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Tucson History

Discover 10,000 years of multicultural history at missions, museums, shrines and events.

Early History of the Tucson Area

See it for yourself. Explore historical missions, museums, shrines, and events. 

Tucson is the largest city in the southern Arizona region, one of the oldest continually inhabited places in North America. This area has been settled for at least 10,000 years.

Before Europeans first arrived here in the late 1600s, Hohokam Indians had lived along the Santa Cruz and Rillito rivers near the base of Sentinel Peak, commonly known as "A" Mountain, from about A.D. 300 to 1500. This area is widely recognized as Tucson's birthplace. When the Spanish Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Kino first visited this area in the early 1690s, he was met here by the Tohono O'odham, or "Desert People," who were peacefully living, foraging and farming.

Spanish explorers founded the Presidio San Agustin de Tucson here on August 20, 1775, the official birthdate of the City of Tucson. The adobe-walled presidio in Tucson marked the northwestern edge of Spain's Mexican colony and housed a community of soldiers and their families for more than 80 years. A reconstructed model of the northeast corner of the original fortress is open in downtown Tucson with living history demonstrations and hands-on activities for all ages.

By 1800, there were enough civilian colonists in Tucson to begin calling the place the Pueblo de Tucson. Historian Jim Turner says the word pueblo usually refers to a nation or group of people, but in the Southwest idiom it refers to a village; Tucson’s nickname, “the Old Pueblo," is derived from this Tucson, a mid-sized Mexican village. As Tucson grew beyond the presidio walls, the population was relatively evenly split between Native American, Mexican and American residents, and cultural traditions from each of these groups were adapted and shared freely. During this time, the Pascua Yaqui people of Sonora, Mexico began settling in the Tucson area. 

Tucson officially became part of the United States in 1854 after the Gadsden Purchase. In 1877, the city was incorporated, making Tucson the oldest incorporated city in Arizona. In 1880, Tucson began a period of many changes with the arrival of the Southern-Pacific Railroad, the end of American Indian Wars, and the opening of the mines. 

To learn more about Tucson’s early history and its place within the southern Arizona region, explore the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area, a nationally recognized landscape offering significant historical, cultural and natural attractions, and Cochise County, where you can discover legendary Old West experiences. 

There are many interesting ways to experience Tucson's early history. Scroll these attractions for inspiration:

San Xavier Roman Catholic Parish / Patronato San Xavier

Southside District

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Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum and The Turquoise Trail

Presidio District

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Tumacacori National Historical Park

Santa Cruz County

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Friends of Tucson's Birthplace: Mission Garden

Sentinel Peak District

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Tumamoc Hill – Tucson Mountains

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La Casa Cordova

Congress St. District

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Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block

Congress St. District

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Tucson Historic Train Depot

Congress St. District

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Sentinel Peak, "A" Mountain

Sentinel Peak District

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Old Town Artisans

Presidio District

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Arizona History Museum

University of Arizona District

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Historic Hacienda de la Canoa

Pima County

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Fort Lowell Museum

Central Tucson District

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Signal Hill Petroglyphs

Westside District

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San Pedro Chapel

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Walk the Turquoise Trail

Presidio District

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Jewish History Museum

Tucson Convention Center District

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El Tiradito/The Wishing Shrine

Tucson Convention Center District

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Sierra Vista Visitor Center

Cochise County

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Willcox Museums

Cochise County

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Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Southside District

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Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum

Southside District

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Green Valley/Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center

Pima County

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Sonoita–Elgin Chamber of Commerce

Cochise County

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Nogales–Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce/Visitor & Tourism Center

Santa Cruz County

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Oro Valley to Oracle

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Jan 20

Pahko'ora/Pahko'ola Exhibit January 17, 2020 - January 23, 2021

The new exhibit at Arizona State Museum -- Pahko'ora/Pahko'ola, Mayo... Read More

Jan 20

Woven Through Time: American Treasures of Native Basketry & Fiber Art January 17, 2020 - March 2, 2020

Arizona State Museum's new permanent exhibit features a sampling of... Read More

Feb 08

Fort Lowell Day Celebration February 8, 2020

The public is invited to visit the historic Fort Lowell neighborhood... Read More

Feb 13

Birding in the Garden at Mission Garden February 13, 2020 - November 11, 2021

Mission Garden hosts bird-watching on the second Thursday of every... Read More

YouTube Tucson 1776 Video

Video: Tucson 1776

Missions & Churches - Hal…

Historic Churches of Old Bisbee Experience the history of Old Bisbee through its historic churches. Visit the century-old Covenant Presbyterian Church built in 1903 by... Read More

Tucson History - Itinerary

Presidio District Entrance to the Old Town Artisan's courtyard El Presidio Historic District: Walking Tours Of Downtown Your guide, dressed in authentic period costume, reveals... Read More

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