CHRIS MARTIN: In the 'metropolis of Arizona' - The Explorer: Editorials

CHRIS MARTIN: In the 'metropolis of Arizona'

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Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:01 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

J. Ross Browne wrote in his book “A Tour Through Arizona, 1864 or, Adventures in the Apache Country,” that he was, in a modern term, clueless there was “within the territorial limits of the United States a city more remarkable in many respects than Jericho — the walls of which were blown down by horns; for, in this case, the walls were chiefly built up by horns — a city realizing, to some extent, my impressions of what Sodom and Gomorrah must have been before they were destroyed by the vengeance of the Lord.”

Any inkling as to what small, western city Browne could possibly be referring to as Sodom and Gomorrah when his book was published in 1869? Well, if you guessed our beloved Old Pueblo, you just earned some brownie points. Tucson, according to Browne, was “gratifying” in giving a traveler the opportunity to experience many “new sensations.”

Having passed through endless miles of “scraggly thickets of mesquite, bunches of sage and greasewood, beds of sand and thorny cactus,” entering Tucson was such a relief, tongue in cheek, where buildings were “mud-boxes, dingy and dilapidated, cracked and baked into a composite of dust and filth.”

Our wonderful little burg was a fun-filled place of broken corrals and sheds, streets littered with dead animals which fouled the air, and “barren of verdure, parched, naked, and grimly desolate in the glare of the southern sun.”

Browne, who referred to himself as a “sketcher” (artist) and hailed from England, wrote that prior to the American acquisition of Arizona, Tucson had been a military post for Mexico (as well as Spain, though he did not mention this fact). It had also been “occupied successively by the Federal and rebel troops (who he referred were from the “slave Republic”).

Tucson was at this time the center of trade between the state of Sonora in Mexico and the Pima Indians along the Gila River. It also served as the “high road from the Rio Grande to Fort Yuma” and, (and I love this one!), “quite a place of resort for traders, speculators, gamblers, horse-thieves, murderers and vagrant ‘politicians.’” The latter description proves some things really do remain the same, no matter what the time period.

“Californians” found the climate of the Old Pueblo “congenial to their health. If the world were searched over, I suppose there could not be found so degraded a set of villains as then formed the principal society of Tucson.” Browne appears to have had some issue with Californians.

He continued that most members in 1860s Tucson society were armed to the teeth and very rarely did a day go by that there was not some sort of bloody altercation in the saloons (all three of them) or in the streets. And the Apache (or the fear of them) were, of course, very much a part of everyday life here. Citizens who had once fretted about the care of their cattle and sheep no longer needed to bother since the Apache had long since taken them away. And what few Federal soldiers there were in town (it was 1864 and the Civil War far from over) to protect these armed locals, pigs that had roamed the streets, well, roamed no more, and eggs were scarce since “hens that used to lay them cackle no more in the hen form.”

Though there were written orders about public drunkenness, soldiers and civilians alike indulged in such activities, with nearly every person then living having at least once had one of those falling-down drunken episodes.

It was during his stay in Tucson word came through of a massacre at the hands of the Apache of the superintendent of the Patagonia Mines and another American coming up from Guaymas, Mexico. As a result of these “startling events,” Browne and other travelers passing through made arrangements to tag along with a detachment from Fort Yuma now heading east.

Though he stated he was happy to have had his “two or three days” sojourn in the “metropolis of Arizona, it is a very delightful place for persons of elegant leisure; but as we belonged to a class who are compelled to labor for a living, there was no excuse for our staying beyond the time necessary to complete arrangements for our tour through the silver regions of the south.”

He was perhaps attempting to smooth over some ruffled feathers when he said Tucson had improved during the two years since the arrival of the California Column (who chased the Confederate troops out of town), and there were attractions visitors and artists alike could possibly find “worthy of their genius.”

But, “I must be permitted to say the best view of Tucson is the rear view on the road to Fort Yuma.”

Considering his snotty nosed attitude, I seriously doubt his tune would change 144 years later, even with all the modern conveniences. You see, there is still a lot of weirdness to contend with, much the same as in the 1860s, only this time the problems seem to be better armed.

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