Territorial Women's Memorial Rose Garden

Trinidad, daughter of Ignatus and Petra Mejia Escalantes, was born circa 1847 in Hermosillo, Mexico, on the Feast Day of the Holy Trinity and thus named Trinidad following Hispanic tradition. She was told that her father was a ship captain who brought her mother on a voyage that ended in shipwreck. Her parents never returned to Spain but settled in Sonora, Mexico.

Around 1860, Trinidad, with her widowed mother and other Mexican immigrants, migrated to Tucson, Arizona. On April 11, 1864, she married John (known as Jack) William Swilling in Tucson’s St. Augustine’s Cathedral. The groom was 34 years old and had boasted to his companions the first time he say Trinidad that he was going to marry her. Jack was a half-owner of a Tucson flour mill and has made a substantial fortune in gold mining. He was ambitious and enterprising and well regarded by his fellow citizens. His constant guest for better opportunities would entail moving his family to many locales about the Arizona Territory.

Trinidad and Jack had seven children: Georgia (Mrs. Ben Butler), 1865; Matilda, 1867; Leila (Lilly), 1871, Elizabeth, 1873?; Berry, 1874; Matilda Adeline, 1876; and John William, Jr., 1878. Soon after their marriage, the couple moved to Yavapai County and established a farm at Walnut Grove. About a year later they moved down the Hassayampa to a new farm next to Henry Wickenburg’s place.

In 1867, Jack was part of a group of men who founded a company for the purpose of building a canal to divert water form the Salt River to irrigate farm land. The Swillings took up a 160-acre claim at what in now the southeast corner of 32nd Street and Van Buren and developed a successful farm which included an orchard and grapevines. There they build an impressive ten room house The house often served as a community meeting-place and was the site of the first Catholic Mass said in Phoenix. Jack was elected Justice of the Peace for the Phoenix Precinct and was Phoenix’s first Postmaster.

In addition to farming, Jack continued prospecting in the Bradshaw Mountains and in 1874 he discovered gold in the area that would become Gillette and later Black Canyon City. The Swillings family moved to that site, and lived is a stone house. They build an irrigation ditch to their property from the Aqua Fria River for cattle raising and farming. Their home was a popular stopping place along the road from Phoenix to Prescott.

In the spring of 1878 Jack and two friends set out to exhume the body of his old friend Jacob Snively who had been killed by Indians near White Picacho. They bought the remains back to Gillete for a Christian burial on the Swilling ranch. While they were gone, the Prescott to California stage had been robbed and the three men were charged with the crime. Jack was transported to Yuma to await trial. Already in deteriorating health, Jack died of illness before the trail was held and his innocence was proven too late.

With the help of friends Trinidad moved back to Phoenix where she built a small house and supported her self and children by working as a seamstress. She later married a barber named Henry Shumaker and bore him three sons: Henry F, Charles and Robert. Henry died in 1892.

Trinidad was a petit, fair haired woman with blue eyes. A former daughter-is-law stated that Trinidad had an “uncommonly lovely disposition, very gentle and genteel,” was industrious and well educated for the times and was an avid reader of books and periodicals. Late in her life Trinidad became embroiled in a dispute regarding who was the first white woman in Phoenix. She did not claim the honor for her self, in her words, “I was the first one here but they don’t call Mexicans white. I come from Sonora and they call me Mexican.” When the dispute got into Phoenix newspapers, several early settlers rushed to support her, stating the “good, Ladylike” Trinidad was the only woman they saw in the Salt River Valley in those early days and, “although of Mexican birth is white of face and heart,” which for the times was high praise indeed. Trinidad died in December of 1925 and is buried in the St. Frances Cemetery in Phoenix.

Trinidad has come to be known the “mother” of Phoenix just as her first husband has been called its “father.” A notable monument to this remarkable couple is found on a small bronze plaque mounted on the north face of the fountain in front of the Maricopa County courthouse. It was donated by the Maricopa Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1931 and reads: “In memory of Lieut. Jack W. Swilling, 1831-1878, who built the first modern irrigation ditch and Trinidad, his wife, 1850-1925, who established in 1868 the first pioneer home in the Salt River Valley.”

Donor: Al and Joy Bates
August 2009

For more information about Jack and Trinidad Swilling see Trinidad’s Story: a Multicultural Marriage in Arizona Territory and Jack Swilling: Arizona’s Most Lied About Pioneer by Albert R. Bates.

Additional documentation and photographs may be available in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives and Library.