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Special Collections' Newest Acquisition Illustrates Territorial Arizona

Congress St, Tucson, 1896 [detail]
Congress St, Tucson, 1896 [detail]

Date: April 1, 2011

Contact: Chrystal Carpenter


The Don Alonzo Sanford Collection highlights the pioneering spirit that sculpted the Southwest

Special Collections at the University of Arizona Libraries announces its recent acquisition of the Don Alonzo Sanford Collection, an important addition to the university’s extensive Southwest and Borderlands holdings, which offer students studying history, journalism, Latin American studies and other disciplines the opportunity to access important historical documents that chronicle the development of Arizona, Sonora, and the greater Southwest.

The Don Alonzo Sanford Collection offers an astoundingly detailed look at daily life in the Arizona Territory, and gives insight into one of the great pioneering personalities that helped sculpt the southwest circa the turn of the 20th century.

Born in New York in 1840, D.A. Sanford rode into the Arizona Territory in his early thirties. With his older brother Denton, Sanford purchased a band of cattle and settled them on what would become the Stock Valley Ranch, 45 miles east of burgeoning Tucson. The brothers also operated a ranch south of the city along the Sonoita Creek, near the town of Patagonia.
Within a few years the stockman Sanford was married with children, and by 1880, according to the Arizona Daily Star newspaper, “he probably had more [cattle] than any other one person in the territory.” An astute businessman, Sanford invested his growing wealth in Tucson property, and also served in public office as a County Supervisor and a City Councilman. In February of 1884, he was the acting mayor of the town. Around this time he sold the Stock Valley Ranch to Walter Vail of Empire Ranch renown. The Stock Valley land fetched “one hundred & thirty-two thousand dollars”—about $3.1 million today. Having made his fortune, Sanford moved his family to Washington D.C., where his wealth grew into a business of hotels. He died in 1915, at the age of seventy-five, leaving behind the legacy of a real pioneer and entrepreneur.

Despite leading his immediate family back east, Sanford remained connected to Arizona until the end of his life. The family continued to operate the remaining Sanford Ranch land from afar, and Don Alonzo made regular trips back to the southwest, to Tucson and Patagonia, to help manage the business. The land remained in the Sanford family until 1925, when the 5000-acred spread was sold to a German family, the Zinmeisters. Today, this land is the site of the Circle Z dude ranch.

The Don Alonzo Sanford Collection was donated to the University of Arizona’s Special Collections by Ms. Amo Leona Summers, great-granddaughter of Don Alonzo and Louisa Sanford.  Many of Sanford’s descendants still reside in Tucson, and it is the family’s wish that this notable collection be preserved locally, and made accessible to researchers and scholars. The D.A. Sanford Collection includes 11 linear feet of photographs, business correspondence, ranch records, ledgers, deeds, and other documents pertaining to the Sanford homestead on the San José Land Grant. Also included are diaries, personal letters, documents relating family history, as well as Cochise and Pima County history, and an assortment of oversized blueprints and maps, including a map of the Territory of Arizona, dated 1883.

The D.A. Sanford Collection exhibits the entrepreneurial pioneer spirit that shaped Arizona during its days as an incorporated territory (1863-1912), and highlights the enduring personalities that led the Territory to eventual statehood. This collection is a valuable addition to the University Libraries’ Special Collections, and its extensive Southwest/Borderlands holdings.

The Don Alonzo Sanford collection is available to the public upon request. For more information visit the University Libraries’ Special Collections online.

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UANews | Special Collections Acquisition Illustrates Territorial Arizona