Born on June 29, 1693 in the Basque village of Hernani, Gipuzkoa, Spain, Juan Bautista de Anza (he spelled it Anssa, his son of the same name spelled it Anza) was the eldest son and second child of Antonio de Anza, the town pharmacist, and Lucia de Sassoeta. At the age of nineteen, in 1712, he migrated to New Spain, coming first to Culiacán, Sinaloa where his mother had relatives already established. Anza did not stay there long, however, and was soon involved in silver mining in Álamos, Sonora. From there he became involved in the discovery and exploitation of two important silver mining camps, or boomtowns, between 1716 and 1720 at Aguaje southeast of present-day Hermosillo, Sonora and Tetuachi south of Arizpe. He bought other mining properties at Basochuca, Sonora, north of Arizpe and, at least, by early 1721 he was a lieutenant in the Sonora militia. Shortly after that, on August 2, 1721, he joined the regular cavalry as an alférez, or second lieutenant, at the Janos Presidio under Captain Antonio Bezerra Nieto. As a soldier he was described as being "of sound body, white [and] bearded with faded auburn hair." Soon after beginning his military career at Janos he married the Captain’s daughter and quickly rose to the rank of first lieutenant.
In November of 1726, he was promoted to captain and assigned to take the place of Captain Gregorio Álvares Tuñón y Quirós at Fronteras, who had been at odds with the citizens of Sonora for years and had just been removed from office and ordered to Mexico City to stand trial for fraud and misuse of the king’s resources. Anza quickly set about whipping the Caballería de las Fronteras (Cavalry of the Frontier) into shape and providing protection to the communities of Sonora from the Apaches. He assigned soldiers to the San Luis and upper Santa Cruz River Valleys in the Pimería Alta, and settlers began to move into the area. He, himself, established the Guevavi, San Mateo, Sicurisuta, and Sópori Ranches, the first livestock operations in what is today southern Arizona.
At the time of the fabulous silver discovery near the Arizona Ranch in 1736, he was not only the captain of the sole presidio in Sonora, but he was justicia mayor, or chief justice, of Sonora as well. Thus, it fell to him to decide what course to take in establishing legalities at the new site. Because of his impounding of all the silver while Mexico City made the determination of to whom it belonged, and because of his using the house of Bernardo de Urrea, his good friend and deputy chief justice, at the Arizona Ranch as a base of operations, he inadvertently elevated the name Arizona into prominence. Thus, he and his escribano, or scribe, Manuel José de Sosa, who wrote all the documents pertaining to the silver, were indirectly responsible for the forty-eighth state of the United States having the name Arizona.
Anza continued as a soldier and statesman for the next few years, petitioning the viceroy for permission to discover and establish a route between Sonora and Alta California. Unfortunately for him, however, his dreams were cut short following a routine supply trip to Suamca, Guevavi, Tumacácori, and San Xavier del Bac. Returning home from that expedition on May 9, 1740, he evidently rode a little too far in front of his soldiers and was ambushed and killed by Apaches somewhere between Santa María Suamca and the ranch that would become the Terrenate Presidio. It would be left to the next generation of soldiers and his own son of the same name to discover the route between Sonora and California.