The History Behind How Arizona Got It’s Nameby Jim Gressinger on Jan. 31, 2013, under Apache Wars In Southern Arizona, Southern Arizona Attractions, Southern Arizona History & Culture
Since moving to Tucson a decade a go, I have heard or read several different and altogether conflicting versions of how Arizona got its name. After some research, the following account seems to have the most veracity. As interesting to me is the related letter by Captain de Anza which, as far as anyone knows today, is the earliest written reference to this place in the far northern frontier of New Spain.
In January 1737, Capitan Juan Bautista de Anza wrote to Bishop Benito Crespo:
“Toward the end of last October, between the Guevavi Mission and the ranchería called Arizona, some balls and slabs of silver were discovered, one of which weighed more than one hundred arrobas (2,500 pounds), a sample of which I am sending to you, Most Illustrious Lord.”
The “Rancheria Arizona” had been established a year or two earlier by a Mexican of Basque descent who named the area by describing, in his Basque language, its most outstanding feature, “Arizona”: the good oak. Rancheria Arizona is about 40 miles southeast of Mission Tumacacori Arizona in the state of Sonora Mexico.
Guevavi is a name derived from the Papago (now Tohono O’odham) term ge’e vavi, meaning “big spring”. Their village at this place was first visited in 1691 by Jesuit Father Kino, who established 20 missions among the American Indians of the Pimeria Alta (Land of the Upper Pimas). Historically, the mission has been named Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi.
In 1751, a later priest, using Indian labor, built a 15 foot by 50 foot church, the ruins of which still exist today. Between 1745 to 1751, the resident priest recorded 148 burials at Guevavi, mostly Papago Indians cut down by European diseases.
Several circumstances led to the abandonment of Mission Guevavi: chiefly disease; the Pima Indian Revolt of 1751; and frequent Apache attacks. In 1769, Apaches attacked and killed all but two of the Spanish soldados guarding the mission. After that, the Papago settlement and Catholic mission were moved to Tumacacori.
Today, one of the finest attractions in Southern Arizona is the ruins of Mission Tumacacori, now preserved by our National Park Service. On SouthernArizonaGuide.com I have 3 short videos with one of the Park Rangers giving me a behind the scenes tour of Tumacacori. Through the Park Service at Tumacacori, you can arrange a guided tour of Guevavi ruins. I plan on doing that later this spring.