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Did You Know: 13th AZ Territorial Legislature Known As Thieving Thirteenth

Mix a storm, saloon fights and a huge travel expense and what do you get? Well, according to Arizona historians, a crooked legislative body.

The 13th Arizona Territorial Legislature is responsible for several decisions that brought important institutions to the state. Several impact our state today. But, Did You Know…despite its accomplishments, this legislative body has been known as the Thieving Thirteenth?

“It was an issue of mileage, paying clerks that did no work and also overcharging for printing costs and mailing," said Jack August. Jr., an Arizona political historian. "They were kind of like thieving from the federal government.”

“So those were the three excesses and ultimately the session cost $47,000, much of it going into the pockets of the house members and the council members," he said.

In the late 1880s, Prescott was the capitol of the Arizona Territory. That meant that legislators from southern Arizona had to travel north during sessions. In January 1885, southern Arizona legislators arrived several days late for the first set of meetings. August said there was a rain storm and it flooded the Salt and Gila Rivers. So, they took a train to Los Angeles, traveled north to Sacramento, then trekked west to Ashfork and finally made their way down to Prescott.

“And they had to get paid their mileage and per deem," August said. "So, even though the federal government appropriated $4,000 for the session, many of these legislators ended up charging for their mileage and their per-deem and it was ten times what the federal government appropriated.”

August said there were federal inquiries into the expense report the Arizona Territory submitted. Ultimately, the issue didn’t just go away.

“In both the house and the council, 32 of them were voted out and only one was re-elected," he said. "So, that’s how disreputable they became in their own time. The next congress in Washington D.C. puts a stop to all of that and you can’t go over the budget.”

The Thieving Thirteen’s reputation went beyond the legislative floor. Some legislators were known to occasionally visit local bars, do a lot of drinking and eventually get into fist fights. They also gain a few nicknames including the Bloody Thirteenth.

“In the end if we want to look at the upside of our Territorial history of the Thieving Thirteenth there were the two educational institutions were established and I think if that’s a lynchpin to progress then so be it. And I think it really was.”

The Thieving Thirteenth was responsible for the creation of two of our state universities, the Arizona Normal School now ASU, University of Arizona and a future state hospital.

Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez was a reporter at KJZZ from 2008 to 2015.