Tubac, the earliest European settlement in Arizona

TUBAC, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - A short 45-minute drive south of Tucson on Interstate 19 brings you to a spot that was once the most remote part of the Spanish Empire’s New World on this continent. Located in Santa Cruz County, situated beside the Santa Cruz River, the community of Tubac is the site of the oldest European settlement in what is now Arizona. Human habitation of the area is traced back to Hohokam occupation between 300 and 1500 A.D. The Tohono O’odham people followed. The name of the community, Tubac, is derived from a Tohono O’odham name Cuwak, meaning “place of dark water.” It was the Tohono O’odham people who greeted the Jesuit missionaries when they came to convert the native people in the late 17th century.

The area around Tubac became a part of Mexico after that country gained independence from Spain in 1821. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, Tubac became a part of the United States. It was a revolt by the native people against the settlers in the area in 1751 that led to the establishment of a fort at Tubac. The Tohono O’odham people rose up in a rebellion aimed at Spanish settlements. The bloodshed, brought about by tensions and broken treaties between native communities and the incoming settlers, claimed over 100 lives. When the violent revolt came to an end, the Spanish authorities made a move to create a fort to protect the area. Fifty soldiers, along with their families, and three officers formed the Presidio San Ignacio de Tubac in 1852 to protect the town and the surrounding area from further rebellion.

Perhaps the most well-known resident of Tubac was Juan Bautista de Anza, who led a group of explorers to establish the City by the Bay, San Francisco, in 1775. Modern times recognize the community as an artist colony. Painter Dale Nichols opened an art school in 1948. Some students included water colorist Al Romo, sculptor Bob Brisley, Sophie and Harwood Steiger, Hal Empie, and Hugh Cabot. In 1961, the Santa Cruz Valley Art Association was formed. The group included artists such as Ross Stefan, Jean Wilson, and Mortimer Wilson. The Santa Cruz Valley Art Association is credited with starting the Tubac Festival of the Arts in 1964. The 59th annual get-together is coming up this February and will draw in artisans from all over the country.

Visitors interested in the history of the area can visit the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Arizona’s first state historic park. The state’s first newspaper, The Weekly Arizonian, was printed on The Washington Hand Press printing press which can be seen still cranking out hot type today! The park has struggled to stay open. Director of the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, Shannon Stone, credits the previous director, the late Shaw Kinsley, with keeping the operation up and running. State budget cuts threatened to close the park, but it managed to stay open. There are numerous art galleries and eateries, but you won’t find any fast food offerings, so be prepared to spend some time exploring culinary adventures in a historic atmosphere!

Eric Zotcavage

Eric is an assignment editor and content producer with AZ Family-3TV & CBS 5 News.