PRESCOTT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Arizona's first Territorial Capitol, Prescott, came about in a rather unique way.
Founded in 1864, the site was picked by the newly appointed Governor, John Goodwin, after he had toured the freshly established territory.
The wilderness capital would be built in a cleared-out section of the forest, in the same area where mining camps had sprung up throughout the mineral-rich mountains, seemingly overnight.
Just a couple years earlier, in 1862-63, a group of explorers led by Joseph R. Walker, had made its way into the mountains of central Arizona along the Hassayampa River. The explorers found rich deposits of gold along Lynx Creek. Others soon followed.
The Walker party’s recent discovery of gold in the Bradshaw Mountains drew a flood of prospectors into the remote area. Their rich find was the catalyst for white settlement in the area. Gold fever drew a great influx of people to the area.
The prior census (1860) in the territory counted as few as 2,500 non-Indians in the unsettled region. Ten years later, in 1870, that number had almost quadrupled, to 9,658. By 1880, Arizona Territory non-Indian population was measured at 40,440.
Newly-appointed territory officials gathered on May 30, 1864, for a public meeting in order to chose the name of the appointed capitol city.
A few choices are tossed around: Gimletville, Goodwin City (after the Gov. John Goodwin), Audubon, and Aztlan (they still believed the Aztecs had inhabited the area earlier). Finally, the secretary of the territory, Richard McCormick, suggested the name Prescott – after the popular author at the time, William Hickling Prescott.
Arizona State Historian, Marshall Trimble, describes the scenario in his book, Arizona- A Cavalcade of History, “Richard McCormick, secretary of the territory, later governor and delegate to Washington, had in his possession William Hickling Prescott’s classic, History of Mexico.
In a bit of stirring oratory for which he was known, McCormick suggested naming the town Prescott. And that’s what it became. Residents did alter Mr. Prescott’s name a little. Its local pronunciation is “PRESS-cut.”
Once the new community took shape on paper, an initial auction sold 73 lots on June 4, 1864. A month later, a total of 232 lots had been sold within the new community.
Prescott served as capital of Arizona Territory until 1867, when the capital was moved to Tucson. Ten years later, the capital was returned to Prescott in 1877. Finally the capital was moved to Phoenix in 1889.
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