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San Diego, ‘Arizonia’

Gov. George W. P. Hunt at the Santa Fe station in San Diego in September 1917.

The boundary of Arizona has long been a work in progress. When the United States was negotiating with Mexico over the location of the international boundary in the early 1850s, many politicians believed “the whole country was thought to be barren…Arizona was almost exclusively a desert, as was New Mexico.”
Mexico desperately needed the money from a land sale. The U.S. was looking for a feasible southern route for the cross-country railroad. By 1853, three proposed treaties had been outlined for what eventually would become the Gadsden Purchase.
One proposed treaty was a straight line all the way through northern Mexico. This boundary would have given Arizona direct access to the Gulf of California. This would have cost the United States $25 million. Some representatives feared that this purchase would eventually become a slave-holding state, so it was rejected.
The second idea would have been a straight line across latitude 31 degrees, 37 minutes. This would have cost $15 million and put Rocky Point in Arizona.
What became the Gadsden Purchase was known as the ‘skeleton treaty’ of the three. It cost only $10 million. Many people in the East still believed the Colorado River was navigable at least up to Yuma by ocean-going vessels, so a seaport for Arizona was not necessary. This treaty also left Mexico a land connection between Sonora, Mexico, and Baja California.
Some people still believe erroneously that the angle in Arizona’s southern border was due to a surveying error. The legend has it that after the surveyors left Nogales, it was so hot, the surveyors set a straight line to Yuma so they could find a cold beer. Now, if you happen to know any surveyor, you would know this legend is untrue. Since the international boundary is some 20 miles south of Yuma, the surveyors involved clearly would have been lost. Surveyors looking for beer would have set a straight line to the saloon in Yuma with the coldest beer.
In fact, the Gadsden treaty described the line as “a straight line to a point on the Colorado River 20 miles below the mouth of the Gila River.” The surveyors indeed set the treaty line, not the beer line.
In the 1930’s San Diego County and Imperial County of California wanted to become part of Arizona. Edgar Hastings, a supervisor with San Diego County stated “it would give Arizona a much-desired seaport and a fine harbor.”
There were, of course, political advantages for San Diego to become a part of Arizona. “Arizona would increase the state’s population by more than 350,000 thus giving Arizona one new congressman…Arizona’s present area of 113,956 square miles would be increased to 122,266.”
A drawback to the annexation would have been assuming a portion of California’s large debt. By the mid 1930s, California’s debt was nearly $140 million ($2.2 billion when adjusted for inflation). At the time, Arizona’s debt was just less than $1.4 million.
Ironically, San Diego would have ended up closer to the capital if it had became part of Arizona. From San Diego to Sacramento, it is 504 miles. As we all know too well, from Phoenix to San Diego, it is only 360 miles.
Even by the mid 1930s, San Diego felt overshadowed by the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles. One local editorial stated that people from San Diego “are tired…of paying taxes for things they don’t get – being represented by senators from Los Angeles and San Francisco who forgot to get anything for the tip of the state.”
In the final analysis, water was a big issue behind the idea. “The biggest advantage to Arizona seems to be in the recapturing, without our standing ‘army’ of at least a portion of our rights to the Colorado River. That would be something.”
The one thing that San Diego wanted from Arizona was a change in the name of the state. Edgar Hastings said “for the benefit of those who may desire a new name, the addition of the letter ‘i’ between the ‘n’ and ‘a’ might answer the purpose.” For those beaches of San Diego, Arizonia might not have been a bad compromise.
Undoubtedly, political differences were quickly mended and the proposal disappeared from serious discussion. Now, during our blistering summers, we can only dream of what could have been San Diego, Arizonia.
Mike Miller. Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, Archives Division, Phoenix, # 01-1096.

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