Santa Cruz County is Arizona's smallest, encompassing only 1,236 square miles. Created by the 20th Territorial Assembly in 1899, the county is named after the river that flows into Mexico from Arizona before winding back into Santa Cruz and Pima counties. The river was named Santa Cruz, which means Holy Cross in Spanish, by Father Kino in the 17th century.
The fertile Santa Cruz Valley was populated by friendly Pima Indians when the Spaniards first arrived in the 1690s and established several missions, one of which, Tumacacori, is a national historical park.
Nogales, which means walnuts in Spanish, was chosen the county seat and remains such today. There are strong commercial, religious and cultural ties between Nogales, Arizona, and its sister city across the border, Nogales, Sonora. It serves as one of the major gateways between the U.S. and Mexico and is expected to grow in importance as the North American Free Trade Agreement continues to be implemented.
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management own 54.6 percent of the land; the state of Arizona, 7.8 percent; individual or corporate ownership, 37.5 percent.