County History

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Originally located in Dona Ana County in New Mexico Territory, the area that eventually became Graham County, Arizona, was part of a vast high desert landscape that stretched all the way to the Colorado River. This region was used by the Indians from prehistoric times up to the present day. Indian burial grounds, village sites, and sacred sites abound in this area. This is a rich archaeological area.

Fort Goodwin, some thirty-five miles below where Solomonville now is, was established by order of General James H. Carleton in 1864 for the purpose of overawing the Chiricahua and Pinal and White Mountain Apache Indians under their renowned leader, Cochise, who during those years, and up to 1872, kept the whole country in a state of terror. In more recent history, this area was the last refuge of Geronimo, and the intense effort of the U.S. Cavalry to capture the Indian war leader and his band of fighters. 

The first settlers upon the Gila in this county were of Mexican descent and pitched their camp at San Jose about one and one-half miles above Solomonville, and the same year a settlement was commenced at that place. The settlement was first called Munsonville on account of William Munson starting a little store there. Munson soon sold out to I. E. Solomon and the place changed the name to the present one.

About 1850, early pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began settling this land. The Saints brought their faith, their irrigation, and their respect for the land and the people, and made this place their home. Within twenty years after the arrival of the first pioneers many other religions were also welcoming a growing population.  A second group of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) came in later from Utah and settled in the valley in 1880, and formed several settlements upon the Gila River below Safford; dug irrigation canals and began developing the resources of the valley until at the present time, by their thrift and industry, they have that portion of the Gila Valley as productive as any portion of the West. The valley of Salt River about Phoenix is larger in area but not more productive per acre. The population of this county by census of 1900 is 14,162, an increase of two hundred and fifty per cent in a decade. Mount Graham which is but a continuation of the Chiricahua Range on the northwest, is at the highest portion, 10,318 feet above sea level. Mount Turnbull, a separate peak, but a prolongation of the range upon the northwest trend is nearly as lofty. The elevation of the valley of the Gila is, at the San Carlos, about three thousand feet, while at the eastern line of the county, some seventy miles to the eastward the altitude will reach about four thousand feet. In hottest summer the weather gets quite warm and at midday or a little later in the day the thermometer frequently indicates in the shade 100 or even a few degrees over that, but high mountains being so close at hand on every side nights are cool and pleasant even at this season of the year. In winter, snow sometimes covers the ground, though it does not lie on any great length of time.

The largest city, Safford, was incorporated in 1881.  Safford is the namesake of Anson Pacely Killen Safford, an early Territorial Governor.  The city dates back to 1873 and owes its establishment to frontiersmen Amos Perigo and H. J. Davis who arrived in the valley and helped Joshua Bailey and Edward D. Tuttle, who entered Arizona in 1862, create a town.  Bailey picked the name for the town, establish its first store. Bailey named the new town after territorial governor A. P. K. Safford and built a store and bar, becoming the community's first postmaster.  Land speculator William H. Kirkland invested in construction and designed the new town.  Safford was a small community of family farms.  Josh Bailey was the first to build a store in the community. Tuttle was a member of the Territorial Legislature and taught the first Safford school, an adobe structure which stood at the site of the present post office.

Another major group, Spanish settlers, came from neighboring New Mexico.  They made their homes a few miles north and east of Safford in what is today, Sanchez, and San Jose, Arizona. The area known as Sanchez was named after Lorenzo Sanchez who arrived in the valley sometime in 1879.

By 1881, the community of Safford was thriving.  On March 10th of that year, Graham County was created out of Pima and Apache counties by Jorgenson, Skinner, Anderson, and Wilson.  Joseph Knight Rogers was called the father of Graham County because, as a representative from Pima County, he introduced a bill in the state Legislature in 1882 recommending that this area be made separate from Pima and Apache counties and be given the name of Graham. The bill passed. He again served in the state Legislature as a representative from Graham County in 1896.

Safford was designated as its county seat.  That designation lasted just two years.  I. E. Solomon's ambitious plan for his own community -- and the continuing practice of judges and lawyers to travel from Tucson to Solomonville to provide law and order to the valley -- resulted in the change to Solomonville in 1883.  County business was conducted in Solomonville until 1915, a few years after statehood, when the Seat returned to Safford.

The first Catholic church in the valley was built in Solomonville in 1884  with Jorgenson as bishop.

I. E. Solomon and D. W. Wickersham of Safford partnered in the Solomon-Wickersham Company, a wholesale food business.  Originally established in Bowie in 1895, it grew in size and importance, moving to Safford in 1901.

John J. Birdno was the Gila Valley's most ambitious promoter.  He was a real estate investor and publisher of the Graham County Guardian.

Several changes caused Safford to add new businesses and increase in population: the building of the Gila Valley Globe & Northern Railway through Safford, and the construction of a new county courthouse at the west end of Main Street.

The most famous business in Thatcher was the Big 6 store.  Six Thatcher residents -- W. W. Pace, John Hoopes, I. E. D. Zundell, Andrew Kimball, Ed Phillips, and Frank Tyler -- combined their assets to open this implement and mercantile company in 1901.

Graham County is well supplied with schools, and the Latter-day Saints have paid particular attention to this requisite of an intelligent people. They not only have public schools at short intervals along the Gila Valley, but have established an academy in the valley under able instructors, where a classical education can be obtained at a reasonable cost. Of churches there are many; the different sects being well represented ; perhaps, the Mormons in the agricultural portions predominate. Of newspapers there are several ably edited. Secret societies as Masons, Odd Fellows, and Elks, are well represented and W. C. T. U. is in a flourishing condition. This county bids fair to be the banner county of Arizona in population and productive wealth at the next census decade. Assessed valuation of property in 1903 for taxation, $3,953,255.15.

There are in Graham County great possibilities that are but beginning to be developed. There is considerable fine land for agricultural purposes up the San Simon from where it enters the Gila River near Solomonville to the north line of Cochise County. What is required to make it very productive is that artesian water be developed as the San Simon River itself will not afford water in sufficient quantity oftener than one year in five to irrigate the bottom lands along it.

The main agricultural land of this county lies along the Gila River commencing some miles above Solomonville and extending down the river some forty miles, where it enters Gila County. For some twenty miles down the river from Solomonville, the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), have made of lands along the river an agricultural paradise. Land that was deemed of little value but a few years ago, has been reclaimed and rendered fertile by bringing water from the Gila River in sufficient quantities in aqueducts or ditches to irrigate the thirsty soil as needed. This has been done by these energetic and industrious people without asking aid of the Federal Government. Fine roads have been constructed; turnpiked, and wherever ditches or water channels crossed the line of road good and substantial bridges are put in. Trees have been planted on each side of the roads through their whole distance.

The fields are separated from each other by substantial fences and are kept in fine repair. Immense crops of grain and hay are raised every year, and have generally brought remunerative prices, so, as a general thing, these sturdy farmers are in independent circumstances. They live principally in fine brick houses, large and commodious, surrounded by gardens and flowers, and in almost every instance in a grove of beautiful trees.

In 1904, there are several important towns along the river, the principal of which are Pima, Thatcher, Safford and Solomonville. Solomonville is, at present, the county-seat and has a population of about two thousand people. Safford, probably, has about the same number.

The old, reliable firm of Solomon, Wickersham & Company is much in evidence along the Gila River from Solomonville down to the county boundary. This firm has a wholesale house at both Safford and Solomonville and a bank in both places of which the firm owns the main portion, one partner, Mr. Wickersham, being president and Mr. Solomon, vice-president.

This county has some very valuable copper mines in the northeastern part, on some tributaries of the Gila River, that come in from the north, viz., the mining town of Morenci, upon the San Francisco River, and Clifton, where are the smelting works, upon the east branch of El Tularosa. These towns are about seven miles apart. Clifton is reached by a regular graded railroad from Lordsburg, New Mexico, and a narrow-gauge road through a canon up to Morenci. Morenci is the great business town of fully six thousand people. The company store here among the mountains, inaccessible a few years ago by other than pack animals, is as fine as any in the southwest, excepting Los Angeles, and it may be doubted if surpassed there; it carries a stock of fully $500,000. The hotel here is fine and prices to match. In these two towns of Clifton and Morenci there are fully 10,000 people. Sometimes more in one town than in the other, as labor is required.

The sole dependence of this large population is upon the output of the mines as there is practically nothing else, there being no agricultural land in that vicinity. Metcalf is another flourishing town some miles further in the mountains, and the whole depends upon the mines. The capital expended in smelters, hoisting works, machinery of the most expensive kind, railroads, etc., would mount up to several millions, all depending upon copper. The ore is of low percentage in copper, but to compensate there are vast bodies of it. To make it remunerative to the stockholder requires the utmost economy in management, still the company has expended money upon a liberal scale. The mining companies have been having much difficulty with their workmen through strikes; laborers demanding the same pay for eight as for ten hours' work. Probably in a short time this matter will be adjusted satisfactorily and matters move on as usual. A legislature, perhaps, had the legal right to say what number of hours should constitute a day's work, but the whole thing would seem to be one of those sumptuary laws not at this day considered as appertaining to the duties of law givers, and likely to be of more harm than benefit, even to those whom it was intended to favor. The valuation of assessable property in this county for the year 1903 was $3,953,255.15.


History of Arizona by Sidney R. DeLong, 1905

Graham County by Harold E. Herbert, 2008

History of Arizona by Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1889.