Tucson Citizen
Saturday, November 13, 2004

Treaty that put Tucson in U.S. is 150 years old

Steve Ramirez
Las Cruces Sun-News

MESILLA - Had the Gadsden Purchase not been ratified 150 years ago in Mesilla, everyone in Tucson would likely be speaking Spanish today. Southern New Mexico and Arizona would still be part of Mexico, and the United States might be only 48 states instead of 50.

The Gadsden Purchase, also known as El Tratado de La Mesilla - The Treaty of La Mesilla - in Mexico, was formalized on Nov. 16, 1854, on the Mesilla Plaza. Officials and soldiers from Mexico and the United States gathered that day, lowered the Mexican flag and raised the Stars and Stripes.

U.S. and Mexican officials will meet again today on the Mesilla Plaza to re-enact the ceremony.

In Tucson and the rest of southern Arizona, little notice was taken of the governmental machinations on the day of the treaty signing.

Juan Garcia, head of the University of Arizona History Department, said in an earlier Tucson Citizen interview that local Mexican citizens were aware they would have to decide whether to remain and become U.S. citizens or move south of the new border.

"Many breathed a sigh of relief, thinking they might be better served by the United States government," Garcia said.

The northern reaches of Mexico in that era received little, if any, benefit from the central Mexican government.

In fact, there were few Anglo settlers in southern Arizona before arrival of the railroad in Tucson in March 1880. Many of the early Anglo settlers whose arrival predated the railroad had taken Mexican brides, so "American society," per se, was little in evidence here. The Anglos instead tended to adopt Mexican culture.

Thomas E. Sheridan, author of "Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941," wrote: "Certainly for the land-based community, Mexicans who had ranches or mission Indians at Tumacacori, the decision was easier. People who had land and livestock and ranches for the most part stayed."

Many soldiers in the Tucson presidio stayed. In fact, Mexican troops manning the military garrison here did not formally relinquish control until U.S. troops arrived in March 1856.

The Gadsden Purchase is an area of 29,640 square miles. It includes land from the western border of Texas, across southern New Mexico and Arizona, to the southeastern border of California.

The treaty is named after James Gadsden, a railroad promoter whose dream was to incorporate all southern railroads in the United States into one system and then connect it with a southern transcontinental railroad to the Pacific.

After engineers advised Gadsden that the most direct and practical route for a railroad line would be south of the then-U.S. boundary, he made plans to have the federal government acquire title to the necessary territory from Mexico. With some help from his friend, U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, Gadsden was appointed U.S. Minister to Mexico by President Franklin Pierce with instructions to buy enough territory from Mexico.

The United States defeated Mexico in a war in 1848 that established the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which was signed Feb. 2, 1848, by leaders of both countries. The treaty stipulated that Mexico would abandon its claim to Texas and to cede the territory now comprising most of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah and Nevada to the United States.

Altogether, the territory given up by Mexico amounted to 200,000 square miles or two-fifths of what was then Mexico. In 1852, Gadsden negotiated a $10 million selling price - about 33 cents an acre - with Mexican dictator Santa Anna.

The Gadsden Purchase was signed on Dec. 30, 1853, in Mexico City, and was ratified by Congress on June 30, 1854.

Ironically, Gadsden did not live to see the Southern Pacific Railroad built through his purchase. He died in 1858.