People often want to know how Tucson got its name.
The Tohono O’odham (Desert People) had a village and irrigated fields at Bac, about 7 miles upstream from their village of Stjucson (or Schook-shon), meaning “At The Foot of Black Hill or Mountain.
Some claim that the “Black Mountain” was Sentinel Hill, now called “A” Mountain. But Tumamoc Hill is blacker and, because its base enjoyed a year-round spring, more likely. They too had irrigated fields and grew primarily squash, watermelon, and white tepary beans, in addition to foraging and hunting game. Some say packrats were a Tohono O’odham delicacy … if they could catch the destructive little SOB’s.
The Spanish called these people “Papago”, meaning “bean-eater” because tepary beans were a diet staple; and that is how their nearby rivals referred to them. They were a Piman people with cousins (Akimel O’odham or River People) on the Salt and Gila Rivers near present-day Phoenix; on the Gila and Colorado Rivers near present-day Yuma (the Yumas); the Sobaipuri on the San Pedro River east of Tucson & south of present-day Benson; and other Pimas to the south in present-day Sonora, Mexico.
Several of these related groups of Native Americans revolted against the Spanish many times in the 16 & 1700’s. With horses and superior arms, the Spanish put down these Pima revolts, but had to build fortresses to protect themselves from the Apaches ... with limited success.
The name of the settlement on both the west & east banks of Rio Santa Cruz has evolved over the centuries. An early Franciscan padre spelled it “Tuquison”. Hugo O’Conner, who established El Presidio del Tucson on August 20, 1775, spelled it “Toixon”.
In the mid-1800’s, Mexicans still pronounced the name of this very Mexican village “Took-shon”. But in the 1860’s and ‘70’s, with the influx of Anglo-Americans, “Took-shon” became Anglicized into “Tu’: sawn”. To be clear, “Tu” is pronounced like the number two. “…son” rhymes with “yawn”.
We local Tucsonans can always tell an easterner who has never heard of our fair city because they invariably pronounce it like it’s spelled: Tuck-sun. They pronounce “son” like “sun”, rather than “sawn”.
So there you have it. Now you can amaze your friends with your esoteric local knowledge.