Marcos de Niza, a Spanish Franciscan friar, was the first European to explore Arizona. He entered the area in 1539 in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. Although he was followed a year later by another gold seeker, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, most of the early settlement was for missionary purposes. In 1775 the Spanish established Fort Tucson. In 1848, after the Mexican War, most of the Arizona territory became part of the U.S., and the southern portion of the territory was added by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.
Arizona history is rich in legends of America's Old West. It was here that the great Indian chiefs Geronimo and Cochise led their people against the frontiersmen. Tombstone, Ariz., was the site of the West's most famous shoot-out—the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Today, Arizona has one of the largest Native American populations; more than 14 tribes are represented on 20 reservations.
Manufacturing has become Arizona's most important industry. Principal products include electrical, communications, and aeronautical items. The state produces over half of the country's copper. Agriculture is also important to the state's economy. Top commodities are cattle and calves, dairy products, and cotton. In 1973 one of the world's most massive dams, the New Cornelia Tailings, was completed near Ajo.
The Rodeo-Chediski Fire began on June 18, 2002, and was not controlled until July 7. It was the worst forest fire in Arizona's recorded history until June 14, 2011 when the Wallow Fire surpassed Rodeo-Chediski as the largest fire in Arizona history. The Rodeo fire was started by a part-time firefighter in need of work; the Chediski fire was started by the signal fire of a stranded motorist. The two fires merged to ultimately consume more than 700 sq mi. Two cousins and their unattended campfire were responsible for the Wallow Fire, which consumed 840 sq mi.
In 2008, Arizona senator John McCain won the Republican nomination for U.S. President, ultimately losing to the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
At a meet-and-greet in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011, Arizona democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by a lone gunman who also killed six others including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge. Twelve bystanders were wounded. Jared L. Loughner later pleaded guilty to 19 criminal counts and was sentenced to multiple terms of life in prison.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- Apache Kid Native American outlaw;
- Erma Bombeck humorist and writer;
- Glen Campbell singer;
- Lynda Carter actress;
- Cesar Chavez labor leader;
- Cochise Apache chief;
- Alice Cooper singer and songwriter;
- Wyatt Earp marshall;
- Max Ernst painter;
- Geronimo (Goyathlay) Apache chief;
- Barry Goldwater politician;
- Zane Grey novelist;
- Carl Trumbull Hayden politician;
- George W. P. Hunt first state governor;
- Bill Keane cartoonist;
- Eusebio Kino missionary;
- Percival Lowell astronomer;
- Frank Luke, Jr. WWI fighter ace;
- Stephenie Meyer author;
- Charles Mingus jazz musician and composer;
- Carlos Montezuma doctor and Native American spokesman;
- Stevie Nicks singer;
- Sandra Day O'Connor jurist;
- William O'Neill frontier sheriff;
- Alexander M. Patch general;
- William H. Pickering astronomer;
- Linda Ronstadt singer;
- Paolo Soleri architect;
- Jordin Sparks singer;
- Emma Stone actress;
- Clyde W. Tombaugh astronomer;
- Tanya Tucker singer;
- Stewart Udall secretary of the Interior;
- Pauline Weaver frontier person;
- Frank Lloyd Wright architect.