How Phoenix and Tucson Got Their Names

Phoenix AZ
••• Downtown Phoenix. Kerrick James / Getty Images

Before there was ever a large city called Phoenix, before stadiums and freeway loops, and airport terminals and cell phone towers, the inhabitants of the Pueblo Grande ruins tried to irrigate the land of the Valley with about 135 miles of canal systems. A severe drought is thought to have marked the demise of these people, know as the "Ho Ho Kam", or 'the people who have gone.' Different groups of Native Americans inhabited the land of the Valley of the Sun after them.

How Phoenix Got Its Name

In 1867 Jack Swilling of Wickenburg stopped to rest by the White Tank Mountains and envisioned a place that, with just some water, looked like promising farmland. He organized the Swilling Irrigation Canal Company and moved to the Valley. In 1868, as a result of his efforts, crops began to grow and Swilling's Mill became the name of the new area about four miles east of where Phoenix is today. Later, the name of the town was changed to Helling Mill, then Mill City. Swilling wanted to name the new place Stonewall after Stonewall Jackson. The name Phoenix was actually suggested by a man named Darrell Duppa, who is purported to have said: "A new city will spring phoenix-like upon the ruins of a former civilization."

Phoenix Becomes Official

Phoenix became official on May 4, 1868, when an election precinct was formed here. The Post Office was established just over a month later on June 15.

Jack Swilling was the Postmaster.

How Tucson Got Its Name

According to the Tucson Chamber of Commerce, the name Tucson is derived from the O'odham word, 'Chuk-son,' meaning village of the dark spring at the foot of the mountains.

Tucson Beginnings

The city was established in 1775 by Spanish soldiers as a walled presidio—the Presidio of San Augustin de Tucson.

Tucson became a part of Mexico in 1821 when Mexico won its independence from Spain, and in 1854 became a part of the United States as part of the Gadsden Purchase.

Today, Tucson is referred to as "The Old Pueblo."