Five Years Without An Arizona State Flag

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January 28th, 1917 Tombstone Epitaph headline announcing legislative concern over the proposed state flag design. This design that “looked too much like the Japanese emblem” was adopted as Arizona’s official state flag the following month.

A full five years passed between Arizona’s admission to the Union and its adoption of an official state flag. A variety of factors – legislative bickering among them – led to a half-decade elapsing before the “Baby State” had a standard of its own. While the design approved by state legislators in 1917 is well-regarded today, as evidenced by the North American Vexillological Association honoring it as one of the best flags in North America, it initially faced serious opposition.

A flag very similar to that flown today was first put into service by the Arizona Rifle Team during a 1911 match at Camp Perry, OH. A variation of this same design, although not then the official state flag, was displayed at the 1915 dedication of the U.S.S. Arizona. Despite these and other instances in which the Rifle Team flag or a version thereof served, albeit unofficially, as Arizona’s colors, state legislators remained hesitant to formalize the design. A January 1917 bill proposing adoption of the de facto flag as the state’s official flag met resistance from solons and citizens alike. Los Angeles Times articles documented concern that the rays and copper star featured on the flag under discussion bore a “similitude to the Japanese ensign,” and mentioned talk of including a “Gila monster couchant, within a copper collar” on the flag. A proposal to shift the line dividing the rays from the field of blue below from a horizontal to a diagonal orientation languished due after being unfavorably compared to “an astrological chart.”

In the end, legislators passed a bill adopting a design bearing “the copper star of Arizona rising from a blue field in the face of a setting sun” as the state’s official flag. Though Governor Thomas Campbell declined to sign the bill because, as speculated by the Arizona Republican newspaper, “the flag did not measure up to his ideals of what a state emblem should be,” the bill became law after five days of gubernatorial inaction. Campbell was ousted from office in December of 1917 following a court decision declaring George W.P. Hunt the victor of the contentious 1916 race (Campbell would return to the governorship in 1919). However, the Arizona state flag made official by his inaction flies over the capitol building in which he served to this day.

Pre-World War I “Border Trouble”

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Camp Naco, an encampment of American troops along the Mexican border during the period of “border trouble,” in 1916.
Image Credit: Library of Congress

I discussed the 1934 Parker Dam controversy and the resultant birth of the ‘Arizona Navy’ with Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez of KJZZ’s “The Show” last week (clip accessible here: While Arizona’s short-lived two-boat naval force (or is it farce?) makes for a good story, Governor Benjamin B. Moeur’s deployment of the Arizona National Guard was a far more effective display of power. However, this border service, although notable for taking place along an interstate border, was not the first time the Guard received a call to mobilize along a border.

The Arizona National Guard, originally known as the Arizona Volunteer Infantry Regiment, or the Arizona Volunteers, was first organized in early 1865. As described in a 1955 Guard-issued history, the Volunteers were raised to “fight the Indians who were pillaging and marauding among the settlers and friendly Indian tribes” of the territory. Since that time, the Arizona National Guard has served with distinction both internationally, as was the case in World Wars I and II, and domestically.

The Guard’s 1934 deployment to the California border may well be the Guard’s most-discussed domestic service, but its 1916 mobilization along the Mexican border involved risks far more dire than those faced along the banks of the Colorado River. Indeed, the decade-long Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 brought great risks to towns along the international border, as evidenced by Pancho Villa’s March 9th, 1916 raid of Columbus, New Mexico. Villa’s excursion onto American soil resulted in the death of eighteen U.S. citizens and prompted President Wilson to send General John “Black Jack” Pershing into Mexico in an unsuccessful attempt to capture or kill Villa. In response to rising tensions along the international boundary, American authorities mustered the Arizona National Guard and other border state forces into federal service. Arizona National Guard troops were federalized on May 9th, 1916 and sent to serve at Camp Harry J. Jones near Douglas and nearby Camp Naco, among other locations in the state. The Arizona National Guard’s “border trouble” era service ended with their call to train for, and eventually deploy to, France as part of America’s World War I forces.