Monday, June 18, 2012

The Father of Arizona

June 11, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Many oldtimers and some new residents have heard about Charles D. Poston. Some are familiar with Poston Butte west of Florence and north of the Gila River along the old Hunt Highway. Historians recorded Charles D. Poston as the “Father of Arizona.” He, indeed, was the first delegate to the United States Congress from Arizona Territory in 1863.

Ten years earlier, in 1853, the Mexican government agreed to the conditions of the Gadsden Purchase and the accord was ratified in 1854, adding some 45,535 square miles of land between the Gila River and the present southern boundaries of Arizona and New Mexico to the United States.

This territory included the town of Tubac. Tubac was the oldest European settlement in Arizona, first garrisoned by the Spanish in 1752. The Spanish Presidio of Tubac is located thirty-eight miles south of Tucson along the Santa Cruz River.

Charles Debrille Poston arrived in San Francisco in 1850. He was employed as a clerk in a customhouse for a couple of years until he read about the Gadsden Purchase. Poston traveled to and explored the Santa Cruz Valley area prior to the official recognition of the Gadsden Purchase Treaty. Young Poston, not thirty years old, left Arizona Territory for the East with hopes of raising capital to invest in new mines, workable Spanish mines and prospecting for more mineral resources.

He visited New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. but wasn’t successful in fund raising. He finally succeeded in his fundraising quest in Cincinnati. He organized and formed the Sonora Mining & Exploring Company on March 24, 1856. He was their agent and the company had capital of two million dollars. The Texas and Pacific Railroad Company contributed a grant for $100,000.

Colonel Charles D. Poston organized an expedition of around 350 men, primarily made up of miners. These men had mining equipment, arms and supplies to settle the frontier. The expedition departed Texas for Arizona Territory in May of 1856. The expedition arrived in Tucson in August of 1856.

Poston eventually made his headquarters at Tubac. His mining expedition attracted men from Sonora and soon almost a thousand people were living in the area. Poston recorded in his diary: “We had no law but love, and no occupation but labor, no government, no taxes, no public debt, and no politics.”

Poston certainly oversimplified the situation in Tubac. He was the “alcalde.” He was the law under the rules and regulations that governed the Territory of New Mexico at the time. This was not Arizona Territory, but New Mexico Territory until 1863.

Poston had many duties. He served as mayor, judge, town treasurer, and the justice of peace. He was legally authorized to execute criminals, declare war, but spent most of his time keeping official records, performing marriages, granting divorces, etc. He also had the power to print and issue paper currency that was a substitute for bulky and heavy silver bullion.

Poston and Tubac prospered until the beginning of the American Civil War. Poston escaped to California when the Army withdrew and the Apaches went on the rampage. He eventually made his way to Washington, D.C. where in 1863 he led the fight to gain separate territorial status for Arizona. This was accomplished in 1863 and Poston was rightfully given the title of “Father of Arizona.”

Poston returned to Arizona Territory as the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs. He served as the first Delegate to Congress from the Territory of Arizona. He also served as the Registrar of the Federal Land Office in Florence, Arizona. While in Florence, he built a road to the top of Primrose Hill (now Poston Butte). He also received a deed to the land from James Addison Reavis, the Baron of Arizona in 1883. He believed Reavis to be the legal holder of the so-called Peralta Grant.

Poston practiced law in Washington, D.C. He wrote books and worked as a newspaper correspondent and traveled extensively. He had few peers as a lecturer.

Poston became involved in mining once again in 1893. The Arizona Republican dated April 25,1893, stated Colonel Poston was about to leave on a trip to his mining claims in the Superstition Mountains. Poston spent a couple of years working around the Superstition Mountain and Goldfield area.

Poston was now sixty-eight years old and he was still promoting a mining operation and trying to raise capital. It is an interesting thing to know that Poston, the “Father of Arizona” was here in our community some one hundred and nineteen years ago.

He gave one of his last lectures in 1899 in Phoenix, at the age of seventy-four. The lecture was titled “How I Spent Christmas.” He recounted his personal celebrations of Christmas with people like Mark Twain, Joaquin Miller, Garibaldi, and other European royalty. However, he said his best Christmas was in Tubac in 1856.

Charles Debrille Poston was born in Kentucky in 1825 and died in Phoenix alone and in abject poverty amid scenes of squalor on June 2, 1902. A few years before his death, around 1899, the Territory of Arizona presented him with a late “recognition of his services” with a small pension.

He never completed his “Temple to the Sun” on Primrose Hill near Florence, Arizona, but he was later entombed there for all eternity. Poston’s remains were removed from Phoenix and moved to Poston Butte in 1925, the 100th anniversary of his birth.