The Nogales to Yuma Slant: Arizona’s Southern Border West of the 111th Meridian

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“Map of the Gadsden Purchase : Sonora and portions of New Mexico, Chihuahua & California,” produced in 1858 by cartographer Herman Ehrenberg. Note the northwesterly slant in the border as it runs from Nogales to Yuma.
Image credit: Library of Congress

Here’s a question that likely keeps you up at night: Why does Arizona’s southern border run in a northwesterly manner between Nogales and Yuma?

Give up? Have a listen to this KJZZ piece – that happens to quote yours truly – from last Friday. It should be noted, of course, that the history of the Gadsden Purchase involves many very complex moving parts. However, Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez summed up the story nicely given the challenge of condensing it into a two-to-three minute radio segment.


Arizona Women of Note

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Army wife, author, and territorial era Arizonan Martha Summerhayes detailed the many challenges of nineteenth century military life – particularly the challenges faced by military wives such as herself – in her 1908 autobiography entitled Vanished Arizona.

As March draws to a close, so too does the 27th annual national observation of Women’s History Month. Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice to sit on the United States Supreme Court, is frequently mentioned during the month-long celebration of women’s history and is undoubtedly Arizona’s most well-known women’s history figure. However, Arizona history is full of courageous and accomplished females, including the following women:

Martha Summerhayes

A nineteenth century Army wife who accompanied her husband to his assignments at military installations throughout Arizona Territory. Summerhayes documented the many challenges of frontier life in her 1908 autobiography entitled Vanished Arizona. Her book is now a valuable resource for those wishing to learn more about the role and experiences of women in territorial era Arizona military posts.

Sharlot Hall

Hall was a writer, historian, and Arizona booster. It is because of Hall’s efforts and her deep interest in our state’s history that the 1864 Old Governor’s Mansion was preserved and can be viewed at Prescott’s world-renowned Sharlot Hall Museum.

Isabella Greenway

Isabella, the widow of former Rough Rider turned copper mining executive John C. Greenway, was successful and connected in her own right. Over the course of her life, she served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, spoke at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, owned an airline, founded Tucson’s famed Arizona Inn, and maintained a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Nellie T. Bush

Bush was a Colorado River ferryboat captain, entrepreneur, state legislator, and, later, Parker city councilwoman who is best known for serving as the ‘Admiral’ of Arizona’s ‘Navy’ during Governor Moeur’s 1934 deployment of National Guard against California’s dam laborers. Bush’s short-lived naval force consisted of two old ferryboats that soon ran into problems and required assistance from the ‘enemy’ forces on the California side of the river, thereby ending our state’s foray into naval warfare.

Polly Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum holds the record for longest service in the Arizona legislature. She succeeded her husband in 1949 following his premature death and remained in office until January of 1995. Though her legislative service ended nearly twenty years ago, Rosenbaum is still remembered for her energy and bipartisan spirit, in addition to her work for often-overlooked rural communities throughout the state.

Additional Arizona-related women’s history facts include our state’s 1912 approval of female suffrage (eight years before women earned the right nationwide), the fact that Arizona elected women to five statewide elected offices in 1998 (Jane Dee Hull, Governor; Betsey Bayless, Secretary of State; Janet Napolitano, Attorney General; Carol Springer, State Treasurer; and Lisa Graham Keegan, Superintendent of Public Instruction), and Arizona’s nearly seventeen year run of female governors (Jane Dee Hull, Janet Napolitano, and Jan Brewer).


Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” – Is There An Arizona Biltmore Connection?

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A vintage postcard showing the Arizona Biltmore pool alongside which Irving Berlin reputedly penned “White Christmas.”

Having sold more than 130 million copies since its initial release, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is the best-selling Christmas song of all time, as well as one of the all-time best-selling songs of any genre. Was this holiday classic written poolside at the Arizona Biltmore, as claimed by the resort and several others who have looked into the matter? While Berlin was known to stay at the Biltmore, and, according to a January 27th, 1939 Arizona Republic article, drafted the music for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Carefree,” and “Second Fiddle” (originally titled “When Winter Comes”) at the hotel, it’s unlikely that he composed the winter hit crooned by Crosby and others while vacationing at the “Jewel of the Desert.”

The relatively unknown first sixteen measures of “White Christmas” serve as evidence of the song’s probable origin outside of the Grand Canyon State. Referencing not the Valley of the Sun, but rather, the affluent California hamlet of Beverly Hills, the often-omitted introductory section sets the scene for the rest of the number. As detailed in Jody Rosen’s “White Christmas: The Story of an American Song,” Berlin likely penned – or at least conceptualized – the iconic holiday song during a 1937 Christmas stay at the famed Beverly Hills Hotel, a setting remarkably different from the many cold and dreary New York Christmases to which Berlin was accustomed. Later in life, Berlin offered several radically different stories as to when and where he authored “White Christmas,” arguably the best-known and most-loved song in his repertoire, although none of his recollections involve the Arizona Biltmore. That a book co-authored by his daughter raises the possibility of the tune having been first scrawled while Berlin enjoyed the hospitality of the Biltmore staff, even when paired with his fondness for the resort and his creative history while a Biltmore guest, is insufficient evidence. Rather, it seems that the tale of the nation’s Christmas standard having been inspired by a warm and sunny Phoenix Christmas is nothing more than an highly questionable and overly optimistic account repeated, and possibly wholeheartedly believed, by enthusiastic resort marketers and staffers.

Indeed, the lack of evidence relating specifically to the song and its supposed genesis at the Biltmore indicates that this widely-held belief is incorrect, just as the notion of Frank Lloyd Wright being the architect of the record for the grand hotel is erroneous. While the “White Christmas” story and the many accounts overplaying Wright’s role in designing the grand structure ought to be cast aside, the luxurious retreat can rightfully lay claim to one bit of popular culture – the tequila sunrise. Originally offered at the Biltmore in the 1930s or 1940s, albeit in a form somewhat varied from the version we know and love today, the colorful drink boasts well-documented Biltmore roots. That, however, is a post for another day.