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First Arizona Territorial Governor Overlooked

Updated: May 14, 2022

In A Dream Unfolding (Prescott Pioneers Book 1) and in The Reluctant Cattleman (Colter Sons Book 1), I mention that Governor John Goodwin was not the man intended to be the first governor of the Arizona Territory. That honor was originally supposed to go to John A. Gurley.

February 24, 1863, Arizona became a territory, cutting the New Mexico Territory in half. President Lincoln appointed John Addison Gurley as Governor, a man who is rarely credited as the first governor.

Like many key figures in territorial Arizona, John Gurley was an entrepreneur. He spent several years as the owner and editor of the Star Sentinel in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1854, he sold the prosperous newspaper, retiring to his farm in Ohio due to health problems. He spent time in a variety of careers including: Universalist Minister, US Representative to Congress from 1859 to 1863, and real estate investor. During the Civil War, he worked for General John Freemont, after losing a bid for reelection.

After being appointed the Governor of Arizona in March 1863, he eventually returned to his home in Ohio to plan for the trip west. In July of 1863, during a trip to Washington, he complained of strange abdominal pains, though refused to seek treatment from a doctor. When he returned to Cincinnati, despite the pain, he set the departure date as the middle of August. By the time the other Arizona territorial officials rendezvoused with Gurley, he had grown seriously ill. He finally sought medical attention for the abscess causing his pain. The abscess, or what we would call a ruptured appendix today, had turned gangrenous, leaving little options for treatment. On August 19, 1863, he passed away in Green Township, near Cincinnati.

After his death, President Lincoln appointed Judge John N. Goodwin as the Governor, an act which strongly influenced the political landscape of the new territory.


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