Historians like to take the long view. When our forefathers (and they were all men) met in Phoenix slightly more than 100 years ago to adopt a Constitution for the state of Arizona, they drafted a document based on their understanding of the past and expressing their progressive hopes for the future.
Nowhere are these sentiments more graphically expressed than in Article 22, Section 20, describing the design of the state seal. The sun rising above majestic mountains illuminates a landscape presided over by a lone prospector and lush with irrigated crops, orchards, and cattle grazing on open range. The image encapsulates the 5 Cs — cattle, copper, cotton, citrus, and climate — in visual form. It represents Arizona as Arizonans saw it at the turn of the 20th century, and expresses the state’s bright hopes for a prosperous future.
Much has changed since Arizona statehood in 1912. Mining has gone through cycles of boom and bust; ranching still plays an important, but smaller, role in our state’s economy; water-intensive cotton and citrus fields are being gobbled up by urban sprawl; and the bursting of the housing bubble has slowed migration to Sunbelt communities. Perhaps most noticeable, Arizona today is more urban than rural; arguably more ethnically and culturally diverse than it was a century ago; and, whether we want to admit it or not, more closely linked to the national and global political economy.
From the perspective of 100 years, it seems that as the relative importance of our traditional 5 Cs has changed, the key symbols on Arizona’s state seal may be the dam and reservoir from which all bounty flows, and that water and climate hold the keys to our future.
Tom Sheridan makes the case in “Arizona: A History” that our 21st century will be dominated by competition between metropolitan Phoenix and other cities over Colorado River water. Perhaps he is right. But, if so, it doesn’t necessarily diminish the enduring significance of the 5 Cs. Times change and with change comes new priorities and challenges. Regardless of their relative significance in Arizona’s modern economy, cotton, copper, cotton, citrus and climate, articulate a vision of progress and prosperity that has defined Arizona for more than a century. The cowboy, the miner, the farmer, the fruit grower, and the health-seeker are inextricable parts of our history — and our mythology. They personify who we are and what we strive to be. But, most of all, they are reminders of the optimistic outlook and pioneering spirit that continues to motivate Arizona and Arizonans. From this perspective, they are as relevant as ever.
— Dr. Bruce Dinges is publications division director for the Arizona Historical Society.