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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The mystery of the Arizona Confederate currency

On this day 150 years ago, an expedition of sixty Confederate Texans captured Tucson, in the Arizona Territory. They met no resistance. The white population in Tucson was pro-South and came out to cheer. The Mexican majority had no strong opinions one way or the other; they just wanted protection from the Apaches.

I lived in Tucson for many years and have always had an interest in Arizona's colorful territorial days. Tucson was only slightly less wild than its neighbor, Tombstone, and Wyatt Earp got into gunfights in both cities. I'm researching a book on Earp for Osprey Publishing, so more on that in a later post.

The band of rebels was led by Captain Sherod Hunter and was the vanguard of an invasion force that was trying to take the Southwest for the Confederacy. Just a week before, the main rebel army had defeated a Union force at the Battle of Valverde, New Mexico. If they could secure the stagecoach route to California, the rebels could avoid the Union blockade that was putting the Southern economy in a stranglehold. There was also talk of establishing a Confederate trading post at the port of Guayamas, 300 miles south of Tucson.

A column of Union troops from California would soon be on its way and would clash with the rebels just outside Tucson on April 15 at the Battle of Picacho Pass, often called the "westernmost battle of the Civil War". The rebels retreated, and Tucson's Confederate days were over.

Once a local historian told me that during his brief stay, Captain Hunter ordered a local printer to issue some Confederate banknotes for the Territory of Arizona. This historian, whose name I can no longer recall, said they are the most valuable Confederate banknotes because they were printed in small numbers and barely got into circulation. I have never seen one and my (rather limited) searching hasn't found any reference to them.

Did these banknotes exist? Were they confiscated by the victorious California column, or is there some hidden cache out in the Sonora desert waiting to be found? There's a story in that. . .

Image of Confederate flag being raised over Tucson courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


  1. I have a 1862 Arizona confederate 50 cents note. Wondering if it is real. Serial number is 365. Signed by William Skillman.

    1. I haven't found any solid reference to surviving Arizona Confederate currency, or even verification that any was made. Take it to the Arizona Historical Society and see what they think. I'm very curious!


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