History, Department of


Date of this Version

March 2005


Published in The Journal of Arizona History 46:1 (Spring 2005), pp. 1–32. Copyright © 2005 Arizona Historical Society. Used by permission. http://www.arizonahistoricalsociety.org/


The town of Kearny, located on the north bank of the Gila River between Hayden and Superior on State Highway 177, scarcely seems out of the ordinary. A forty-year-old development nestled high in the copper-rich hills of east-central Arizona, the small community boasts the usual schools, shops, churches, and a public monument to its namesake. The monument, a simple cairn-like stone structure with a bronze plaque affixed to one side, commemorates the significant military achievements of Brevet Maj. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, who is best remembered for leading part of the Army of the West through the region on his way to engage Mexican forces in California during the Mexican-American War. "On November 7,1846," the plaque proclaims, "they journeyed down the Gila, passing near this marker and camped that night at the junction of the Gila River and a creek named by Lt. [William H.] Emory as 'Mineral Creek' on which the now famous mines of Ray, Arizona are located." Dedication of the monument on May 12, 1962, transformed an ordinary town, if only for a moment, into something extraordinary.

While it is not unusual to find towns named for founders and prominent citizens, it seems odd that a "George Washington slept here" figure like Stephen Watts Kearny should become not only a namesake but also an integral part of a mid-twentieth-century Arizona community's past, present, and future--in short, part of the very fabric of its identity. In selecting the name and erecting the monument, Kearny's founders articulated only one potential past--a vision created and promoted by a handful of executives who controlled the mining operations, as well as the process of memory-making, in this time and place. As a result, naming the new town after General Kearny and dedicating a monument to his legacy becomes an intriguing example of the subjective nature of public memory.

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