Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

The Phoenix Indian School Band, 1894-1930

Academic journal article Journal of Historical Research in Music Education

The Phoenix Indian School Band, 1894-1930

Article excerpt

The Salt River Valley before 1890

The ancient Hohokam Indians inhabited the Salt River Valley, an area that today encompasses the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area, from approximately 300 to 1400 A.D. They were an agricultural people who cultivated crops and lived in close-knit villages. For reasons that remain shrouded in mystery, the Hohokam disappeared from the Salt River Valley and the remainder of Arizona during the fifteenth century, leaving behind an archaeological masterpiece in their brilliant and carefully planned canal and irrigation system. (1)

After that, other Native American tribes lived in the surrounding region, but neither they, the subsequent Spanish explorers, nor later American citizens actually settled in the "Valley of the Sun" itself, even after the United States acquired it following the Mexican War (1848). However, shortly after the area became an official United States territory in 1863, the Salt River Valley again became inhabited when the U.S. Army established a camp in 1865 to protect central Arizona mining communities from hostile Indians. Soon thereafter, civilians returned to the area after an absence of several centuries--this time to provide food and other agricultural products to nearby settlements. (2)

In 1870, local valley citizens voted unofficially to create a new town from the settlement, which had already been dubbed "Phoenix" after the "mythical bird that rose from its own ashes." It seems that the earliest settlers, led by John W. (Jack) Swilling, were inspired by the ancient Hohokam ruins, especially the canal system, and hoped that a great new civilization would arise on the site of the old. (3)

When Maricopa County was formed in 1871, Phoenix became the county seat. The city was officially incorporated in 1881. The Arizona portion of the Southern Pacific transcontinental railroad was completed through the nearby settlement of Maricopa in 1879, and eight years later workers completed a thirty-mile connecting railroad spur to Phoenix. The nearby city of Mesa, founded by Morman farmers from Utah, was incorporated in 1883. Phoenix became the capital of the Arizona Territory in 1889. (4) Improving agriculture and transportation caused the city of Phoenix's population to increase rapidly during the years 1880-1930 (see Table 1).

Cultural Diversity in Early Phoenix

For many, Phoenix, and indeed the entire the Southwest, was a terra incognita--something of a fairyland for children and adults. Sunshine, wide-open landscape, and rumors of a dry, healthy climate enticed Anglos to push toward America's extreme western frontier. These settlers were also drawn to Phoenix and other places in the Southwest by the possibility of creating urban centers. During the city's early decades, Mexicans and Native Americans moved to Phoenix and stayed, and the families of Chinese railroad workers often settled in the area and opened businesses. However, as time passed they and other ethnic groups came to be outnumbered by the continuing influx of Anglos (see Table 1). (5)

Thus, from the time of the valley's resettlement in the nineteenth century, its culture, and that of the city of Phoenix itself, has been heavily Anglo, although other ethnic groups have continued to weave diverse threads into the fabric of the predominantly Anglo culture. Hispanics and other ethnic groups continued to gain in numbers throughout the twentieth century. Today, the nation's sixth largest city boasts a population of more than one million people, with another three million encompassing its metropolitan area (i.e., Maricopa County). However, as in the nineteenth century, this growth has been predominantly Anglo. (6)

According to Phoenix historian Bradford Luckingham, discrimination against minority groups began early. He noted that although "overt discrimination" against Jews "was rare," other groups did not fare as well. There were few African Americans in Phoenix early on, but the Mexicans and Chinese suffered to some extent. …

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