Painting of the Tubac Presidio by Bill Ahrendt

At the heart of Tubac, just an hour south of Tucson, is the Presidio, a state historic park that celebrates Tubac as the first European settlement in Arizona. An entire building here is filled with historically-inspired paintings by Bill and Shari Ahrendt. One of these depicts an Arizona Ranger in a confrontation with a desperado in Tucson on Oct. 23, 1904. The one that is the lead in this article shows the Presidio in Tubac, built in the wake of the Pima Revolt of 1751.

There is a very extensive indoor and outdoor museum at the state park, which includes a nineteenth-century schoolhouse, and a private dwelling typical of those built around the year 1900.

Original printing press of first AZ newspaper

The first newspaper printed in Arizona was born in Tubac. You can see the original Washington Printing Press, invented in 1829. This one was bought in Cincinnati in 1858, shipped on a packet boat to Indianola, Texas, and brought here by mule train. On March 3, 1859, Edward Cross created the first issue of The Weekly Arizonan. Later that year the press was transported to Tucson, where the newspaper continued until the Civil War in 1861. This particular press was rediscovered in Tombstone in 1913 and given to the Arizona Pioneer Historical Society. It was relocated back here in Tubac in the 1970s, and after refurbishment in Tucson was finally placed on permanent display in Tubac in 1980. It grandly sits in its own re-created press room.

The museum highlights the troubled past of Tubac, complete with fatal shootouts in 1858 and 1859, even a pistol duel as late as 1925. Civil War artifacts are on display, including a lance head found in the ruins of a fort south of Tubac. An entire battalion of lancers, the 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry, was stationed at Tubac.

It was indeed a dangerous place for a long time: On February 17, 1769, a large Apache force raided Tumacácori Mission. A guard detail from Tubac was at the mission and helped the O’odham herders prevent the capture of the breeding mares. The Apache were relentless for more than a century: The Weekly Arizonan reported on Aug. 10, 1861 “We are hemmed in on all sides by the unrelenting Apache. Within six months nine-tenths of the whole male population have been killed.” Even before all this there was a mining boom here in the 1850s, which ended with the Civil War in 1861. The museum presents a wide range of local history with a high standard of display, making this an essential stop for anyone interested in the history of Arizona. It also has a large and extensive gift shop.

Tubac is an artist’s colony, much like Sedona or Sante Fe. There are many galleries and shops to explore.

Jackie Tursi of Designs in Copper showed me around the workshop where she and her husband create a wide range of useful or decorative objects in copper. Behind the store itself I saw something wrapped in plastic about 3 feet high. “Inside there are three copper fountains,” she explained. The exposed portions get coated in a solution that turns the copper green. “I mask off the portions I don’t want green. The solution actually works better in a thunderstorm – an area of high humidity – so I’ve actually created my own thunderstorm in there. Tomorrow I’m going to peek under there and find out what kind of green I’ve got; sometimes it’s more like turquoise, and some black in there.” Some of her works are distinctly reddish. “To get reds,” said Tursi, “it’s done upside down. I learned it from a copper artist in Idaho.”

Another fascinating shop to visit in Tubac is Heart of the West, which was just opened in February by Patty Fawn. She specializes in unique and rare jewelry made with antler, bone, horn, and fossil walrus ivory that has been buried underground for thousands of years.

There will be an “Open Studio Tour” in Tubac on March 12, 13 and 14.  A gallery night raffle will be held Mar. 12, with a drawing for prizes at the Center of the Arts at 7pm.

Designs in Copper is at 11 Burrel St. in Tubac. Ph: 520-398-2406

Heart of the West is right beside Shelby’s Restaurant in the Mercado Plaza. Ph: 425-327-6445

Tubac State Historic Park has a website with visitor details:

Also check out the Tubac Historical Society on Facebook

Painting of the Tubac Presidio by Bill Ahrendt