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Phoenix: A City Risen from the Ruins of Another Civilization

Phoenix was built upon the remains of an older Native American civilization.

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Phoenix is the capital of Arizona, and it is aptly named. When the mythical phoenix dies, does so in a burst of flame, then from its ashes. Many years ago, the city of Phoenix had a similar rebirth.

Between AD 700 and AD 1400, the area was occupied by the Hohokam people. Much as it is today, the land was arid, the weather was hot and dry, and water was scarce. The Salt River ran through the valley, known as the Valley of the Sun, but the water wasn’t near enough to grow crops. The Hohokam dug about 135 canals to bring the precious resource closer to their villages. Some remnants can still be seen today and are even used in modern canals, such as the Arizona Canal, Central Arizona Project Canal, and the Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct.

The Hokoham made the Valley of the Sun their home for almost 1,000 years and then just disappeared. No one knows for sure what happened to make them leave. Some suggest neighboring tribes may have run them off the land, or perhaps a prolonged drought is to blame. They were given the name “Ho Ho Kam,” meaning the people who have gone.

The Phoenix area was under Spanish rule from 1539 to 1821. Mexico seized the area and controlled the valley for 27 years until it was given to the United States. The US took the area after the Mexican-American War ended in 1848.

American Civil War veteran Jack Swilling noticed the area and thought it would be a good place for agriculture – as long as he could find a way to get water to the crops. In 1867, he started building canals along the same ancient route the Hokoham had made centuries before. As water aerated the land, more people started moving to the area until a small town had formed. As the town grew, they decided it was time to give it a name. Several ideas were suggested, such as Pumpkinville, but Lord Darrell Duppa suggested “Phoenix” because it described a city born from the ruins of a former civilization. In 1868, Phoenix was officially recognized as a new town.

As more white settlers made the area their home, Native Americans were pushed from their lands. Eventually, many of the tribes were moved to reservations. Arizona has more designated tribal land than anywhere else in the United States. As the 48th state in the Union, it took a while for Phoenix to be recognized as the capital. On February 14, 1912, President William Howard Taft made it official.


Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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