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The First Settlers

Life in Pioneer Towns

Many pioneers came to live and work in Arizona. The Mormons were some of the pioneers that helped Arizona grow. Others also came. Pioneers were isolated from other people. Farms and ranch houses were miles apart and people lived far away from any large cities.


The Mexican people adapted to the hot climate better than other pioneers did.  Mexican women wore short-sleeved cotton dresses and the men wore sandals and light cotton clothes to beat the heat. They wore wide-brimmed sombrero hats to shade their faces.

Other pioneer women suffered in their long-sleeved dresses with high collars. The men wore long-sleeved shirts, wool pants and socks, and leather boots. All adults wore hats. Children dressed like the adults in smaller versions. Girls never wore pants and no one wore shorts.

View a picture of Pioneer Clothing


In the early days, pioneers used candles for light in their homes. Some people used a burning rag dipped in a saucer of grease. Coal oil lamps were used, but they were smoky and dangerous.

Later gas lights glowed in stores and in streets. Even later there were some electric lights in Phoenix and Tucson, but homes did not get electricity until much later.

View picture of a gas light 

Beating the Heat

Summers were very hot in Arizona desert towns. Homes had thick adobe walls to keep out the heat. Adobe was made of clay that had been dried in the sun. When wood was available people built wide porches to shade the walls. They would sprinkle water on the dirt floors during hot summer days to keep them from getting dusty.

Most families had a homemade desert refrigerator outside. A wooden frame was covered with burlap on all sides. The burlap was kept damp by water dripping from a bucket on top. The wind served as a fan. It was surprising how well this desert refrigerator kept milk, butter and meat from spoiling.


The pioneer used money that was different from the money we use today. The first bank bills were called "horse blankets" because they were so large. They were almost twice as large as today's dollar bill.

Coins were in short supply. Many saloons and businesses used tokens instead of coins. The tokens helped to advertise a place of business. The printing on a token told what it could buy or how much it was worth in trade at a store or saloon.

View picture of a token 

Early Schools

The first school in Arizona was at San Xavier Mission near Tucson. Two Mexican Catholic priests started the school. Mexican boys learned English at one school and girls could go to a private school if their families could pay the fees. However, most children did not go to school at all.

Early schools had one room where all the grades met together. They didn't have many books, and they didn't have much paper. The students wrote on slates. Drinking water was dipped from a bucket and the bathrooms were outside "privies."

In Ehrenberg and Tempe, schools were open in old saloons . The teacher in Ehrenberg wrote that old miners would wander into her school. They didn't know it was no longer a saloon. The first school in Bisbee was in an old miner's shack. It had dirt floors and no door or windows. Desks were made by laying boards on boxes. The seats were planks placed on old nail barrels.

Learn more about early schools


In the early days, most Arizona towns had to deal with outlaws. Tombstone is famous for its gunmen, robbers, cattle stealers , and gamblers. Tombstone, however, was not really much worse than other towns. Most people in Tombstone obeyed the law. The town had churches and schools.

View pictures of Tombstone

Wyatt Earp was the leader of the Earp family in Tombstone. He did not like the sheriff and Clanton family. They argued a lot. The Earps had a famous shoot-out with the Clanton gang. This street fight was near the OK Corral. It became the "wild west's best remembered gunfight."

Learn more about Tombstone


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