The History Of Marana Arizona

November 16th, 2008 by Michael Oliver

I recently came across this history of Marana Arizona; it is very interesting to say the least. I was really surprised at a number of things I read here and how the beginnings of the town were formed. The most interesting part was reading that Juan Bautista de Anza, Captain of the Presidio (fort) of Tubac took a group of pioneers and eventually led them to the founding of San Francisco CA. Part of his path is still preserved in Marana and able to be seen.


Prehistory Period (2200 B.C. – 1450 A.D.)

Archaeologists have documented about 4200 years of continuous human
occupation in Marana and the surrounding middle Santa Cruz Valley. The
prehistoric inhabitants of this valley were the first farmers, potters, canal
builders, and villagers in the Southwest.
Corn arrived to the area from Mexico about 4000 years ago, and cotton
pollen found at archaeological sites in Marana reveal either wild native cotton or
domesticated cotton from Mexico was cultivated in this area as 800 years later.
At this time, canals were used to irrigate cotton, corn, squash, beans, and
tobacco. About 2800 years before present Marana’s occupants started using the
bow-and-arrow with the older spear-thrower-and-dart tool to harvest game,
representing the earliest documented use of the bow-and-arrow in the Southwest.
On the slopes of the Tortolita Mountains extensive areas of wild agave
were cultivated by clearing rocks and building rock-piles, terraces, and checkdams
to slow storm runoff. One species of agave growing in this area today is
outside of its natural range, and probably represents the descendents of plants
brought there by prehistoric farmers.
Many important archaeological sites occur near Marana. The following are
some of the most significant:
i) Las Capas (the Layers) is a large, long-occupied early agricultural site
related to the nearby Costello-King site near Ina Road and the Interstate 10
interchange. There are numerous layers of occupation dating between about
4,200 and 2,500 years ago. Among the significant artifacts recovered are stone
smoking pines with tobacco residues, the oldest tobacco pipes in the world. The
site is most important for the presence of the oldest cemetery in the southwest
and the oldest canals in North America.
ii) Los Morteros is a Hohokam ballcourt village ruin located on the Santa
Cruz floodplain near the Point of the Mountain at the northern end of the Tucson
Mountains. It was occupied between 850 and 1300 A.D., and is one of the
largest prehistoric communities in the Marana area. The remains of 770
prehistoric features were uncovered, including 349 houses, an adobe-walled
compound, five discrete cemeteries, and artifacts numbering in the tens of
thousands. It was during the study of Los Morteros that evidence of the historic
Pointer Mountain stage station was found within the limits of the nearby Puerta
del Norte trailer court. Los Morteros has also been identified as the probable
location of the Llano del Azotado campsite used by the Juan Bautista de Anza
expedition in 1775. The village Father Kino refers to as El Valle de Correa is in
the vicinity of this site.
iii) Linda Vista Hill is the Trincheras component of the Hohokam Los
Morteros site in the Tucson Mountains, dating between 1200 and 1350 A.D. The
Trincheras culture inhabited the on mountain slopes overlooking arable land
along streams. These have been interpreted both as agricultural sites and/or
defense positions. The Linda Vista hillside has over 150 terraces, 75 pit-houses
excavated into the terraces, and a massive adobe-walled compound located on
the hill summit.
iii) The Marana Mound site is the remnant of a large platform mound that
was once the focal part of the community that lived between
the Santa Cruz River and the Tortolita Mountains during the
later phase of the Hohokam Culture (1150-1300). The
mound is surrounded by an adobe compound wall from
which multiple rooms were constructed. This structure, in
turn, is associated with 30-35 additional nearby residential
compounds, multiple house features both inside and outside
the compounds, wall segments, and trash mounds that
collectively cover an area of approximately one square mile.
Long before the coming of the Spanish Conquistadors and missionaries in
the 17th Century, the area now called Marana was inhabited by the Hohokam
Culture (550 to 1450 A.D.). These people were the probable ancestors of the
present day Tohono O’odham, which are part of a regional culture called Papago
or Pima. The Hohokam developed extensive canal systems and used waters
from the Santa Cruz River to irrigate crops. When the first Spaniards arrived in
the 1690s, the Hohokam had long since vanished, and their irrigation canals were
in ruins.

Turning Point (1450 – 1690)

About 1690 the history of the Marana area changed forever with the arrival
of the Spanish and Apache—the Spanish from the south and the Apache from the
north. The local O’ohdam culture was invaded by two new cultures with
conflicting agendas. One wanted to convert souls to Christianity and the other to
plunder and steal assets. What happened to the original inhabitants during a
period of about 240 years is a matter of historical debate.
Spanish Period (1690 – 1821)

The first European to visit the Marana area was a Jesuit
Priest, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1694. Father Kino
explored the Santa Cruz Valley from 1691 to 1711 and
founded a series of Jesuit missions, the most famous being San
Xavier del Bac, south of Tucson.
Early Spanish accounts of the Marana area report the
existence of villages of Sobaipuri people, who spoke a dialect
of the O’odham language different from the Tohono
O’odham, near the confluence of the Santa Cruz River and the Rillito River.
Until the Spanish established a presidio (fort) at Tucson in 1776, the Marana area
lay under the domination of these people, who themselves were subject to the
domination of the Apache.
In 1775, Juan Bautista de Anza, Captain of the Presidio (fort) of Tubac in
Sonora (now southern Arizona) led an expedition north along the Santa Cruz
River to found the city of San Francisco, California. The colonizing expedition
of about 200 included 30 soldiers and their families, and an array of escorts
consisting of cowboys, translators, mule-packers, Indian
guides, priests, escort soldiers. They brought over 1,000 head
of livestock, horses, mules and cattle. Their campsite was
Llano del Azotado at Point of Mountain near the present day
Arizona Portland Cement Plant in the Town of Marana. The
route they took is now designated the “Juan Bautista de Anza
National Historic Trail” by the National Park Service. A 15-
mile segment of this trail passes through the present day Town
of Marana.
In 1810 war between New Spain and what later was to become known as
Mexico further altered the cultural dynamics of the region.

Mexican Period (1821 – 1854)

With independence from Spanish colonial rule in 1821,
official jurisdiction over the Marana area passed to the new
Republic of Mexico and remained so as part of the State of
Sonora until 1854.
The American flag came to the Marana area for the first time in 1846,
carried by about 350 troops of the Mormon Battalion on their way to San Diego,
California. They blazed the first wagon road along the Anza Trail, which, in
part, later became a stagecoach route, railroad, and corridor for Interstate 10.

Territorial Period (1854 – 1912)

Despite the trek of the Mormon soldiers to secure
Mexican Territory for the United States, when the
Mexican war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo, all of Arizona south of the Gila River
remained in the hands of Mexico. With the Gadsden
Purchase in 1854, 29,640 square miles of New Mexico
and Arizona south of the Gila River were purchased from Mexico for $10
million, about 53 cents an acre, and opened a transcontinental corridor for the
Southern Pacific Railroad.
During the Gold Rush to California in 1849, some 10,000 49ers followed
the Santa Cruz River through the area of Marana, north to the Gila River then on
to California. About this time, many Mexican ranchers established large cattle
ranches in the area, displacing many Tohono O’odham. With the Marana area
under the jurisdiction of the United States in 1854, prospectors seeking mineral
riches intensified their efforts in the region. Gold was not discovered in
abundance, but by 1865, high-grade copper ore was being shipped from mines in
the Silver Bell Mountains to Yuma, and then by ship to Baltimore for smelting.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Company arrived
to Marana in 1858 and established the Pointer
Mountain Station about 18 miles northwest of Tucson.
It carried mail and passengers until 1861 when it was
discontinued after the out break of the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Union troops withdrew from southern Arizona to
fight in the east. Confederate troops moved in to occupy the Tucson Presidio
and extended their control through the Marana area and north
to the Gila River. In early 1862, Union troops were sent
eastward from Yuma to take back southern Arizona. These
troops engaged a patrol of about 12 Confederate Calvary at
Picacho Pass, site of the westernmost fatal battle of the war.
The Union prevailed and the troops rode south to retake
Tucson and replanted the American flag in May of 1862. In
1863 Arizona became a Territory of the United States.
Mining booms began in the 1860s with the opening of the
Silverbell Copper Mine (1860s-1920s), and later resumed with
the reopening of the Silver Bell (1948-1980s). Sasco, a present
day ghost town, was a smelter town for mines at Silverbell and
Picacho Peak between 1907 and 1919.
The Bojórquez Ranch site, near what is now Silverbell and Cortaro Roads,
is one of the areas last remaining examples of Territorial period Mexican
ranches. The ranch was founded in 1878 by Juan and Mariz Bojórquez, sold to
Leandro Ruiz and Feliberto Aguirre in 1895, and abandoned about 1900. A
stone house foundation, an adobe house foundation, and a stone-masonry water
tank constructed during the Ruiz and Aguirre occupation still remain.
The railroad arrived in 1880 and the name Marana first appeared on
Southern Pacific Railroad maps in 1890. “Maraña” is a Mexican word meaning
dense brush, a tangle or a thicket and was given by the railroad workers as they
hacked their way through dense mesquite trees along the Santa Cruz River.
Beginning after the 1880s, a new Native American people
settled in the Santa Cruz Valley. These are the Yoem (Yaqui)
from the Yaqui River area in northwestern Mexico. Many fled
north to escape persecution by the Mexican government or to
find work. One settlement is the Yoem Pueblo in Marana
established in 1936, which today consists of 4.2 acres and about
40 tribal members. Prior to 1980, the Yoem in Marana lived in a
cluster of about 20 homes that was known as “Yaqui Camp.”
This Marana settlement of Yoem is not recognized by the U.S.
Bureau of Indian Affairs, while the settlement of New Pascua southwest of
Tucson gained official recognition as a United States Indian Tribe in 1978. The
people in Yoem Pueblo do, however, receive financial assistance from the tribal
government of New Pascua.

Statehood (1912 – Present)

Arizona became the 48th state on February 14,
World War I brought new prosperity to what was
left of the once thriving Silverbell Copper Mine, which operated from the 1860s
to the 1920s, and again from 1948 into the 1980s. The population grew to over a
thousand and the mining town had both a school and a hospital.
Ranching formed the backbone of this
community along the Southern Pacific Railroad.
Ranching has a 300-year history in the Santa Cruz
Valley, including the oldest cattle ranch in what is
now the United States at Guevavi near Nogales.
The Marana Stockyards (1996 to present) is the
only stock auction house in the Santa Cruz Valley. The Lazy K Bar Guest Ranch
and White Horse Guest Ranch continue to celebrate ranching traditions.
It was not until after WW I
that Marana became primarily an
agricultural center. There arose a
need for cotton to manufacture
tire cord, airplane fabric, and
other war-related materials. In
1917 the community was called Postvale after the Michigan immigrant Edwin R.
Post. In 1920 Post drilled a number of wells, installed a pumping plant, and
constructed an extensive irrigation system. Many families migrated to the area
to grow cotton between 1920 and 1924. Wheat, barley, alfalfa, and pecans have
also been cultivated since the 1940s, although the majority of Marana farmland
has always been devoted to cotton.
A substantial and influential Chinese community began to
develop in the Marana area in the 1930s. Many Chinese arrived to
the Tucson area with the Southern Pacific railroad in 1880. Of the
1,300 workers hired to construct the railroad 1,100 were Chinese.
Some began farming vegetables in large numbers on what became
known as truck farms; others opened grocery stores, laundries and
restaurants. In the 1930s they sold vegetables to miners and
ranchers in the Marana area. Eventually they bought land and became some of
the areas most profitable farmers.

The Producer Cotton Gin was built with dried adobe
in 1938 and comprises two buildings, an office and a
warehouse. These buildings are now treasured historic
features and represent the cotton growing industry,
historically a driving force in the settlement of Marana.
During World War II, the impact of the rising
importance of air power came quickly to Marana. In
1942, the U.S Government bought about 3.5 square miles
of the old Aguirre Ranch southwest of Red Rock for construction of an air base.
The Marana airfield (1942-1945) was the largest pilot-training center in the
world during WWII, training some 10,000 flyers. To serve the nearby military
facility, the highway from Tucson to Casa Grande was
improved and soon became the major road through the
Marana area. A German and Italian prisoner-of-war camp
was built northwest of Marana, and the prisoners helped
harvest crops. These developments, along with the arrival
of electricity in 1945, moved Marana into the 20th

The Arizona Portland Cement Company’s Twin Peaks limestone mine was
opened in 1949 and is today the largest limestone mine in the Santa Cruz Valley.
The migrant work camps that dotted the Marana area up until
the late 1950s were replaced by a new structure born of the cold
war and space age. Between 1959 and 1984, five Titan missile
sites were located in the Marana area as part of a complex of
ballistic missile installations built around Tucson. Many rural
roads in the area were paved, making parts of Marana more
In 1961, the Arizona Highway
Department and Federal Government removed most of
the historic northern Marana business district known as
the Mercantile to widen Interstate 10. The high school
and most businesses relocated throughout the area.
With no “Main Street” in northern Marana, the
business district in southern Marana became the main shopping region.
In March of 1977, the Town of Marana incorporated about 10 square miles
and in August the 1,500 townspeople elected their first town council. In early
1979 the town began to grow through an aggressive annexation policy and is
now nearly 120 square miles with an estimated population of 21,000.

Since the 1980s the amount of farmland has declined as farms have been
converted to housing developments. But, the area still has six large farms, which
primarily grow short staple cotton. Durum wheat is exported to Italy for making
pasta and is increasing in importance.
In 1992, Marana began receiving Colorado River water
from the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a federal project
authorized by Congress in 1968. Along the 336-mile-long
route, CAP water is delivered from Lake Havasu along a series
of canals and lift stations. Marana is entitled to nearly 23
million gallons of water each year.


Today, Marana is a thriving community on the banks of the Santa Cruz
River, which historically has been important to the cultures that have settled
there. This river’s riparian habitat supports a variety of wildlife, and presently is
kept alive by effluent released by Pima County sewage treatment facilities at
Roger and Ina roads. Effluent is a valuable water source for recharging the
groundwater along this reach of the river.
Marana is the boundary between the Middle and Lower Santa
Cruz River where the river loses its channel and spreads over
a large flood plain on its way to the Gila River. Marana is
also located at the confluence of three significant tributaries
of the Santa Cruz River: the Rillito River, Canada del Oro,
and Altar-Brawley Wash. Point of the Mountain near the
Portland Cement Plant was historically the last perennial water source for early
travelers before crossing the “90 mile desert” to the Gila River.
The Town of Marana now has a population of 26,725 people, covers an
area of 118 sq. miles, has seven Town parks, and is surrounded by large tracks of
protected open space, including Ironwood National Monument to the west,
Saguaro National Park to the south, and Tortolita Mountain Park to the east.
Within the town limits is the 2,500-
acre Tortolita Preserve. The 110,000
square foot Marana Municipal
Complex—housing Administrative
Services, Customer Services,
Development Services, the Marana
Police Department and the Municipal
Courts—was dedicated 2005.

One Response to “The History Of Marana Arizona”

  1. Mary Says:

    Thank you for a beautiful article on Marana’s history! I am writing a novel about the area and this information was very helpful.

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