Had it not been for some interesting twists of fate, Arizona and New Mexico might have ended up with totally different borders. Or been named something totally different. Or ended up not as two states, but as one! Would the combined state have been called Mexizona? Arixico? Or would Arizona, who at the time appeared to have strong representation in Congress and Senate, have dominated and won the right to call the whole new state Arizona?
It took both Arizona and New Mexico more than 50 years to join the Union. This was, in part, due to the rugged terrain of both states. Much of the area remain unexplored and the people of the nation remained ignorant of the territory. In addition, many opposed statehood for both states because of the predominantly Hispanic and Indian population as being too foreign and too religiously incompatible (too Catholic actually) for admission to the American Union. Wrangling for borders and names took up years as well — New Mexico came very close to being called Navajo or Lincoln and Arizona came close to being called Arizuma. Finally, the loyalty of both states came into question during the Civil War (Arizona declaring for the Confederacy, while New Mexico fought on the side of the Union).
In 1857, a bill was submitted by the people of Arizona for consideration to Congress. The proposed bill would redraw the lines for a new Territory called Arizona (the current states of Arizona and New Mexico were both part of what was known as New Mexico Territory). Under this bill, the northern line for the proposed territory would extend north to 33 degrees 45 minutes (a line that passed roughly through what is now Phoenix) and included all of southern New Mexico all the way to the border of Texas, while the Colorado River was the western boundary. The northern halves of both Arizona and New Mexico, then populated by “hostile” Indians (the Apaches) would be given over to the New Mexico Territory and the savages who inhabited that land. If this bill had passed, the territorial limits would have extended from Yuma to the border of Texas, a distance of something like seven hundred miles. Evidently neither New Mexico nor Arizona wanted the Apaches. The inhabitants of these two territories were willing to “pass the buck” and both states tried to stick the other with the part of the country inhabited by the Apaches. Obviously the bill was defeated since Arizona borders today look nothing like this proposal.
In 1859, another bill was introduced to organize the territory of Arizona, the name having been changed to Arizuma, presumably to satisfy some element in Congress. Again, the bill was defeated. However, in 1860, a provisional government was established by delegates meeting in Tucson until such time as the U.S. government established Arizona as a territory.
In 1861, the ambitious settlers of Arizona were still intent on chomping off a piece of New Mexico. The provisional government delegates formally committed Arizona to the cause of the Confederacy, where the formation of the Territory of Arizona from the southern half of the Territory of New Mexico was proposed.
Under President Lincoln, Congress finally passed bill H.R. 357 in 1863, which provided a temporary government for the Territory of Arizona, which was to be formed from the western portion of the existing Territory of New Mexico.
New Mexico came very close to statehood in 1876, but that chance was destroyed by a simple handshake or so the story goes. During the Congressional debate, Michigan Representative Julius Caesar Burrows, spoke in favor of a bill designed to protect the civil rights of freed Negroes. Stephen B. Elkins, New Mexico’s delegate to Congress, was late and only entered the chamber as Burrows was bringing his rousing oratory to a close. Unaware of the full nature of Burrows’ speech, Elkins shook his colleague’s hand in congratulations, a gesture many Southern Congressmen interpreted as support for the civil rights legislation. Elkins’ handshake is blamed for costing New Mexico several Southern votes it needed for passage of the statehood bill.
In 1904-1905, the Hamilton Bill proposed to have Arizona and New Mexico join the union as one state. The bill was proposed by Edward Hamilton, Chairman of the Committee on Territories at the time. The people of Arizona and New Mexico were violently opposed to the bill. One of the most potent voices against this merger was Sharlot Hall, a famous early pioneering woman to the Prescott area, and a noted author, whose voice of the West range strong in these words.
Arizona is no beggar in that mighty hall where her bay-crowned sisters wait,
No empty-handed pleader for the right to be a free-born state.
No child, with a child’s insistence, demanding the gilded toy.
No! But a fair-browed, queenly woman with land too strong to destroy.
Finally, on January 6, 1912, New Mexico achieved statehood. On February 14, 1912, Arizona, the last of the 48 continuous states, finally became the free-born state of Sharlot Hall’s poem.