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.


But It’s A Dry Heat…

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Cover of the 1952 edition of Oren Arnold’s Arizona Brags.
Image credit: John Larsen Southard Collection

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A humorous early twentieth-century postcard comparing the temperatures of Tucson and Yuma to those of Hell.
Image credit: John Larsen Southard Collection

Arizona’s climate, one of the state’s 5 Cs, is something to boast about during the winter months. Early tourism campaign slogans such as “Summer Days All Winter” were used to great effect in efforts to draw out-of-state visitors to enjoy the spectacular weather found here from November through March or, at best, April. However, the wonderful winter weather inevitably transitions to the far less desirable and often eye-popping extreme heat of an Arizona summer. These high temperatures have prompted quips such as Dick Wick Hall’s story of a seven-year-old frog who never learned to swim due to his being raised in the dry, dusty Sonoran Desert, and Mark Twain’s story of a soldier from Fort Yuma who died and “went straight to the hottest corner of perdition,” but found that after living in Yuma, he needed a blanket to live comfortably in the cooler climes of Hell.


Humorist Oren Arnold compiled a number of jokes, claims, facts, and anecdotes — many of them climate-related — for inclusion in his 1947 book entitled Arizona Brags (revised and republished in 1952). As we slide into the brutal heat of yet another summer, some of Arnold’s ‘facts’ may help to bring a smile to our collectively overheated faces. Among other assertions, some believable and some outlandish, Arnold’s book jokingly claims:

— “The devil himself carries a palm leaf fan in Arizona.”

— “It never rains. Only reason an Arizona home has a roof is to have a place to put the TV [antenna].”

— “It stays so dry in western Arizona the fish kick up clouds of dust as they cruise the Colorado River.”

— “Any Phoenix doctor says that his medical practice is twice as hard as that of doctors in any other part of the nation. He can’t tell his patients to go to Arizona for their health.”

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A postcard showing the swimming pool at Williams Field, later to be known as Williams Air Force Base. While airmen such as the Milwaukee native native referenced in the above joke might have initially found the Sonoran Desert climate to be unbearable, the large numbers of World War II veterans who chose to relocate to the Valley in the post-war period indicate that one need not be a native to “stand the weather.”
Image credit: John Larsen Southard Collection

— “A young GI from Milwaukee was sweating out his first summer at Williams Air Force Base near Phoenix. A native Arizonan explained that a man had to be born and reared here to stand the weather. ‘What!’ exclaimed the soldier. ‘You mean folks live here when there ain’t no war?’”

— “It gets so dry in Arizona the jackrabbits carry canteens and the trees chase after dogs. Only mud is the kind the politicians sling. Rivers are just lines to crease a map, and to furnish Arizona cattle a dry, sandy bedding ground.”

And finally, a joke related to something all Arizonans have been guilty of at one time or another…

— “A citizen of Phoenix died and, of course, went down below. The devil greeted him and was showing him around the place. The ex-Phoenician kept mopping his brow. Finally he spoke up.

‘Gosh, it certainly is hot down here.’

‘Yes, it is,’ Satan nodded. ‘But it’s not humid, it’s a healthful, dry heat.’

‘Phooey!’ scoffed the Arizonan. ‘I’ve heard that old guff before.’

‘Oh sure you have,’ Satan smiled affably. ‘Fact is, you told it. That’s why you’re here.’”

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).