After saving Arizona’s history since 1864, the Arizona Historical Society’s history almost ended, before cooler heads prevailed.
Just past midnight on April 24, the Arizona State Legislature passed a 10-year reauthorization for the society. But it was touch and go for a while.
Most state agencies are subject to a review every decade. Like its peers, the society has been hit with budget cuts over the past few years, which makes life difficult when you’re running museums and research facilities across the state.
Last fall, the House-Senate committee recommended that the society be reauthorized for another decade. After the bill went through the House unmolested, it ran into Gail Griffin, a senator from Hereford who represents District 25. She pushed for a two-year reassessment, which would have made the society, well, history. Could anyone increase fundraising when the organization you’re raising money for could be dead in a few years?
Hey, I know everybody loves the Grand Canyon—and for a hole in the ground, it is kind of neat—but sometimes people forget the importance of history. And Arizona is full of history.
Hereford, Griffin’s home base, is located in Cochise County. That’s Cochise County of Tombstone fame, of Bisbee and Douglas, of Cochise Stronghold, of frontier forts Bowie and Huachuca. Tom and Frank McLaury hung their hats in Hereford before getting buried in Tombstone’s Boot Hill.
I might be wrong, but I don’t think all of those 400,000-plus tourists come to Tombstone each year to see how green the Palo Verde trees are in the spring.
History is even important at Arizona’s most famous tourist destination. What would the Grand Canyon be if not for John Wesley Powell’s 1869 trip down the Colorado River through the canyon?
Likewise, what would Yuma be without its territorial prison, other than hot? Where would artists live had Jerome not been settled in 1876? Besides, patrons of Phoenix’s Heard Museum aren’t just admiring art; they are getting a history lesson.
In fairness, Griffin said she is pro-history. But maybe she and other elected voices need a history lesson: Just a year after Arizona’s separation from New Mexico Territory, politicians understood the importance of history. On November 7, 1864—150 years ago this month—the First Territorial Legislature established the society to safeguard “all facts relating to the history of this Territory.”
Today, the society not only collects and preserves, it interprets and publicizes that history. It runs museums and research archives in Flagstaff, Tempe, Tucson and Yuma. It stores more than three million objects, including Geronimo’s rifle and Wyatt Earp’s pistol, plus more than one million photographs, 40,000 books, 20,000 architectural plans, 5,000 maps and 1,500 rolls of microfilm.
Thankfully, history has been saved. For now. Check back in 2024.
Johnny D. Boggs loves Arizona’s history and scenic wonders, but he does question why anyone eats Sonoran Mexican grub.