Phoenix Gets a Name

Darrell Duppa true west
Darrell Duppa

“Lord” Darrell Duppa was an adventurer, world traveler, scholar and gifted elocutionist. He wasn’t really a lord but the folks around Phoenix in the 1860s gave him the title because he was a well-educated Englishman, actually he was born in France. He was fluent in five languages but unfortunately when he was in his cups, which was usually, he spoke all five in the same paragraph. It’s believed he was exiled from his wealthy family because of his excessive craving for alcoholic beverages and given a generous stipend to remain in the remote deserts of Arizona.

He also was one of the first settlers in Arizona’s Salt River Valley, arriving in late 1867. In 1870 the little community had a population of 61 women and 164 men. Ninety six identified themselves as farmers. There wasn’t a single doctor, lawyer banker or teacher in the entire community.

One October day in 1870 the folks decided it was time to give their little community a name. Jack Swilling, one of Duppa’s pals and the man who brought the first settlers in from Wickenburg, wanted to call it Stonewall in honor of his hero, Stonewall Jackson. Another suggested Salinas, for the river that flowed through it; another liked Millville and still another wanted Pumpkinville. It was time for the silver-tongued Lord Duppa to speak. Drawing upon his erudite knowledge of the classics he waxed eloquently on the pre-Columbian peoples who had dwelt in the rich, fertile valley for some 1,500 years before mysteriously vanishing he prophesied that another great civilization would spring phoenix-like from the ashes of the old, much like the mythical Egyptian bird that lives a thousand years then flies into a funeral pyre only to emerge again, flourish and live for another millennial.

The folks loved the analogy, even if they didn’t understand what he said and the name stuck. Duppa wasn’t finished. He gazed across the Salt River to the little Mexican village of San Pablo, nestled among the mesquite trees, creosote, prickly pear cactus and mused it reminded him of a beautiful Vale in Greece called Tempe that sits at the home of the Greek Gods, Mount Olympus. The future home of Arizona State University, Tempe had a new name.

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