Fort Mohave is a historic settlement located in the southwestern region of Mohave county, Arizona, United States. Nestled along the banks of the Colorado River near Beale’s Crossing, it has played a significant role in the development and growth of the American West. Over the centuries, this area has witnessed the presence of various indigenous tribes, Spanish explorers, American pioneers, and military forces, each leaving their mark on the region’s rich history.
The history of Fort Mohave dates back thousands of years, with evidence of human habitation found in archaeological sites within the surrounding area. The Mojave people, from whom the fort derived its name, were one of the prominent Native American tribes in the region. They lived along the Colorado River, engaging in agriculture, hunting, and trade with other indigenous groups.
The first recorded European contact in the area occurred in the 16th century when Spanish explorers, including Melchor Díaz and Francisco Garcés, ventured into present-day Arizona. They encountered the Mojave people and established a limited presence in the region through the establishment of missions and trade routes. However, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that significant European-American exploration and settlement occurred.
In 1826, trapper and explorer Jedediah Smith traversed the Colorado River, reaching the vicinity of Fort Mohave. His expedition paved the way for subsequent fur trappers and traders who ventured into the area in search of beaver pelts and new trade opportunities. This influx of fur trappers and mountain men led to increased interaction between Native American tribes and Euro-Americans, often resulting in conflicts and tensions.
The establishment of Fort Mohave came about as a direct response to these conflicts. In 1858, the U.S. Army constructed the fort on the east bank of the Colorado River, near the confluence of the Mohave and Hardy rivers. Initially known as Camp Colorado, its primary purpose was to protect American settlers and travelers on their journey to the California gold fields during the height of the Gold Rush.
Fort Mohave was strategically positioned along the major transportation route that linked the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, known as the Mojave Road. It served as a critical outpost for the U.S. Army during the American Civil War, as troops were deployed to protect the mail and telegraph lines and maintain control over the region.
The fort played a significant role in the military campaigns against Native American tribes, particularly the Mojave, Chemehuevi, and Navajo people, who were resisting the encroachment of settlers on their traditional lands. Numerous skirmishes and battles occurred in the area as tensions escalated between Native Americans and the expanding American population.
Following the conclusion of the Civil War, the fort gradually lost its military significance. In 1890, it was officially decommissioned, and the remaining structures were abandoned. However, the establishment of the Mohave Valley Irrigation Project in the early 20th century sparked a renewed interest in the region.
The irrigation project brought water to the arid lands surrounding Fort Mohave, facilitating the cultivation of crops and the establishment of farming communities. This development, coupled with the construction of the Davis Dam in the 1950s, which created Lake Mohave, transformed the economy and landscape of the area. The lake provided recreational opportunities, attracting tourists and supporting the growth of the local tourism industry.
The region continues to be influenced by its proximity to the Colorado River, offering a range of water-based activities such as boating, fishing, and water sports. The Fort Mojave Indian Reservation, located nearby, serves as a reminder of the area’s rich Native American heritage and provides a cultural center for the Mojave, Chemehuevi, and Navajo tribes.