Tag Archives: picacho peak

Picacho Peak, Rinches and the Civil War

This is one of the places I have always driven past, never actually been too, yet has always been a marker so eagerly looked for.  The distinctive peak can be seen heading both ways on the I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, but my favourite sights of it have always been when it’s telling us we’re almost home.

It was cool to see it from the desert instead, across the biggest saguaro ocean I have seen:


I never realised how this same peak had marked space for so many others through the past centuries…must have been so much more important through past centuries. Imagine the relief traveling cross-country when it finally came into view and you knew you were on the right trail through these thousands of miles of desert.

This lovely little resume is from Arizona State Parks: The Beginning by Charles B. Eatherly:

The unique shape of the 1,500-foot Picacho Peak has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. One of the first recordings was in the 1700’s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

In 1848, the Mormon Battalion constructed a wagon road through Picacho Pass. The forty-niners on their way to California used this road. In the late 1850’s the Butterfield Overland Stage was carrying passengers through this area. Picacho Peak’s most noted historic event occurred on April 15, 1862, when Confederate and Union scouting parties met in the Battle of Picacho Pass during the Civil War. This was the largest Civil War clash to take place in Arizona.

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I never knew there was a Civil War battle fought here. The Arizona Rangers were on the side of the Confederacy I believe, given the flag flying above the monument they raised.

A good reminder of history and the role the frontier areas played in the racial oppressions of slavery…and apparently proud of it. Of course in old corridos, Rangers are los rinches, and always bad guys. They were part of the anglo land grab, enforcing the transfer of claims from Mexicans and Native Americans, and rinches were used to break up the cowboy strike of 1883. It’s hardly surprising they’d chose the side they did.

Here’s more on the Confederate Rangers and the godforsaken idea of the ‘ocean-to-ocean’ Confederacy:

In February 1862, a band of Confederate Rangers under Capt. Sherod Hunter raised the Stars and Bars of Tucson, Arizona, part of an effort to create an ocean-to-ocean Confederacy.  In order to thwart this move, a Union “Column from California” under Col. James H. Carleton set out across the lonely desert toward Tucson.  On April 15, Union cavalry under Lt. James Barrett met with Confederate Rangers near Picacho Peak, a rocky spire 50 miles northwest of Tucson.  Barrett was killed almost immediately and fierce combat continued for more than an hour before the Federals retreated.  Although the Rangers’ victory at Picacho Pass delayed the Union force, the following month Carleton’s Californian’s eventually took Tucson without firing a shot.

They do a reenactment now every year I am told. Luckily we missed that.

We got in just at sunset — a bad time of day to capture the massive face of Picacho Peak itself sitting in deep shadow, but very beautiful climbing up and looking out over the desert:
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Picacho Peak remains in my memory for one other reason, as the first place I ever saw a porn magazine. They were just sitting stacked up on a shelf at the perfect kid eye level in the little store there we’d stopped at to get water or something once. It was a funny little fake-tudor place that is now just a heap of beams and rubble though the sign is still there (you can see it on the far right, I didn’t manage a shot of the ruin). The tradition of smut continues however:  IMG_0709
The Ostrich Ranch has been a fixture for years as well (1999). I love that it’s the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch — don’t know how happy John Wayne would have been of course…  IMG_0710