Although it is agreed that humans have lived in the area for about 12,000 years, details of the early years are sparse. Father Kino was in the area as early as 1692 carrying out his missionary efforts. Principal residents at that time were the closely related Sobaipuri and Papago Indian tribes who were also closely related to the Pima Indians who lived in the Tucson area. The Apaches were also nearby and conducted periodic raids into the area.
In the mid- to late 1700s, the Apache began raiding the area south of Tucson causing the Sobaipuri to give up their homes and to merge with the Pima and Papago tribes.
The Papago ( now known as the Tohono O’odham tribe) inhabited territory mainly south of Tucson along the Santa Cruz River on into Sonora, Mexico. They were mainly farmers living in small villages, growing corn, beans, and squash and gathering of wild plants and hunting.
Continuing raids by the apaches inhibited efforts at mining and cattle raising as well as intimidating and driving away the other tribes, so that at the time of the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 reports indicated that the area was so ravaged that little was left in the area. Mining activity, however, was picking up, and in 1856 US Troops were sent to the area to restore order.
Unfortunately, with the onset of the Civil War, the troops were withdrawn in June of 1861 to deal with matters elsewhere and the Apaches resumed their depredations. In 1865 they killed miner and entrepreneur William Wrightson, for whom a nearby mountain is named. Stories about that event also mentioned that the three previous mine managers had also been killed by Apaches so clearly those were hazardous times in southern Arizona.
In 1867, with the war done, the army was sent back into the area, creating Camp Crittendon and mining and ranching activity picked up one again.
In 1891 Civil War veteran and rancher R.R. Richardson began investing in mines in the Santa Rita and Patagonia mountains. In 1893, Richardson began to develop a portion of his ranch, where the new railroad crossed Sonoita Creek, into a town, eventually named Patagonia after the nearby mountains.
By 1900, Patagonia rated a two-story railroad depot and by WWI Patagonia had running water, an Opera House, three hotels, a schoolhouse, two parks and several stores and saloons.
The 1920s were a period of uncertainty, and the stock market crash in 1929 was one of three town misfortunes that year. That summer rains caused Sonoita creek to wash out most of the bridges east of town, and by November the railroad asked for permission to abandon their line between Patagonia and Mexico.
The economy didn’t improve until the late 1930s when ASARCO built a mill and power plant at the Flux and Trench mines in the area. Those and other mines were revived to supply lead, copper, zinc and molybdenum to the allied armies of World War II.
In 1947, townspeople called for incorporation, which became official on February 10, 1948.
In 1957 troubles came again as ASARCO closed the Mill and Power Plant, and in 1962 the ICC granted the NM&A’s petition to abandon the rail line to Patagonia. In a month, the railroad had abandoned the depot and was pulling up the tracks. Suddenly the town’s main sources of income were gone.
Then began another long climb back. In 1966, railway right-of-way in the center of town was landscaped and dedicated as a Town Park. In 1968, Sonoita Creek was dammed about 10 miles south of town to create Patagonia Lake, which was made a state park in 1974. In 1969, the Nature Conservancy bought 312 acres of property near the creek and created the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, which has since grown several times over and is designated a National Natural Landmark.
Since then the Town has made slow but steady progress, capitalizing on the area’s scenic beauty and unique ecology as an area with perhaps the greatest diversity of plant and animal species to be found in the US, together with its favorable climate and a growing colony of artisans and artists. Birders, fishermen and hikers share the streets with shoppers looking for that perfect, unique gift, and everyone revels in the delightful weather.