About Yuma | City Of Yuma, AZ

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The growing influx of Americans into Mexico’s northern reaches eventually led to the outbreak of war in 1846. During this turbulent period, the US Army recruited Mormon volunteers to blaze a southern wagon route to California that crossed the Colorado River at Yuma. Its grueling march of nearly 2,000 miles from Iowa to San Diego helped to secure vast areas of the Southwest for the US After the US Army occupied Mexico City, Mexico was forced to cede its northern territories – all of California, Nevada and Utah, most of Arizona and parts of New Mexico and Colorado.

What put Yuma on the map for Americans was the gold rush of 1849, when thousands of fortune hunters headed west, seeking the quickest way to reach California. In one year, more than 60,000 travelers passed through what was then known as Colorado City, following the Gila Trail – present-day Main Street – to the rope ferry that would carry them across the Colorado River.

Reflecting the town’s new importance, the US Army in 1852 established Fort Yuma on Indian Hill, overlooking the strategic crossing from across the river. In 1854, the Gadsden Purchase was ratified, finally making the portion of Arizona south of the Gila River – and the Colorado City town site – part of the United States.

At the same time, the US Army determined that the easiest way to supply new forts in the lands taken from Mexico was to bring supplies by sea, then up the river to Yuma. From Yuma, thousands of tons of supplies were transported by 20-mule teams to outposts throughout the Southwest. The US Army Quartermaster Depot, now a state historic park, was in operation from the 1860s to the 1880s. Some of the original buildings from the Quartermaster Depot era still stood in the park, making them among Arizona’s oldest buildings.

By 1857, the first stage road was built from San Diego to San Antonio, with stages carried across the Colorado River here aboard the rope ferry. The first post office also was established that year in Colorado City, only to be washed away by flooding in 1862. When the town was rebuilt, it was renamed Arizona City.

In 1858, Lt. Joseph C. Ives led a steamship expedition upriver to the approximate site of today’s Hoover Dam, near Las Vegas. By the 1870s, six steamships and five barges were traveling the lower part of the river, decimating the native forests of willow and cottonwood to fuel their boilers.

On the eve of the Civil War, Arizona City’s position on the Colorado and its status as a port made it one of the busiest and wildest towns in the old West. Imagine the human confluence on these river banks of seafaring sailors, river pilots, soldiers, muleskinners, miners, trappers, outlaws, cowboys, Indians and bandits – and of course, all those others who made their living by meeting their needs, whether for supplies and provisions, strong drink, lively entertainment or companionship.

Amid the Civil War in 1863, President Lincoln signed the bill creating the territorial government, and in 1864, Pony Express service was established through Arizona City. With big plans following the end of the war, the Arizona City town site was laid out in 1866 with a 100-foot right of way for Main Street in order to accommodate heavy wagon traffic and promote commercial development. Formally incorporated under territorial law as Arizona City in 1871, the town was renamed once more in 1873, to be known from that point forward as Yuma.


The newly renamed city gained one of its lasting claims to fame in 1876, when the Yuma Territorial Prison opened on the twin hill across from the fort. A fairly enlightened institution despite its fearsome reputation, the prison remained in operation until 1909; its buildings were used by Yuma High School from 1910 to 1914 and now are the main attraction at Arizona’s most-visited state historic park.

Shortly after the prison opened, the railroad arrived, eventually making possible the 1957 and 2007 versions of the movie “3:10 to Yuma” (the plot of the movie being whether notorious outlaw Ben Wade can be transported to Yuma’s prison on the train departing at that hour).


The first train crossed into Arizona from California in 1877 on a track alignment that corresponds to present-day Madison Avenue. The pivot that supported the swing-span rail bridge—which opened like a door for steamship traffic to pass—still exists and is the centerpiece of Pivot Point Interpretative Plaza, where Madison Avenue meets the river.

Typical of Arizona’s atypical development, the railroad line was built from west to east beginning in Yuma, reaching Tucson in 1880. This eventually became the main line of the Southern Pacific, one of the great coast-to-coast railroads of the era.

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