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Arizona Heritage Center, Part 4

The next room pays tribute to the peoples who tamed the harsh Arizona environment starting with Native Americans. Although our modern landscape is dominated by contemporary buildings, roads, canals, etc., many people do not know of the remnants of the canals built by the Hohokam in the Phoenix area — still visible at the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park near the airport. There is also the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument which shows the remains of a four-story structure with thick walls to shelter people from both the harsh summer sun but also the cold nights of winter. And one cannot forget the Montezuma Castle National Monument showcasing the rock face dwellings built and used by the Sinagua people between approximately 1100 and 1425 AD.

I have visited all these and more, most with my camera and shared with you in previous editions of LAHP. If you haven't visited these historic sites, go and be impressed by what Native Peoples were able to achieve so many years ago.

This display features homesteaders, a military scout and a miner. These folks came seeking a better life — and had to work hard to farm, hunt and mine — at a time when you could not just go to the local grocery store or hardware store to buy the things you needed. Life was tough.

And there were jobs that Americans did not want to do for the wages being offered (even in those times), so people from distant lands were offered opportunities for such tasks as building the railroads. It was back-breaking work but those who survived it often saved enough money to send for family from their homeland and also start a business.

After the Civil War, overgrazed pastures in Texas led ranchers to the Arizona Territory and began the state's cattle boom — filling the open space with domesticated livestock — land that had been vacated as the result of the wholesale slaughter of buffalo. Around the same time that miners discovered gold near Prescott, ranchers were moving stock onto Arizona’s grasslands.

Railroads and windmill technology (used to fill ponds) brought an explosion of ranches and cattle speculators from the East Coast. By the 1890s, about 1.5 million cattle roamed in Arizona. However, cattle boom faded quickly. The rapid growth of the cattle industry did not consider the limits of the land. Ranchers overgrazed the pastures in only 20 years, permanently changing the landscape. Most of the original grasses never grew back as the topsoil eroded from overgrazed lands — scrub plants took over.

Businessmen of all sorts were drawn to the Valley of the Sun, speculating on acquiring land for citrus, cotton and eventually housing. Remnants of the vast citrus orchards and cotton fields still are visible today — green islands tucked between the urban sea of homes and businesses catering to those homeowners.

I loved this reconstructed General Store — yep, reminds me of my childhood. You see, I am old enough to remember my uncle's General Store on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As a teenager, I worked there for two summers, sweeping floors, filling the water-bath style soft drink coolers, sorting glass drink bottles by vendor as well as collecting and burning the trash. I made a grand salary of $5 per week plus lunch each day in the attached diner. It was good, rewarding work for someone of my age.

The store pictured here was from a slightly older time judging by the items on display for sale. My uncle's general store offered a limited supply of regular groceries, including fresh meat and dairy — but also coveralls (farmers all wore coveralls in those days), boots, work shoes, a limited supply of tools, nails, etc. In addition, they had a single gas pump — which provided another one of my duties — filling the up cars that stopped for gasoline. BTW, did you know that those antique gas pumps have become collectors' items — with prices in the thousands of dollars?

My uncle was also a hunter and had a manually operated shotgun loader which he kept in the store and taught me to operate. During slack times, I would refill shotgun shells for him. Occasionally, he would reward me by taking me skeet shooting. For those who don't know, skeet are clay disks that are slung into the sky rather like a Frisbee. The objective is to shoot the skeet in the air — it was fun and I developed a decent aim.

Any western town had to have a saloon, actually a number of saloons. This reconstructed saloon is typical of those at the same time as the General Store. You can even hear the bartender (based on old westerns) saying, "What'll you have, stranger?"

This scene recreates the construction office for the Theodore Roosevelt Dam project (1905 - 1911) on the Salt River located northeast of Phoenix. The primary purpose of the project was to provide water storage for the Salt River Project and flood control through the Salt River Valley.

Completed at a cost of $10 million, it was the largest masonry dam in the world for its time with a height of 280 feet (84 m) and a length of 723 feet (216 m), while Roosevelt Lake was for a time the world's largest artificial reservoir. The dam was originally known as "Salt River Dam #1", it was not until 1959 that the dam and reservoir were officially named after Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt Dam, as originally conceived and built, was a symbol of success and a showpiece for the new federal reclamation program. The dam contributed more than any other dam in Arizona to the settlement of Central Arizona and to the development of large-scale irrigation here. A secondary purpose of the dam was to generate a moderate amount of hydroelectric power. The lake created behind Roosevelt Dam, known as Lake Roosevelt, could hold more than 1,600,000 acre feet (2.0 km3) of water.

This photo shows the other half of the construction office with a drafting table and tools. Note the slide rule.

A familiar sight over most of rural America, the windmill was used to pump water from a well for irrigating crops and watering livestock. At their peak in 1930, an estimated 600,000 units were in use, mostly on farms and ranches. The New Deal's Rural Electrification Administration marked the transition from wind power to electric power for pumping water. Who knows — this trend may reverse itself in the not-too-distant future.

When Arizona first became a state, the “Five C’s” were the core of its economy — Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. While not as dominant today, at least copper still plays a big role here since Arizona is still the leading producer of copper in the United States, producing 750 thousand metric tons of copper, as of 2007, worth a record $5.54 billion. Arizona's copper production was 60% of the total for the United States.

This is a model of a copper mine and refining operation. It is partially animated and illuminated, which together with small placards, explains the operations at each "station". On an adjoining wall is displayed a video showing the process from mining to distribution. It is really quite interesting.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com