Dorothea Lange photographed Eloy during the Great Depression.
Before interstate highways, ubiquitous McDonald's and sprawl, there was that unique creature of the American Southwest: The small desert town. It was not like Bisbee, Globe or Prescott, growing rich from mining or ranching, or Flagstaff with its sawmills, cool weather and available water.
Nor were desert towns like Phoenix, sitting in one of the great fertile river valleys of the world. Instead, these were precarious footholds of human effort to conquer, or at least exist, in a deeply hostile wilderness. I think of places such as Casa Grande, Gila Bend, Eloy and Kingman. Wickenburg almost fit the description, but it benefited from mining, then dude ranches and proximity to fast-growing Phoenix on the main highway to Los Angeles.
Nineteenth century Arizona was a badlands in which only the most visionary dreamer, swindler or madman could see much potential beyond the mining country and the old Spanish outpost of Tucson. Going west from Tucson to California was only for the toughest or most deranged immigrant. A few tribes such as the Mojave knew how to live in this parched, poor land of eerie basins, rugged bare mountains and, in the south, the fickle Gila River. The European-Americans did not, even as they disparaged the natives as "digger Indians" and sometimes set out across the alien terrain.
One famous example was the Oatman party in 1851, traveling from well to well, until an encounter with (it's speculated) Yavapais 80 miles east of Yuma went wrong and most of the party were killed; young Olive was abducted, traded to another tribe and eventually returned to the whites, living out her life with tribal tattoos on her face. This was the world into which the desert town was planted.
One dreaming pragmatist was Jefferson Davis, who as Secretary of War encouraged surveys of a southern route for a future transcontinental railroad and pushed for the Gadsden Purchase (otherwise, Mexico would begin just south of Phoenix). It was the railroad that gave these Arizona desert towns their initial life. Sometimes they had water; other times it had be brought in by rail, but the steam locomotives of the Southern Pacific Railroad subsisted on a string of water towers along its route (the same was true of Kingman on the Santa Fe). One is still standing at Red Rock north of Tucson. From the water towers came towns. A few even survived.