Charles Poston

“Everything is not enough,

nothing is too much to bare

where you’ve been is good n’ gone

all you keep is the gettin’ there”

-Townes Van Zandt

Charles Poston
Charles Poston

Yet another enigmatic figure in Arizona’s early history whose life somehow gravitated towards sun worship, Charles Poston was quite the figure. Born April 20th 1825 near Elizabethtown, Kentuck. The son of a printer he served as a printer’s devil but was orphaned at the age of 12. Poston then led quite a young life working soon after as the local county clerk. He then moved to Tennessee and clerked for the Tennessee Supreme Court while studying law. Poston eventually went on to politics and it was because of his efforts in convincing Abraham Lincoln to grant Arizona Territorial status, Poston is forever known as the “Father of Arizona.”

Like most other men in Arizona’s pioneering days, Poston was hyperactive. I honestly don’t see how these men achieved all that they did in the time they had, perhaps the lack TV had something to do with it. During his life he kept many occupations and interests including; county clerk, explorer, politician, prospector and miner, civil servant, author, Alcalde (official Spanish municipal magistrate), railroad promoter, civilian-military agent for the USGS, and lecturer.

Early Exploration

Charles Poston older
Charles Poston older

If Poston’s early exploration exploits tell us anything it is that he was a daring visionary. It seems he threw himself straight into the mix of the opening and developing the west. While performing the job of a clerk a the San Francisco Customs House Poston became involved with a group of French bankers interested in the lands recently negotiated Gadsden Purchase. In 1853, after receiving bankers’ backing, Poston and mining engineer Herman Ehrenberg organized an expedition into the territory Mexico was expected to sell the U.S. Early on they became shipwrecked near the port of Guaymas and promptly arrested and detained by Mexican authorities who suspected them of being filibusters. They convinced the Mexican authorities to release them and continued their expedition north visited San Xavier del Bac and Ajo. Primary to their expedition was obtaining ore samples from prospective mining areas, which they did. The town of Ajo today is the site of one of the best-producing copper mines in the state of Arizona. The party then traveled down the Gila River to the town of Yuma. This first-hand knowledge of the territory allowed Poston to secure $2 million in funding from Ohio investors in which to fund the Sonora Exploring and Mining Company. 14c1f140c0b0844ef667b8b57842b694The company went on to set up headquarters in Tubac, AZ and began mining the southern Arizona territory. perhaps it would seem strange to us today but during this time Poston served as Alcalde of this settlement, an authority granted to him by the government of the New Mexico Territory. This title allowed him to officiate marriages, divorces, baptize children, and print his own money. Cool. He presided over a population of approximately 800 people. This continued until the withdrawal of Union troops due to the American Civil War and Tubac saw increased hostilities from the Apache.

Politics and Writing

12753bcbf964ebfd7aaa24f7cbb5f4bfFollowing the abandoning of Tubac Poston was introduced to President Lincoln where he used his knowledge of mineral exploration to begin lobbying for territorial status. Towards the end of these efforts, Poston accepted a position as an Indian Agent for the new territory. Soon after this Poston bribed his way to becoming Superintendent of Indian affairs by presenting Lincoln with a $1500 silver inkwell he had personally commissioned from Tiffany & Co. Following this was an appointment as Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives during which he established Native American reservations along the Colorado River. In 1865 he was defeated in an election by John Goodwin and returned to D.C. To open a law office.

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Tubac Prisidio State Hill

In 1867 Poston traveled to Europe and spent time in London and Paris which inspired him to pen a book titled Europe in the summer-time. What happened next, however, I find quite interesting. Poston was commissioned to deliver the treaty of Burlingame Treaty to the Emperor of China and to study the irrigation and immigration of Asia. During this time Poston took an intense interest in the Parsi people and Zoroastrianism. By 1869, while Jack Swilling and Lord Duppa were busy creating the city of Phoenix, AZ Charles Poston was traveling across Egypt where he adopted the religion of Zoroastrianism as his own. He soon after penned several more books The Parsees, The Sun Worshipers of Asia, and his epic poem Apache Land.

Later Years

Charles Poston in full Zoroastrian regalia
Charles Poston in full Zoroastrian regalia

Here is where things get interesting. In 1876 Poston was made register of the U.S. Land office in Florence, AZ. During this time he began construction on a Fire Temple on a nearby hill. Completely self-funded he blazed a road to the top of this hill whereupon he erected a temple on the ruins of an ancient Native American structure and adorned it with flags depicting a red sun. However, this dream was to be short-lived for he ran out of funds. He wrote the Shah of Iran but these efforts failed. This strange obsession with Zoroastrianism and Fire Temples led him to be labeled a crackpot and eccentric. Poston soon thereafter moved to Tucson and supported himself through lecturing, railroad promotion, and writing but suffering the loss of several family members, sank deep into poverty. The AZ legislature, in recognition of Poston’s dedication to AZ, voted to award him a pension of $25 a month in 1897 which was later upped to $35 a month is 1901. Poston soon died June 24th, 1902 in the Arizona Territory he worked so hard to secure. Poston never saw Arizona reach statehood, but what is that to a man who rode those deserts when they were still wild.

 

Burial and Pyramid

Poston's Tomb
Poston’s Tomb

Poston was initially buried in a common grave in Phoenix, but on the 100th anniversary of his birth his remains were exhumed and moved to Florence and buried on Primrose Hill. The very hill he attempted to construct his “Temple of the Sun” years before. This hill was renamed Poston Butte and a pyramid tomb was constructed in which Poston was entombed. The official ceremony was led by none other than Governor George W. P. Hunt, who also had himself entombed in a Pyramid upon an ancient Hohokam archaeoastronomical site which is known today as Papago Park.

The dedication of a monument honoring Charles Poston, "Father of Arizona;” ceremony led by Governor George W.P. Hunt. near Florence, Arizona.
The dedication of a monument honoring Charles Poston, “Father of Arizona;” ceremony led by Governor George W.P. Hunt. near Florence, Arizona.

Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is a sun worshiping religion founded by the Persian prophet Zoroaster. Zoroastrianism is an ancient pre-Islamic religion of Persia that survives there in isolated pockets today. It is also found in India where there are slightly more than 100,000 Practitioners. The descendants of Zoroastrian Persian immigrants are known as Parsis, and it was these people whom Poston became fascinated with. The religion contains both monotheistic and dualistic elements and theologians believe it significantly influenced Judaism, Christianity, the Gnostics, and Islam. Recent estimates put the current number of Zoroastrians at around 2.6 million.

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Zoroastrian Fire Temple.

Although it is believed that Zoroastrianism influenced the development of Judaism and the birth of Christianity it is observed that it never as aggressively monotheistic as Judaism or Islam and represents an original attempt at unifying worship under one supreme god. This is significant, as during this time every other religion was polytheistic.

At the heart of the religion lays Ahura Mazda or (Wise Lord). The name means (being) and (mind). These two faces of this creator also represent the masculine and the feminine. Zoroastrians believe that Ahura Mazda is the one universal, transcendent, supreme god and strive to maintain a balance in their lives.

The Zoroastrian symbol
The Zoroastrian symbol

The religion also states that active participation in life through good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and keep chaos at bay. Because of this philosophy practitioners maintain an ever-optimistic outlook on life even though history has not always been kind to them.

Zoroaster was said to have instructed Pythagoras in Babylon, and to have inspired the Chaldean doctrines of astrology and magic. If you don’t know what this means, research Pythagoras as he was probably the worlds greatest mathematician/philosopher/music theorist/mystic, pretty heavy stuff. If this is true Zoroaster was not just another wandering prophet but possessed some key knowledge about the nature and makeup of our world.

Thoughts

Poston's Tomb standing atop Poston Butte.
Poston’s Tomb standing atop Poston Butte.

I find it interesting that Poston too was consumed by Sun worship. In a time in Arizona that was the old west there sure was a lot of old world esoteric worshiping going on. And what was the obsession with Egypt at this time anyway? It seems everything in the entire state somehow became connected to Egypt in one way or another during the late 1800’s. And I can’t help but wonder whether it was his travels to the middle east that caused him to become a practitioner of Zoroastrian, or instead something he found during his explorations here in Arizona which spurred him to make the visit to Egypt in the first place. Of this, we will never know, but one thing is a fact. Charles Poston, (Father of Arizona), took life by the horns, made the most of his time, gave all he had for Arizona and eventually came to rest in a fashion he would have wished atop the butte he loved so much. R.I.P good sir.

Cory Daniel is a professional certified interpretive guide and writer/researcher who currently lives in the Valley of the Sun.

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