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The way we were

Quijotoa: The mining town that was

For most of Pima County's history, Tucson, by far our largest city, was also our only incorporated municipality. As other communities quite distant from the county seat would emerge with mining booms and railroad development, officials were left with the problem of how to adequately serve residents there.

Quijotoa, at the center of what is now the Tohono O'odham Nation, at one time seemed to hold the promise of being the next great Arizona mining town. That excited local boosters, but caused concern on how to provide for law and order in the new community.

Fortunately, the problem managed to resolve itself.

Quijotoa is a Spanish corruption of "kiho toak," an O'odham phrase meaning "carrying basket mountain," which refers to a prominent peak about 70 miles west of Tucson. Gold and silver deposits there had been known for quite some time, and may have been worked sporadically for years.

Reports from the O'odham governor of the villages around Santa Rosa, a man named Con Quien after his favorite Mexican card game, drew prospectors to the area, and by the fall of 1883, over two dozen mining claims had been established in the area.

Townsite developers laid out four towns: Brooklyn, Logan City, Virginia and New Virginia, though the county ultimately only recognized it as a single election precinct and newspapers referred to the camp as "Quijotoa" or "The Quijotoas." In the first few months of 1884, the population was estimated at 1,500 and boasted a newspaper, two hotels, several stores, and a schoolhouse. Catholic officials made plans to locate a church there. Pedro Aguirre & Company ran a thrice-weekly stage to the camp for an astounding fare of $10.

Though rowdy at times, Quijotoa was largely free of the lawlessness that plagued other boom towns like Tombstone. Nonetheless, there was some concern about maintaining law and order so far from the county seat. Though the camp clearly needed its own deputy, the efforts of Republican Sheriff Robert Paul to recruit one were criticized as a partisan ploy to buy favor in the mostly Democratic community. Things went more smoothly for the County Recorder, who had invested in the mines there and was often in Quijotoa to look after his own business, so residents there were able to file paperwork while he was making a visit.

The mining camp could not be ignored by politicians in the run up to the 1884 elections.

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In late October, a number of candidates boarded a stage for Quijotoa. The daylong journey must have been a bit more uncomfortable than most stage trips, not only because the cramped coach included both Democrats and Republicans, but also because one legislative candidate, former Tucson Mayor Robert Leatherwood, was drunk the whole time. Nonetheless, the assembled arrived safely, and promised to make providing Quijotoa with a justice of the peace and a constable a priority for the upcoming session.

Such legislation was introduced, but it proved unnecessary. By the time the 1885 session at the capitol was underway, the boom at Quijotoa was over and disappointed miners and business-owners were leaving as it had become clear that the promise of the town had been oversold by boosters and speculators. The community held on until the end of the decade and mining continued to produce there into the 20th century, but not at the scale that had been touted in earlier days.

When the Papago (now Tohono O'Odham) Reservation was set aside in 1916, old mining claims were grandfathered as inholdings, and some small-scale mining at Quijotoa continued.

A precedent-setting court decision in 1930 confirmed that the Pima County Attorney and Sheriff maintained jurisdiction over non-tribal people in the community, and the county maintained an election precinct there. In the 1930s, Quijotoa's Democratic Precinct Committeeman, a desert rat named "Colonel" J.J. Munsey, bragged that his leadership was responsible for carrying the community for the Democratic ticket, even though the number of voters there never numbered more than 40. Despite his dubious status as a political boss, his efforts to get elected officials to locate a post office at nearby Covered Wells never bore fruit.

Though Pima County is bigger than some states, most of what happens in terms of the economy and politics occurs in and around Tucson. With the exception of Ajo, whose story was told in the Jan. 26 issue of PCFYI, this has almost always been the case. The story of Quijotoa is an example of how serving the taxpayers in the hinterlands is a perennial challenge for county leadership.

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