Making Sense Of Arizona’S Centennial

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Arizona is now 100 years old, having celebrated its centennial of becoming a state on Feb. 14, 2012.

I’ve been asking myself: What does it all really mean? Is this just a historian’s Hallmark moment? Perhaps a way for those of us who care about history to get noticed a little bit more by the general public? Let’s take another look at Arizona’s history.

Arizona was established as a territory on Feb. 24, 1863. It became a state on Feb. 14, 1912, a little over a month after New Mexico became a state. We were the 48th state admitted to the union – just Alaska and Hawaii are younger.

Since 1912 Arizona has seen a great deal of growth. According to the 1910 census, Arizona had a population of 204,354 and Gila County a population of 16,348. Since Payson was not incorporated until 1973 it’s a little trickier to get earlier population numbers. But Polk’s Arizona Pictorial Gazetteer and Business Directory of 1912 put Payson’s population at 125. The United States population according to the 1910 census was 92,228,496.

Let’s fast forward to the last available census: 2010. Arizona had a population of 6,392,017 and Gila County a population of 53,597. While Gila County accounted for 8 percent of Arizona’s population in 1910, it had less than 1 percent of Arizona’s population in 2010. Payson had a population of 15,301 and the United States a population of 308,745,538. Boil it down and what does it really mean? Wow, we’ve grown quite a bit as a state and as an area.

There have been other changes over time. When Arizona became a state, citizens were generally Democrats, now it’s more of a Republican state. Our roadways and infrastructure have improved greatly along with the rest of the country, something that’s particularly important in this state and this region given our vast open spaces. Technology has evolved a great deal over the past 100 years with advances that would have been unimaginable in 1912.

That said, what does it all really mean? Other states are much older than Arizona. Why should we take the time out to pause and reflect?

In my opinion, some of it comes down to respect. Respect for those who have gone before us and all the hard work that they contributed. After all, if we don’t take time to remember those who have gone before us, who will remember our accomplishments and deeds when we are gone? And in essence, that’s at the heart of what historians do. It’s not just fun, folksy stories. It’s gazing out from a ridgeline and wondering what it must have been like for someone 100 years before us. Someone, I might add, who did not have GPS or major visible roadways to guide them home. When is research the most fun for passionate historians? When we’ve discovered people who we know have been left out. A.G. Pendleton, Sampson Elam Boles, Charles Collins – those were just a few of the “forgotten” that I discovered while researching Zane Grey’s Forgotten Ranch: Tales from the Boles Homestead. While it was disappointing that they were ever left out in the first place, it was really exciting to me to have the opportunity to tell their story.

The way that this state has developed helps to explain why we are here at this point in time. Many of the things that we appreciate today, folks appreciated in the past. Just think, 100 years ago people just like us looked at that massive Rim after hearing that we had become a state and admired its magnificence as another beautiful sunset graced the region. The personalities of the past shaped this place in a way that led us here. We are reminded that while many things change, there are still many bonds that tie us to the past and will tie us to those in the future. We recognize that while not all of us were born here, we are indeed Arizonans and as we hit the 100-year mark, we can’t help but dream a dream about what the next 100 years will bring.

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