By Ray Carlson

On April 24, 1869, the Prescott newspaper, the Weekly Arizona Miner, noted that Anson P.K. Safford “from California” was appointed Governor.  “Nobody here seems to know Mr. Safford, nor do our people seem to care who or what he is. In fact, after our experience with Goodwin and McCormick [Arizona's first two Governors], we can stand almost any kind of man for Governor.”  Actually, Safford was from Nevada (though he did live in California from 1850 until 1862), but it took over a year before the newspaper corrected its statement.

For the next few months, the newspaper rarely mentioned Safford other than noting his history with mining and therefore recommending he live in the northern part of the Territory. In July, a brief note indicated he had arrived in Arizona and settled in Tucson.  His first visit to Prescott was not until November when he gave a public presentation on mining.  Suddenly, the tone of the newspaper’s comments shifted dramatically with praise for his knowledge of mining. “We thank God we have got a live man, a western man, and an honest miner for Governor.”

Subsequently, the Prescott newspaper frequently quoted Safford, showing his dramatic style of advocating for national support for Arizona.  For example, in February, 1870, Safford gave a lengthy interview to a New York Herald reporter.  He stressed Arizona’s natural resources—both mining and grazing, but indicated that the development of these resources was inhibited by the terror induced by Apache attacks.  In response to a question about the federal policy toward military support for Arizona, he said, “the inevitable consequence must be – if no radical change is made – that the Indians shall be acknowledged the ruling power of Arizona.” [February 12, 1870]

An August, 1870 article gives more background on Safford describing him as a “shorty” (he was 5′ 3”) but a “man of action.”  The article also mentioned that he had only two years of formal education but had a “goodly stock of hard sense.”

By February 1871, Safford got a legislature elected and called into session—more than two years after McCormick closed the previous session.  He gave a presentation stressing that things were improving for mining and farming but not with the Apache.  “They have caused the blood of our people to lie bleaching along every highway and in every settlement of the Territory.”

Safford added, “Next in importance to the Indian question, none will capture your attention over that of devising some plan for the education of the youth in our Territory.” He noted the “mortifying fact … that we have not a public school in the Territory.”  He provided examples from Europe demonstrating how important education was to the success of countries.  He stated that “it is far more important that every man be armed with an intelligent ballot than with the most improved and destructive weapon.”  He called for education legislation that would be “a monument that will last while time endures.”

In May, legislation establishing public schools was passed.  The Act created school taxes and school boards for the Territory and for each county.  The Governor himself was made ex-officio Superintendent of Public Instruction monitored by a Territorial Board of Education consisting of the Territorial Secretary and Treasurer.  In each county, the Probate Judge was made Superintendent of Schools and an election of public school trustees was mandated.  The Act detailed specific responsibilities for these Boards and officials.

About that time, General Crook, “the best Indian fighter in the Army,” was appointed to command forces in Arizona and began forcing hostile Indians onto reservations.  As a result, the Governor was able to increase his focus on public schools.  He made his first regular visit to the school in Prescott in July, and “encouraged the students to agitate for a new school house.”  In February 1872, the Prescott Trustees arranged to make improvements to the schoolhouse and opened the town’s first free public school.

In contrast to the newspaper’s stinging criticisms of the Territory’s first two governors, Safford continually evoked respectful comments from the Miner, particularly for his playing an “active part in founding” a Territorial public school system. For all of his efforts, he is widely considered “The Father of Arizona Public Schools.”

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.