused more on their own developing economic interests.
The citizens of Tucson were quite piqued that the crude, unruly and wild frontier community of Prescott had become the Capital. Most of the people in the territory lived in the southern area. Tucson was an older established community and considered itself more civilized and genteel, having such amenities as lodging and eating establishments to offer the legislative dignitaries. In 1867, during the 4th Legislature, a Bill for removal of the Capital from Prescott to Tucson was introduced by Underwood Barnett of Pima County. The Bill passed the House by a 9 to 7 vote and the Council by a 5 to 4 vote.
That action only increased Prescott's determination to return the Capital to the mountains. In 1877, during the 9th Legislature, James P. Bull of Mohave took the bull by the horns and introduced the removal Bill to restore the Capital back to Prescott. This Bill passed the House by a 12 to 6 vote and the Council by 5 to 4. Prescott began to think she was going to have the Governor and his office there permanently. Tucson, of course, was doing everything in her political power to change things. In the meantime, the little farming community of Phoenix had energetically transformed that Salt River town into a major city. Phoenicians claimed that Tucson and Prescott would never agree to let the other city have the Capital. Why not settle the matter by putting it in Phoenix, halfway between the two rivals and in the middle of the territory?
In 1889, John Robbins of Cochise introduced the Capital removal Bill from Prescott to Phoenix during the 15th Legislature and the Bill passed the House by a 14 to 10 vote and the council by 9 to 2. The capital seat made it's last departure from her founding countryside but that didn't keep the country out of her new big city site. In 1890, the capital building built entirely of Arizona stone was erected at 17th Avenue and Washington Street. The foundations were constructed of malapais rock quarried from Camelback Mountain and the first-floor walls of granite taken from the South Mountains. All of the upper story walls are made of tufa stone from Mother Yavapai's mountains near Kirkland.
Terry Munderloh is a volunteer at the Sharlot Hall Museum Library and Archives.
Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (bug529p). Reuse only by permission.
The Capitol Building, 1905, in Phoenix, after its completion in 1901. The Capital had moved from Prescott to Tucson then back to Prescott before it finally moved to Phoenix in 1889.