Breaking News
More () »

The long, strange history behind Glendale's iconic peacocks

The emblems of Sahuaro Ranch Park have a history that stems from Northern Illinois to Mexico's Presidential Palace, Glendale historians say.
Credit: City of Glendale

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A metal emblem in the shape of a peacock hangs above Glendale's "crown jewel" park.

Sahuaro Ranch Park (yes, spelled with an "h") has been a staple of the Valley area since before Glendale was a city. The peacocks at the park have been there just as long, with a history spanning from the Mexico Presidential Palace to the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

"Such a unique animal," said John Kennedy, Assistant Director for Public Facilities for Glendale's Recreation Department. "The story behind how they got here and how they've stayed here...the park is the perfect breeding grounds for them."

We spoke to a historian from the Glendale Arizona Historical Society and officials from the Glendale Parks & Recreation Department to find out the story behind the historic peacocks.

PHOENIX HISTORY: This is the story behind Indian School Road in Phoenix

Credit: Glendale Arizona Historical Society
A photo of a peacock walking along the grounds of Sahuaro Ranch, dated around 1940.

Bringing peacocks to the Valley

Peacocks definitely aren't native to the Sonoran Desert, but they were some of the first wildlife to travel with the Valley's early settlers, said Glendale Arizona Historical Society Board President Ron Short.

"I've found a picture from 1890 of a peacock in Glendale," Short said. "I've also found different early histories of people who have raced and bred peacocks."

The people most responsible for bringing the beautiful birds to the Valley were most likely farmers, as peacocks are great at keeping pests away.

"Farmers put [peacocks] out into their farm fields and the peacocks would eat small snakes and other bugs that would create problems for their crops," Short said.

One of Glendale's earliest families took peacock utility to a whole new level by using them to build international relations rather than farm work.

How Glendale peacocks overran Mexico's Presidential Palace

A litter of peafowl in Glendale would later color Mexico's Presidential Palace in the decades after an assassination, according to the historical society.

Clara and John Meyer, two of Glendale's earliest residents, raised a pair of peafowl until maturity, when one of the peahen had their own peafowl. John, through a political connection in Phoenix, decided to gift some of the babies to Mexico's then-President Álvaro Obregón.

Obregón, the nation's president from 1920 through 1924 and later assassinated in 1928, received the gift while he was housed in Mexico's National Palace.

It wasn't until 1970 when Clara and John's daughter, named Edna, visited Mexico City that they realized the extent of their gift. The grounds of the President's Palace were crawling with peacocks with Glendale heritage.

The lineage of Glendale peacocks is strong in Mexico City today, as the beautiful birds still roam the city and are even one of the things that the famous Dolores Olmedo Museum is known for.

VALLEY HISTORY: Here's why the Fountain Hills fountain turns green for St. Patrick's Day

Credit: Glendale Arizona Historical Society

From Chicago World's Fair to Sahuaro Ranch 

The peacocks that Sahuaro Ranch Park became known for had a similar long journey, this time traveling to Arizona from Northern Illinois.

Richard and Charlotte "Lottie" Smith bought Sahuaro Ranch in 1927, where they started a dairy and expanded the already present citrus groves.

Years into their ownership, Lottie took a trip to the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. It was while at the fair that she purchased a peacock and two peahens.

It was these three birds that brought generations of peacocks to Glendale and giving the park its symbol.

"She brought them back and they grew from there," Short said. "I think today there's probably over 100 peacocks and peahens at Sahuaro Ranch Park."

The animals can be found on top of the Glendale Public Library's roof, grazing in the park's mini botanical garden, and voicing their iconic call throughout the day.

The historical society also holds weddings in the park's rose garden, where the peacocks are known to attend as uninvited guests from a distance.

"Sure enough, peacocks will just walk over and watch the weddings," Short said. "The bride and groom seem to accept that and take pictures with the birds."

The connection between the park and peacocks won't be lost anytime soon, according to Glendale Recreation Administrator Paul King.

"We're going to hang on to the peacock history and the significance of that since they're kind of an icon," King said. "We focus on the history, we try to make the living history a reality. We're going to continue to do that."

Read more about Sahuaro Ranch Park and the history behind it on the park's website here.

We ❤ Arizona

Explore amAZing people, places and things across our state in our 12 News YouTube playlist here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out