By Al Bates

Prescott’s Arizona Miner is rightly known as Arizona Territory’s first newspaper with its beginning at Fort Whipple in early 1864, but it was not the first newspaper in what is now Arizona.  Let me explain.  Publication of the four-page Weekly Arizonian began March 3, 1859, at the old Spanish Presidio of Tubac—then located in New Mexico Territory and later part of Arizona.

The printing press for Arizona’s first newspaper was a used Washington hand press which had been shipped by the Santa Rita Mining Company from Cleveland down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, then across the Gulf of Mexico, and then finally overland from Texas to Tubac.  Edward Cross, an experienced newspaperman, became its strongly opinionated editor.

It did not take long for the newspaper’s policies to clash with the interests of Sylvester Mowry, a prominent mine owner, politician and Southern sympathizer.  An irate Mowry challenged Cross to a duel; Cross accepted and, as the challenged party, he had the choice of weapons—in those days, generally a matched pair of single-shot dueling pistols.

News of the duel received national attention, including a lengthy report in the New York Times.  Perhaps the unusual choice of weapons by Editor Cross—.54 caliber Burnside carbines at 40 paces—earned the incident more press than it would have otherwise.  At 5 PM on the appointed day, on Tubac’s only street, they encountered a strong crosswind that caused both men to miss on their first shots.  After their seconds reloaded the guns, they tried again.  Cross missed, but Mowry’s second shot nicked Cross’ ear.

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This illustration shows a printing press similar to the one used for the publication of Arizona’s first newspaper, the Weekly Arizonian (Photo Courtesy of the Author).

After three tries the only damage was the nicked ear and a ripped coat.  Once again the seconds reloaded the guns, and the combatants faced each other for the fourth time.  Cross missed, and Mowry’s carbine misfired.  Mowry was allowed another shot as Cross stood unarmed to face him, but he chose to shoot into the air and declared himself satisfied.  The two men shook hands formally and exchanged written apologies, although they remained adversaries.

Within a week after the nearly bloodless duel, Mowry found a more effective and less lethal way to rid himself of Mr. Cross when he purchased the newspaper and its press, and moved it to Tucson with a new editor.  Intermittent publication of the Arizonian expired in September 1861 as conditions caused by the Civil War worsened.

The old press stood idle in Tucson during the war, but in August 1867 it was used to print a paper called the Southern Arizonian.  Then in the fall of 1867, the territorial capital moved to Tucson, assuring the local newspaper of brighter prospects.  The Washington hand press was retired and replaced with more modern equipment, as the newspaper was awarded contracts for printing territorial government documents.

Later, a new editor named Dooner altered the image of the Southern Arizonian considerably, renaming it the Arizonan; he considered the old spelling an “unwarrantable construction”. Territorial delegate and former governor Richard McCormick acquired an interest in the newspaper.  When the paper’s editorial policies turned against him, McCormick confiscated the new equipment.  Dooner, however, had a surprise up his ink-stained sleeve.

He put the old press back in operation—having previously assured McCormick it was unsalvageable—and the Arizonan was back in business.  Four days later a new newspaper appeared in Tucson named the Citizen, using the confiscated equipment and supporting McCormick’s candidacy for re-election.

Tucson was not big enough to support two newspapers, and it was probable that the next election for congressional delegate would decide which one survived.  McCormick won the election and on April 29, 1871, publication of the Arizonian/Arizonan ended.  But use of the old press would go on.  The historic press that had inaugurated the history of newspapering in Arizona went on to print the initial editions of the Tucson Arizona Star in 1877, the Tombstone Nugget in 1879, and the Tombstone Epitaph in 1880.

Eventually the press was donated to the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson.  It was later sent on extended loan to the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park where it is used in demonstrations of 19th century printing technology.

(“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org).  The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact SHM Library & Archives Reference Desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastprescott@gmail.com for information.)