By Nancy Burgess

Official Census Day is April 1, 2000, about the time when every resident in the nation is to be counted.  Among the reasons for the head count is to ensure fair federal, state, and county government representation.  The population information gathered is also important in ensuring that our local communities receive their fair allocation of state-shared revenues and funding for programs that benefit Yavapai County citizens.


The census occurs every ten years and the individual household information collected remains confidential for 72 years. 

The first census taken in this area was in 1860, the year before the start of the Civil War.  Arizonans were listed as residents of "Arizona County, Territory of New Mexico" since the region to become Arizona was actually still part of the oversized New Mexico . Excerpts from the 1860 census show that almost everyone who was documented was from someplace else: Maine, New Jersey, New York and other points east.  The census reported the aggregate population of "Arizona County" to be 6,482, of whom 4,040 were listed as "Indians", 21 as "free colored" and 2,421 as "white".  Of the population listed as "white", 743 were females and 405 were soldiers.  The largest city was Tucson, but other "cities" with significant populations included Casa Blanca, Gila City, Ft Aravaipa and Ft. Buchanan, all now vanished. 

The next census occurred in Arizona Territory in 1864.  Residents of Arizona Territory at that time were from as far away as Prussia, and from Germany, France, England, Ireland, Poland and Spain as well as nearly every state in the union.  One man lists his residence as "United States."  Another man refused to answer, giving as his reason that it "is a trick of the governor to get the Capital up here" (Prescott).  Of 88 Prescott area entries reviewed, only the William Kirkland family, of Kirkland, had children, ages 6 and 2, who were born in Arizona.  Most people had been in the Territory for only a matter of months.  Most were single men, though there were a number of married men in the Territory without their wives, presumably to seek their fortunes as miners, farmers, carpenters, jewelers, merchants, blacksmiths, lawyers, or traders.  Others claimed as their occupations "whiskey seller", "hotel keeper" and "whatever will pay best".  At that time, Yavapai County was the largest county ever created in the United States and consisted of 65,000 square miles.  The third judicial district, which included Yavapai County and was even larger, reported a population of 1,088 people. 

The next census of the Arizona Territory was taken in 1870.  This census put the "non-Indian" population at 9,658.  Only 1,240 of these were Arizona born, and 5,809 of the total population were foreign born, many from Mexico.  The population of Yavapai County was 2,142 and the population of Prescott was 723, of whom 673 were males.  This was Prescott's first census as a town.  Although mining was the magnet that drew men to Prescott, the value of property listed shows that the merchants were the prosperous members of the community.  Other occupations included farmers, herders, carpenters, plasterers, brick masons, millwrights, machinists, clerks and laborers.  The shift in occupations shows that Prescott, the County Seat of Yavapai County, was growing up and becoming more a city and less a mining camp. 

The 1880 Census, which the Arizona Democrat described as "a matter of no small importance to Arizona" and as "the only thing which can bring us one step closer to our exercise of the rights of self government " was a contentious one.  There were accusations that census officials from Maricopa County were "stealing" residents from Yavapai County in order to bolster their own population.  Final numbers gave Yavapai County a population of 5,013, including 140 "Chinese" and 54 "Indians".  The enumerator for Prescott, J. L. Fisher, reported Prescott's population at 2,078.  The Territory had a total population of 40,440, enough for statehood, but that wouldn't happen until 1912. 

As growth in Prescott and our region makes headlines, it remains important to understand the location and makeup of our population.  During the month of January there will be a display at the Prescott Public Library showing how the Census taking has occurred historically.  If your household happens to receive a long form, you will be asked a number of very personal questions.  Remember that the information you provide will remain confidential for 72 years. After that period, historians and possibly your progeny will be able to know more about you and our community. 

Nancy Burgess is the City of Prescott's Historic Preservation Specialist.

Sharlot Hall Museum Photograph Call Number: (po0426p). Reuse only by permission.
Stand up to be counted like these folks probably did in the 1890s.  The first census of the area took place in 1860, before Prescott existed.  Although enthusiasm has varied in the last 140 years, Prescott has always recognized the duty of standing up to be counted in the decennial nation-wide head count.