Probably one of the most fun facts I know about the state of Arizona is that the official “birthdate” of the state, meaning when the state officially entered the Union, was on February 14, of the year 1912. Yes, that is indeed Valentine’s Day and is why (another fun fact) Arizona is sometimes known as the Valentine State.
Like many, my Arizona roots run deep and several of my ancestors are among some of those migrants to settle throughout Arizona during the mid to late 19th Century. Because of that, many of them were there during the early 20th century when Arizona was maturing and readying to become the 48th State of the United States. One of those ancestors is named James Andrew Woods.
For some context, and before we jump into the years and politics leading up to the Arizona Statehood, James Andrew Woods was born to two recent English immigrants in the state of Utah on July 11, 1859. Then in 1876, at the age of 17, James and his family moved to Arizona, settling in the town of Winslow. Relatively soon after in the 1880’s, there is evidence to suggest that James started to become involved in community leadership and politics, as he registered to vote for the first time in 1882, which for reference was just one year into President Arthur’s presidency after President Garfield’s assassination. It also is important to note that every subsequent time James moved he would update his voter registration, leaving us with those registration records in 1884 (Woodruff, AZ), 1890 (Mesa, AZ), 1892 (Thatcher, AZ), and finally in 1918 (still in Thatcher, AZ).
Also in the 1880’s James began his career as a teacher. After passing his teachers examination, James drew up a school district in Winslow, AZ, secured governmental funding for the district, and began teaching where he doubled as a teacher and principal. James has always been remembered for his educational service and teaching career and has perhaps indirectly paved the path for so many of his descendants to take up teaching as a career path, some of which include my own grandma.
James’ public service first extended past teaching in 1908, while still living in Thatcher, AZ. The month of October of that year was filled with political talk as people and citizens prepared for the upcoming elections in November. Perhaps of no surprise, James, then 49 years old, was nominated for County School Superintendent. On Friday, October 2 of 1908, the Graham Guardian newspaper announced, “James Andrew Woods as a candidate for School Superintendent of Graham County”. Though he was up for nomination, his official nomination came the very next day, Saturday, October 3, 1908, at the Democratic County Convention. The Graham Guardian writes the following week about the convention, under the title “The Democratic County Convention Nominates a Full Ticket Amid Great Enthusiasm”. The Graham Guardian continues mentioning James’ nomination and closes by professing that “the democrats have nominated a ticket that makes the republicans’ hair stand up.”
On Friday, October 16, 1908, the Graham Guardian published a small biography on each of the candidates running for office. Among them is a small and praise-worthy description of James and his life up to then. “There is not a man in Arizona better qualified to fill the position he has been nominated for than Mr. Woods, in fact it was largely through the efforts of Mr. Woods that the present law regulating apportionments, which permits small districts to have schools, and the law on grading schools, were passed.” The next few weeks saw many enthusiastic rallies where candidates made their cases to the public. “J. A. Woods made a good impression by his earnestness in declaring his ability and experience to fill the office he seeks” wrote the Graham Guardian about one of these meetings.
Election day, November 3, 1908, came around and the results were tabulated: James had won the county-wide election with 1,415 votes beating out his opponents W. R. Rhoades (1059 votes) and Mrs. S. F. Haywood (102 votes). Over the next few years James worked very hard as School Superintendent of the County. He was in charge of allocating differing funds to the many schools around the county and wrote quarterly reports outlining the allocations of funds. Also, James served often in several other capacities, such as mayor or treasurer of other smaller organizations.
During these years, Arizona and her population continued to grow. Back then mining was a major staple of the Arizona Territory economy, and many miners were migrating to Arizona with their families. In early 1909, enough people had moved into Graham County that a territory wide vote was held to create a new county, called Greenlee County. With the creation of this new county, which comprised parts of Graham County, the population within Graham County boundaries was cut down. Because Graham County now had a smaller population, it was considered a “second class county” by Territory Law, which basically just meant that it had less funding.
When Greenlee County was created, the classification and subsequent cuts were not so apparent, as the details of the new county still had to be ironed out. That being said, several county officer positions including James’ position as Superintendent were at stake and so finally in February of 1911, a board of supervisors met to go over the new rules and territory laws. In accordance with the law, the board decision was made and upheld by District Attorney McAlister stating that the positions be absorbed into existing positions, or in other words, James’ position and responsibilities as County School Superintendent would be absorbed and transferred to the County Probate Judge, Judge Thomas S. Bunch. It is written in the Graham Guardian that “it is much regretted that Mr. Woods has to retire from the office of county school superintendent, as he has proved himself an efficient officer and untiring in his efforts to make the schools of Graham County successful.” Though this was the decision of the board, there was a gimmer of hope! A recent Arizona supreme court ruling had decided that in the case of a newly created county, all county officers should hold over until the next election. The Guardian also noted that this case may cover Mr. Wood’s case, and that the topic would come up for decision soon.
James had been happy with his role as Superintendent and did not wish to give up the position, so, he simply continued serving and fulfilling his responsibilities. The District Attorney, Attorney McAlister did not like that James continued his role and did not willingly give up his responsibilities and office to the Probate Judge, so he brought a case against James to the Supreme Court in Phoenix. In late March of 1911, a disappointing ruling came back from the supreme court stating that James did indeed have to give up his office citing that Graham County is not at that time “entitled to the luxury of a separate county superintendent.” James accepted the ruling and willingly transferred everything to the Probate Judge Thomas Bunch.
Unexpectedly, only a few months later in late May of 1911, Probate Judge Thomas Bunch passed away leaving the Probate Judge office, as well as the responsibilities of School Superintendent vacant. Without much hesitation, the board of supervisors unanimously decided to appoint James Andrew Woods as interim Probate Judge. The Graham Guardian writes of the event saying “the appointment of Judge Woods is a popular one and meets with favor throughout the county. As school superintendent, Judge Woods made a fine record. Judge Woods is a fine and conscientious worker and will undoubtedly prove himself a valuable man in his new field of labor as probate judge.” Since the elections were this year, James would only be filling in as Probate Judge for the remainder of the term.
For the election of 1911, James Andrew Woods decided to run for County Super Intendent of Graham County, as the position would be newly available. This time around, James was the only one on the ballot running for the position and was clearly the best person for the job. On November 3, 1911, elections were held and interestingly enough, James received the most votes out of any single person running for any office in Graham County that year, having received 611 votes.
On February 14, 1912, Arizona was officially admitted as the 48th state into the Union. On the same celebratory day, all public officers were sworn in, including James Andrew Woods as County Superintendent of Schools. He continued in this office fulfilling his responsibilities and duties.
A few years later, in mid July 1918, when James was 59 years old, he announced his candidacy for County Treasurer in the Graham Guardian. That same year, when the United States prepared the draft for World War One, they appointed local authorities to be registrars on local draft boards. In September of 1918, James Andrew Woods was selected to be one of those registrars for the national draft representing the town of Thatcher.
The election for County Treasurer of 1918 was a hotly contested race between James, Democrat, and the incumbent J. A. Duke, Republican. On November 8, 1918, the official election results were published in the Graham Guardian, verifying James as the winner, beating Duke 941 votes to 886 votes. That year, a board of supervisors met right after the election to canvas the returns from the general election. The count for the Treasurer seat showed to be closer than previously thought, but James still held his lead beating out Duke 986 votes to 984 votes thereby ensuring his position to the office of County Treasurer by a slim 2 vote margin. In 1920, James again ran for county Treasurer and won his seat in the November election beating out the Republican 1499 votes to 963 votes. Two years later, in 1922, James decided to run only for Superintendent and not Treasurer, and Duke again tried to run against James Woods for County Superintendent, but James again beat him to it continuing his office. James did run again in 1924 and won securing his seat a few more years.
Shortly after, the Graham Guardian, the newspaper where much information about James Andrew Woods was sourced, was absolved into another newspaper from a neighboring County and became the Graham County Guardian and Gila Valley Farmer newspaper. This paper has not been fully digitized like the Graham Guardian has, so much firsthand information regarding the political career of James Andrew Woods is not exactly known. That being said, James was beginning to age, and from all other accounts it seemed like his political career started to die down as he began to retire and spend more time with his family and other hobbies.
I am grateful for the records we have of James Andrew Woods, my 2nd great-grandfather. I am humbled by his immense service to his community, his hard work ethic, and stalwart example of being a leader. Many stories of his are worth telling and listening to, but his lasting legacy is one that paved the way for future generations in education. My hope is that I can strive to learn from James and his legacy and that I can continue to pass on his story.