Historians disagree about the meaning and source of the name Arizona. Historian James H. McClintock notes that the name was probably derived from a native place name that sounded like Aleh-zon or Ali-Shonak which meant small spring or place of the small spring. The Dictionary: Tohono O’odham/Pima to English, English to Tohono O’odham/Pima indicates that Al Shon, translated as Place of Little Spring, is the place name Arizona.

Current State Historian, Marshall Trimble, agrees with Donald T. Garate, Chief of Interpretation/Historian at Tumacácori National Historical Park, who studied the early documents referencing the place name Arizona while researching Juan Bautista de Anza, Basque Explorer. He believes that Arizona is a Basque word meaning The Good Oak Tree.

Garate argues that early missionaries to the area did not note Arizona as a native settlement. The ranchería Arizona was established between 1734 and 1736 by Bernardo de Urrea, of Basque heritage, born in Mexico. It is south of the international border in Sonora, México about forty miles southwest of Tumacácori. The ranchería Arizona quickly became a place of note when silver (Planchas de Plata) was discovered nearby. Garate records a 1737 report by Captain Juan Bautista de Anza (father of the Anza trail explorer), that a slab of silver weighing more than 2,500 pounds had been discovered “between the Guevavi Mission and the ranchería called Arizona.” Garate also notes that the place name Arizona can be found in Central and South America where the Spanish, including the Basque, settled and where Tohono O’odham/Pima names are unlikely to be found.

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