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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:

Heritage & Culture

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Heritage & Culture

YouTube Tucson 1776 Video

Video: Tucson 1776

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