The History of Santa Cruz County
Santa Cruz County is located the southernmost central part of Arizona, bordering Mexico and serving as the gateway to North America's most important port of entry, Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. While one of the state's smallest counties, Santa Cruz County is also one of Arizona's most diverse and interesting destinations, offering an eclectic blend of history, culture, art, recreation, shopping, cuisine and entertainment in a beautiful and relaxing setting. From the artist colony of Tubac to the historic national monuments at Tumacacori, to the twin border towns of Nogales, Arizona and Mexico, to the mountain and birding town of Patagonia, to Arizona's wine country in Sonoita & Elgin, a journey though Santa Cruz County will intrigue, stimulate and satisfy the senses!
The history of the region dates back to the cultures of the Apache, Yaqui and Hohokam peoples who built their communities along the Santa Cruz River, Sonoita Creek and Harshaw Creek, whose waters flowed year round and provided ideal sites for agriculture and ranching.
In 1539 the Spanish explorer and Franciscan monk, Fray Marcos de Niza, was the first European to visit the area, entering near present-day Lochiel on the Mexican border. Coronado's expedition also entered the region in the 16th century in search of the legendary Seven Cities of Gold. Nearly a century and a half later in the late 1600s, the Spanish sent the Jesuit priest Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino to the region to establish missions and map the territory for Spain. For the next two decades this extraordinary man, known as a humanitarian, farmer, cattle rancher, explorer, mathematician, cartographer and geographer, traveled through Southern Arizona spreading the Catholic faith and teaching people how to farm.
In 1752, after an uprising by the Pima Indians, the Spanish Crown established New Spain's northernmost outpost and Europe's first settlement in Arizona at what is now Tubac. Shortly thereafter, soldier and explorer Juan Bautista de Anza along with 240 settlers traveled through Presidio de Tubac on their journey to found the city of San Francisco in 1775 and 1776. During his tenure at Tubac (1760-1776), Anza built the chapel of Santa Gertrudis, the foundations of which lie beneath today's St. Ann's Church.
Gradually the vast Spanish land grants that had been established were broken up as settlers from the East moved west to homestead and ranch. By 1853, the Gadsden Purchase formed the southeastern corner of Arizona, then Mexico, making it part of the United States. Santa Cruz County, created in 1899 by Arizona's 20th Territorial Assembly, is named after the Santa Cruz River which was named in the late 1600s by Father Kino. Santa Cruz means "holy cross" in Spanish.