Yuma County, located in southwestern Arizona, has a rich and diverse history that spans thousands of years. The region has been inhabited by various Native American tribes, experienced Spanish exploration and colonization, and played a significant role in the development of the American Southwest. Let’s delve into the history of Yuma County.
Native American Settlements
Before European contact, Yuma County was home to several Native American groups, including the Quechan (Yuma), Cocopah, and Mohave tribes. These tribes thrived in the region, utilizing the Colorado River for irrigation and agriculture. The area’s fertile land and abundant resources made it an attractive place for settlement.
Spanish Exploration and Colonization
In the 16th century, Spanish explorers ventured into the region. In 1540, the famous Spanish conquistador, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, led an expedition through present-day Yuma County in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. However, the area did not witness significant Spanish settlement until the 18th century.
In the 1770s, Spanish missionaries, led by Father Francisco Garcés, established missions along the Colorado River. The most notable mission was the Yuma Mission (also known as Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer), which was founded in 1780. The mission aimed to convert the local Native American population to Christianity and served as a center for Spanish colonial influence in the region.
Territorial Era and the Wild West
With the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, Yuma County became part of the United States as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1854, the Gadsden Purchase further solidified the region’s American presence. The county was established in 1864, during the height of the American Civil War.
Yuma quickly became an important transportation hub due to its strategic location along the Colorado River and proximity to California. It served as a vital crossing point for miners and pioneers heading to the California Gold Rush and became a crucial link for stagecoaches and the Butterfield Overland Mail route. Yuma City, the county seat, experienced a period of lawlessness and became notorious as a wild and rowdy frontier town during this time.
Yuma Territorial Prison, which operated from 1876 to 1909, gained infamy as one of the West’s most notorious prisons. Notable inmates included Pearl Hart, the country’s last known stagecoach robber, and “Buckskin” Frank Leslie, a gunman and gambler. The prison has been preserved and is now a popular tourist attraction.
Water and Agriculture
One of the most significant developments in Yuma County’s history was the construction of irrigation systems along the Colorado River. In 1905, the completion of the Laguna Dam allowed water to be diverted to agricultural lands, transforming the arid region into a fertile oasis. This development, coupled with the ideal climate, enabled the growth of a thriving agricultural industry. Yuma County became renowned for its production of cotton, citrus fruits, and vegetables, earning the title of the “Winter Vegetable Capital of the World.”
Yuma County has a long-standing military presence. During World War II, the Yuma Army Airfield was established as a training facility for thousands of pilots. After the war, the airfield evolved into the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, which remains a crucial training center for U.S. Marine Corps aviation.
Yuma County Trail Map
Yuma County National Protected Areas
- Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
- Imperial National Wildlife Refuge
- Kofa National Wildlife Refuge