Map of the United States of America

The children who created the Little Cowpuncher were from families who worked in ranching or mining operations in Southern Arizona. Most of them were Mexican or Mexican-American. Some were the sons and daughters of pioneer ranching families. A few could trace their holdings back to Spanish Colonial or Mexican era land grants. Others were newer immigrants, whose fathers were vaqueros working on the large ranches in the area. Some, like their teacher Eulalia Bourne, were holding down homestead claims. Here is a simplified background history of the area where they lived:

The Prehistoric Farmers
As early as around 8,000 B.C. people were living in what is now Southern Arizona. They farmed and hunted an area that was completely different from the desert that exists today. The temperature was 30 degrees cooler then, almost four times wetter, and there was lush vegetation. Gradually the climate grew warmer and drier, finally becoming a desert. The prehistoric Hohokam, who lived in the area from around 700 to 1300 A.D. were the first desert farmers. They built irrigation canals along the rivers and grew corn, beans and squash.

The Spanish Missionaries
When the first Spanish missionaries arrived in the late 1600's, the area was populated by Pima Indian tribes. Hoping to convert them to Christianity, the Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, established a system of visitas (mission stations) in the region. He brought in herds of cattle, horses, sheep and goats. He introduced abobe construction and started the cultivation of a wide variety of European food plants. It was the beginning of ranching in the area.

The Apache Threat
The civil authorities of New Spain established precidios (garrisons), surrounded by Spanish settlements, but all attempts at development were seriously impacted by the raiding nomadic Apaches. The Spanish authorities tried a number of tactics to deal with the situation. Most of these plans were military, but they also awarded land grants to encourage settlement in the area. Nothing, however, provided a permanent solution for the "Apache Problem."

Mexican Independence
September 16, 1822, Mexico gained its independence from Spain. During the short period of Mexican rule, land grants were again issued in the region, mostly along the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers. Apache raids, however, continued to make it all but impossible to settle the land, and many of the claims were abandoned. Early in the Mexican Era, the first Americans arrived. They were hunters, who were followed in the early 1830's by cattle and mule drivers. During the Gold Rush some 50,000 people passed through the area on their way to the gold fields in California. Some of them returned. Many of these settlers married Mexican women and stayed in the area.

Map of Gadsden Purchase

The Gadsden Purchase
The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) had little impact on what is now Southern Arizona. At the end of the war, the area was still part of Mexico. It wasn't until the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, that it became a territory of the United States. That was when the United States bought some 30,000 square miles along the Santa Cruz River from Mexico to build a railroad route to the Pacific, and the pioneer Mexican ranchers, who found themselves living in the new territory, suddenly became American citizens. They banded together with the European American settlers to resist the Apache raids and to develop the area. But the frontier was never really safe for settlement until the Apache chief, Geronimo, finally surrendered in 1884. Arizona Territory was one of the last regions of the continental United States to be "settled and civilized."

The Railroad
The completion of the railroad in 1880 brought enormous changes to the new Arizona Territory. The easy transportation of American goods and supplies made it difficult for many Mexican-American businessmen to compete. Wealthy American entrepreneurs began streaming into the Territory. They invested in, and soon dominated, mining, ranching, retailing and agriculture. Many families that had farmed along the Santa Cruz River for four generations lost their fields to land speculators. The flow of the river was changed, and traditional Mexican American agriculture began to disappear. Many of the families moved into town.

Farming, Ranching and Mining
Old mining claims at places like Arivaca, Sopori, and Helvetia were reactivated, and deserted ranches were given a new life as new European Americans took over abandoned claims. In 1910 the Mexican Revolution brought a wave of Mexican migrants into Arizona Territory. They came to work with farming, ranching, and mining. Some returned to Mexico, but many settled and stayed. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the region, with ranching and farming providing the backbone of the economy. February 14, 1912, Arizona became the 48th state. Ranching continued to be a vital part of Southern Arizona's economy for many years.

Southern Arizona Today
Today cattle ranching is a controversial subject, and its importance to the economy is greatly diminished. Developers are buying up land where ranches and ranching communities once flourished, building planned communities and golf courses. Fewer and fewer working family ranches are left in Southern Arizona. In spite of these developments, ranching remains an important part of the cultural history, and Spanish, the language established 300 years ago in the area, is still spoken by about a quarter of the population.