When word first came out that there was a movement to relocate the capital from Prescott to Tucson, most of Yavapai County thought the idea to be both unfathomable and impossible.
Traditionally American capitals had always been located near their geographic center. Even Washington, DC, now far to the east, was centrally located in relation to the 13 original colonies.
But now there was a movement to relocate the capital hundreds of miles away from the majority of the population, close to the Mexican border, where it's so hot that "one can fry a rattlesnake without a fire."
In the end, it was politics that made the unthinkable become reality.
The first public sign that there was any interest in moving the capital to Tucson was a May 1st petition to the Governor. 102 residents of Pima County sent a request for the upcoming Fourth Legislature to meet in Tucson instead of Prescott. (*1)
"Through your Excellency, they appeal to the liberality and justice of the people of Northern Arizona, who have enjoyed the benefit of three successive Legislatures, called in their midst, to concede to them one term of that body south of the Gila, and in the town of Tucson." (*1)
Tucson was the oldest town in Arizona and people there considered it their birthright to be the capital. They thought that Prescott was in a downward spiral telling the Governor that even rats abandon a sinking ship! (*2)
For his part, Gov. McCormick understood that the idea of moving the Legislature around the state "would, perhaps have been a wise one. It would have equalized the travel of the law-makers, and given them opportunity to study the several natural divisions of the Territory, and afforded them an acquaintance with all the people." Although, as he pointed out, "it would have been attended with large expense." (*1)
He continued: "But the three Legislatures that have already met, have not seen fit to make any provision for such a rotation, and have by their action, indirectly, if not directly, manifested a preference for Prescott." (*1)
When Prescott was named the first Territorial Capital, it was a boom for the city. The population grew as a large number of professionals and business owners came to settle in the new capital.
This influx of new residents caused hostile Indians to never again attack inside the city limits.
ENJOY: The Lost History of the Yavapai County Courthouse:
Part 1: The Need
Part 2: The Mysterious Cornerstone (UPDATED)
Part 3: Construction
As the Legislature convened, the Yavapai delegation was keen to "count the votes" and they felt secure that the capital would stay in Prescott. Even if the bill were to pass both houses, Gov. McCormick, a resident of Prescott himself, had veto power to keep the capital in place.
Initially, the Legislature delayed considering the bill to move the capital, which was considered a good sign for Prescott. "The question of the location of the capitol has not yet been brought to the surface," the newspaper noted, "it may be for the reason that the members take the very sensible view, that the time has not yet arrived when a judicial location can be made." (*3)
During this time, the delegation from Pima county (where Tucson is located,) lobbied hard at all levels for the move. Their efforts paid off.
"For five days, at intervals, (the bill) was contested by the delegation from Yavapai, assisted by the Speaker, Mr. Lindsey, from Yuma. They were finally defeated and the bill passed." (*4)
Many believed that the "river county" delegates wanted revenge for being excluded from leadership positions. (*5)
"All we have to say upon this question just now is, that we have been very badly mistaken in regard to the sentiments of the representatives of the river counties who voted for removal. We have been led to believe that the interests of Yavapai, Mohave, Yuma and Pah-Ute counties were identical, and that the people of those counties preferred having the capital where it has been than at a point hundreds of miles from them. We shall see what we shall see." (*4)
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Still, there was one last opportunity to keep the capital in Prescott--a veto by McCormick. A minority report was written to try to persuade the Governor. It was delivered by Allen Cullumber, who himself lived in Tucson for many years, but was happy to now be living in Prescott: (*4)
"I find that (Tucson) is situated in the extreme southern portion of the Territory and not far from the line of Mexico. That it is situated in a portion of the Territory that offers little if any inducement to imigrants (sic). It is located in neither a mineral or agricultural country. It is true that there are mines and agricultural lands in southern Arizona, but they are situated more than 40 miles from Tucson, and for building purposes there is neither timber nor stone within 40 miles of said town.
"The census of last year shows that a large majority of the population of the Territory is outside Pima county and above the Gila River." (*6)
Cullumber went on to point out that two-thirds of the voting population lived north of the Gila. "If these are facts--and I do not believe they can be disputed--I cannot believe that the best interests of the Territory will be subserved by (re-)locating the capital at this time." (*6)
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"It is well known," the Governor wrote, "that (in regards to) the choice of a temporary or permanent location for the Capital, I have repeatedly declared my readiness to promptly and cheerfully acquiesce, (whatever my personal views or interests) to the action of the Legislature." (*1)
Outrage exploded. "The citizens of Yavapai County, or a majority of them, had faith in Gov. McCormick. They foolishly supposed that the veto power was placed in his hands to prevent the perpetration of any great wrong upon the people of the Territory: they innocently thought that, if from passion, or prejudice, or a desire to 'get even' on the Yavapai delegation, the Legislature should pass a bill calculated to do gross injustice to a large majority of the people, then the Governor would step in with his veto." (*7)
Surprise, concern and bitterness gripped Prescott. What would become of the town? Will there be a mass exodus with business and store closings? Just how many people are going to follow the capital to Tucson?
Many were sure more nefarious activities were at work. The newspaper was happy to report the gossip while being keen to avoid libel.
While visiting Wickenburg, Walnut Grove, Kirkland and Skull Valleys, a reporter asked people's opinions about the removal of the capitol to Tucson:
"We did not find one man who failed to condemn the action of Gov. McCormick in signing the bill for the removal of the capital, which was carried through the fourth Legislature by fraud, bribery and traffic.
"The people could scarcely believe the Governor capable of doing such an act of injustice to a majority of the citizens of the territory against their well known and unmistakable wishes, and will not fail to remember him for it.
"Had the Pima delegation used fair means, and thereby achieve success, people would willingly acquiesce in the removal; but, knowing as they do, and that from the lips of the Pima members themselves, that had fair means alone been used, the bill will never would have passed, they feel indignant at the actors in this shameful preceding, and are determined to repay them for it should they ever again have the impudence to come up before them in a office of trust, honor or profit in their gift.
"Good, honest, reliable men have told us that money was used to accomplish the darling dream of Tucson--the removal of the capital; and taking into consideration all of the circumstances connected with the affair, we are inclined to the opinion that 2 or 3 members of the Legislature were base enough to sell themselves for a small amount of money.
"We do not assert this as a fact, but as we said before, circumstances point strongly that way, and the people generally believe it." (*8)"Good bye, Governor! Pack your trunk!" the newspaper retorted. "Try Tucson; the climate may suit you better. You leave few friends and we are inclined to believe, have few where you are going." (*7)
However, come December, as people began to think of Christmas, the dust settled and the apprehension of a mass exodus melted away. The people who moved to Prescott for the opportunities available in the new capital fell in love with the town and decided to continue to cast their lot with the still and forever seat of Yavapai County!
Prescott was no sinking ship--quite the contrary; she was moving forward under full-sail!
In one last retrospective the paper wryly observed: "The Governor, Secretary, Captain Ford, two Mexican ladies, a bleary-eyed Mexican boy and a yeller, stump-tailed pup were the only inhabitants of Prescott that followed the capital to Tucson." (*9)
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(*1) Arizona Miner 6/29/1867 Pg. 2, Col. 5
(*2) Arizona Miner 8/17/1867 Pg. 2, Col. 2
(*3) Arizona Miner 9/21/1867 Pg. 2, Col. 3
(*4) Arizona Miner 9/28/1867 Pg. 2, Col. 6
(*5) Arizona Miner 10/19/1867 Pg. 2, Col. 6
(*6) Arizona Miner 9/28/1867 Pg. 1, Col. 3
(*7) Arizona Miner 10/5/1867 Pg. 3, Col. 3
(*8) Arizona Miner 10/26/1867 Pg. 2, Col. 1
(*9) Arizona Miner 12/7/1867 Pg. 2, Col. 5