July 12, 2006 - Perhaps they once looked proud in their uniforms and glistening armor, but by the time they reached the Santa Cruz Valley the soldiers of the mighty Spanish army looked like hell.
Their armor was tarnished from heat and dust and some of the men and animals had died along the way from the broiling sun. These soldiers were but a shadow of their former selves and any idea of fame and riches was merely an illusion compared to the reality they now faced.
Indian attacks and the constant irritant of insects, reptiles and the need for food and water, as well as the maddening temperatures wilted the best of them. But they made it in enough force to plant their flag and establish the Spanish empire at a small Indian village in a valley soon to be called Tucson.
Such a historic event would seem ripe for commemoration. Why, these intrepid empire extenders must have arrived in this valley via "The Old Spanish Trail."
These tortured souls arrived by following the Santa Cruz River, not some meandering road on the east side of town with a historic sounding name dreamed up by a developer in the 1950s.
No, to get here in the 18th century, you had to follow the water and avoid hilly areas far from moisture and the whims of the Apache. The real Old Spanish Trail is much farther north and runs through the Navajo nation.
You can tell the history of almost all cities and towns in America by studying the street names. But in fast growing communities like the Tucson metropolitan area, where developers frequently choose the names and not some street naming commission honoring who and what once was, you have to do a little more study than usual.
Some roads are named for where they went - the Old Benson Highway really did go to Benson; the Ajo highway still goes to Ajo; Oracle Road goes to Oracle. Some are named for the trails in front of houses and businesses of prominent early pioneers, like Congress street named for the old Congress Hall, a once famous gambling joint that quickly separated miners and cowboys from their earnings. Other street names were changed over time, usually to honor someone, like Kolb Road named for Richard Kolb, a former Pima County Board of Supervisors clerk. The road used to be called Calle Miramonte.
And some street names are just marketing ploys to make subdivisions sound beautiful, historic, western or tranquil, like Silver Cloud Place, Easy Street, River Falls Drive and Saddle Horse Lane.
The oldest roads in Tucson are the ones used to get here and then go on somewhere else.
That's the case in almost all of the pioneer towns of the West. Many roads today follow old trails blazed by pioneers and Indians alike.
The old Highway 89 and Interstate 19 follow the same path that Coronado took that led him to the Grand Canyon and New Mexico. It's also the same path taken 100 years or so later by the mission-building padres who settled the area between Nogales and Tucson.
Interstate 10 crosses paths with the trail used by U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny during the war with Mexico in 1846, the route of the Mormon Battalion used also during that war, and the Butterfield Overland Mail Route used from 1858 to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
Even inside the present metropolitan area many of the streets and their names correspond to old trails. Take Oracle Road, once nothing more than a little dirt trail used by people heading into the hills in search of wealth. The road was first and foremost a trail, but it began to grow in size as more horses, wagons and cattle moved up and down its corridor.
It became the main route for the stagecoaches that headed toward the forts and mining camps that developed on the north side of the Santa Catalinas and in the San Pedro River valley.
It was also terribly dangerous to travel in the decades before and after the Civil War as marauding Apaches swooped down on unsuspecting travelers. By the time the Indian wars ended here in the 1890s, Oracle Road was fast becoming a major route in the development of what would eventually become the Northwest suburbs of Tucson.
George M. Pusch and his Steam Pump Ranch helped to feed and water people who traveled the Oracle Trail. And in the early 20th century he built a slaughter-house just east of Evergreen cemetery near Oracle and Prince Road. From the 1920s through the 1950s Oracle became the main link to the rest of the state as Highway 77.
In the 1950s, Sam Nanini purchased several thousand acres in the Northwest and began the housing and business boom with the creation of the Casas Adobes subdivision and Casas Adobes Plaza. Being from Italy, he also put his mark on many of the streets with such names as Giaconda Way, Rose Marie Drive, Nanini Drive, Andrea Doria Drive, Antonietta Drive, Mona Lisa, Donatello, Montebella, Pomona and Portofino, just to name a few.
David Faust, curator for the Fort Lowell Museum, would probably agree with what Nanini did, since the latter had a hand in settling this area. He believes we should be using more historical names when laying out the plans for new streets in the ever-expanding subdivisions of the city. Though Nanini used Italian names they were, nonetheless, different sounding and easily identifiable.
"We have too many streets now that sound the same," Faust says. " Calle this and camino that and a basic mangling of the Spanish language by developers. When I was doing a lecture many years ago I said some street names should be about people who made history here. A member of the audience happened to work at the Department of Transportation and talked to their superior and I was asked to come up with a list of names."
Faust did just that and came up with about 250 which have been used both in the Catalina foothills and down in Green Valley. Up near Sunrise Drive and Craycroft Road there are streets with such names as Territory Drive, Fort Verde Trail, Fort Yuma Trail, Apache Hills Trail, Fort Buchanan Trail, Fort Crittenden, Fort Verde, Post Trail, Hohokam Trail, Chiricahua Trail, Cochise Trail, Montezuma Trail.
"I'm glad they're using historical names now, " Faust adds. "They should be using names that touch on our heritage here, whether it be people, Native American, military or historical. If you go down to Fort Huachuca their streets have names for battles and military officers. Stone Avenue here in Tucson was named after a colonel." Faust adds that many members with the police, sheriff and emergency response organizations agree that our streets in many neighborhoods sound so much alike that is slows down the response times, especially during a medical emergency. "Why not simplify it with historical names, especially when there are plenty of them out there."
Pennington Street was named after the Pennington family who came out here from Texas back in the 1850s, a daughter, Larcena Pennington Page Scott made history by surviving a kidnapping by Apaches while up in the Santa Rita Mountains.
There are several streets on the east side of Tucson that bear the names of people and places in American history, particularly the American Revolution and Civil War. With street names like Red Coat, Antietam Place, Monitor, Merrimac, McClellan, Bluefield, Chickamauga, Bedford Drive, Shenandoah Avenue and Constitution Avenue, to name a few, indicates that someone in the city was thinking along the same lines as David Faust.
And a little beyond Houghton Road (named for English homesteaders William and Florence Houghton who pronounced their name hoe-ton, now how-ton, the way most pronounce the street name now) in areas recently annexed by the city there are street names that sound more like ranch names, such as Lazy J Way, Circle D Way, Flying K Street. In Tucson Estates on the West side almost every street in that mobile home park bears the names of ranches such as Flying W, Circle Z, Lazy S, Tumbling F, Box R, and a favorite in old westerns, Bar X.
In the Northwest, major roads bear the names of those who homesteaded at the turn of the last century. Westward Look was once a private ranch before becoming a "Dude" ranch and eventually a resort.
Ina road, which should be pronounced "ee-na" but is known by the locals as "eye-na," was named after a woman who helped establish a physical education program for "ladies" at the University of Arizona when many thought that was a real waste of time. Ina E. Gittings would head the department from the 1920s until the middle 1950s when she retired.
Born in 1885 in Wilber, Neb., Miss. Gittings earned a B.A. from the University of Nebraska in 1906 and taught high school for several years before heading the Women's Physical Education Department at Nebraska and later holding the same position at the University of Montana.
During the First World War, Ina performed physical therapy in the Army Medical Corps as well as some relief work in later years in Turkey. It was Ina who helped to develop the physical education program at the University of Arizona and eventually earned a master's degree from the UA in 1925.
What brought her to Tucson is not really known but within a matter of months after arriving she homesteaded an area west of Oracle Road not far from another homesteaded parcel of land owned by the Magee's, their place located at what is now the intersection of Magee Road and La Cañada Drive.
Long covered with suburban development and streets, these homesteads have disappeared, but now streets remind us of the history that was made here by people long departed.
Sometimes there are streets that no longer exist but still have a tale to tell.
In downtown Tucson there was once a street named La Calle de la India Triste, or the street of the Sad Indian Maid, later referred to as Maiden Lane.
It was named for an Indian woman who fell desperately in love with a Spanish soldier. When the Spaniard left she was sent packing back to her people, who shunned her.
Not wanted by either her people or the Spaniards, the maiden was forced to live on her own and lived along the south wall of the presidio near an arroyo, which eventually became Maiden Lane, the place where this sad woman finished out her life. It is said one can still see or hear her roaming about looking for the only man she ever loved.
Every now and then a group of history loving Tucsonans petition the city to change the name of the road back to La Calle de la India Triste from its current name, Congress Street, but the effort always fails. The street became known as Congress because it passed before Congress Hall, a huge gambling hall of some repute.
Apparently the old gambling hall has more historical pull than a ghostly jilted Indian woman.
Sounds like the history of the Old West.