When I was growing up, I was taught that Europeans refused to venture to the western United States until Lewis and Clark blazed a trail for them. Much like many other stories in American history, this is only half the truth.

A postage stamp commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition
Credit: Canva

1500-1600: The European Discovery of Arizona

Europeans have been in and around the Arizona desert dating back to as far as the 14th century. It's said that Francisco Vázquez de Coronado led a quest for the "Seven Golden Cities of Cibola", which led his men to the American southwest.

A drawing of Spanish soldiers in the 16th century
Credit: Canva

Between 1540 and 1542 the crew claimed the southwest deserts for the Spanish crown, and were (theoretically) the first Europeans to see the Grand Canyon.

1600-1774: European Settlement in Arizona

In the early 15th century, Spanish explorers began to lay claim to more and more of the American desert. By 1619, the city of Santa Fe was established in New Mexico, and 10 years later, in 1629, Franciscans began making their way to Arizona.

A Franciscan Church
Credit: Canva

The Franciscans began establishing missions in Hopiland, making them the first European settlers in Arizona. Years down the road, missions were established along the Rio Santa Cruz and Rio San Pedro through 1711.

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1775: Arizona's First City

As the United States was fighting for their independence from the British crown, the American west was getting more wild. In 1775, Franciscans began taking colonists to California from Arizona and New Mexico.

As this migration began, a Spanish military base was constructed: Presidio San Agustín del Tucsón. Sound familiar?

An old chapel in Tucson, AZ
Credit: Canva

While the original fort is no longer standing, with the walls torn down when the U.S. acquired the land in the mid-19th century, the city of Tucson was built around the fort's original location. Not only is Tucson Arizona's oldest city, but also one of its most influential.



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Gallery Credit: Christopher Cappiali/Canva

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