Several weeks ago, we received an interesting e-mail from our our friends at Tumácacori National Historical Park. In it, they talked about the meaning of the name Arizona……. According to the e-mail, Don Garate, former Chief of Interpretation at Tumacácori, as well as “the world’s authority on Juan Bautista de Anza and phenomenal historian,” wrote several articles detailing the origin of the name Arizona. Garate was of Basque descent and spoke the language…. Unfortunately he passed away in 2010, leaving Tumacacori to share the story.
We’ve decided to share the story below…. It’s an interesting slice of Arizona history and if you want to learn more, be sure to visit Tumácacori National Historical Park’s website. You can also e-mail questions to the Acting Chief of Interpretation at Anita_Badertscher@nps.gov.
**Editor’s note: This story was submitted to Arizona Highways by Tumacácori National Historical Park. Arizona Highways did not edit this content for factual accuracy.
Basque is a unique language, unlike any other known to linguists. The word “Arizona” breaks down into components that require four words in English:
Ariz: oak tree
To make it plural, you would add a “c,” making it “Arizonac.”
In October 1736, Yaqui Indian prospector Antonio Siraumea stumbled upon large pieces of silver in the hills forty miles southwest of the Tumacácori Mission. News of the discovery spread quickly. Prospectors rushed to the canyon from all over Sonora to dig for the “balls and plates” of almost pure silver. One prospector, José Fermín de Almazán, found a single slab that weighed over one hundred arrobas, roughly 1 ¼ tons.
By mid-November, Juan Bautista de Anza (senior), Captain of the Fronteras Presidio and Chief Justice of Sonora, learned of the discovery. He travelled to the site to halt the illegal, unregistered collecting, and to determine whether the find was a buried treasure, a clandestine smelting operation, or a natural vein. If the silver was a natural deposit, the prospectors would owe Spain’s King Philip one-fifth of their find. If it was a treasure, ALL of the silver would belong to the King.
By the time Anza arrived, there were 400 people digging for the precious metal. Anza stationed soldiers on-site to prevent further mining. He set up his headquarters twelve miles away, at the home of Deputy Justice Bernardo de Urrea. Urrea’s ranch was called “Arizona,” meaning “the good oak tree” in Basque, his native language.
From Arizona, Captain Anza impounded silver, recorded statements, and conducted the investigation. Discussion then moved to Mexico City. Finally, in August, Anza and five of Sonora’s leading miners returned to examine the canyon. The “experts” unanimously agreed that the silver was from natural veins. The silver — minus the King’s fifth — was returned to the miners.