AHS Master Plan

Colorado River Museum Master Plan

Economic and Community Impact of NHA Sites

Down by the River

History of the Yuma Crossing

The history of the Yuma Crossing began at the formation of two massive granite outcroppings on the Colorado River. Thousands of years ago, prehistoric tribes, searching for a way across the mighty river, first came upon this natural crossing.

Years later, Spanish explorers would rediscover the Yuma Crossing, almost 100 years before the first European settlements on America's east coast.

We hope you will explore our history and learn more about the fascinating story - both natural and cultural - of the Yuma area and the incredible Colorado River.

The Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area will preserve and tell the long and fascinating story of the Colorado River and the Yuma Crossing. That history is divided into four Periods: Prehistoric and Early History, Prior to 1849, Settlement and the Riverboats, and The Railroad and Commercial Enterprise.

Prehistoric and Early History: The Beginning

historyprehistoric.jpgWhen the first Europeans arrived at what became known as the Yuma Crossing in 1540 they found native peoples who had been living at this important place for centuries. By the 1700's the Spanish were calling these people the Yumas. Today, while the term Yuma survives as the name of a place, a city, and a county, the descendents of these early peoples are known as the Quechan.

By the early 1500's the Spanish were consolidating their hold on New Spain, had established a capital at Mexico City, and were beginning to explore new territories in search of riches. Acting on rumors of great wealth to the north, Viceroy Antonio Mendoza organized a great expedition and placed it under the command of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Since it was thought that the wealthy cities to the north were near the sea, a fleet was also assembled to carry supplies for Coronado up the west coast of Mexico. This fleet, under the command of Hernando de Alarcon, failed to rendezvous with Coronado, but did discover the mouth of the Colorado River, which Alarcon named El Rio de Buena Guia (River of Good Guidance).

Prior to 1849: The Period of Exploration

Dating from the 1820's, the Southwest - including the area of the Yuma Crossing - began to open to traders and the Mountain Men. The first Americans believed to arrive at the Crossing were a group of such men in 1826 - seeking beaver pelts along the Gila and Colorado.

By the 1850's the California Gold Rush was on and thousands of travelers were moving through the Crossing. The American Military saw the need for a survey of the area, and later to establish a permanent presence. Here, the Whipple Party is depicted at the Crossing on their survey of the boundary between the United States and Mexico.


1849 to 1876: Settlement of the Riverboats

historyriverboats.jpgEarly settlement consisted of simple daub and waddle construction as practiced by the native inhabitants of the Crossing. Fences in the picture were made of ocotillo ribs.

This early drawing depicts the bustling scene at the Yuma Crossing during the time of the California Gold Rush. Wagons, riverboats, the ferry operation: all were busy as more than 100,000 gold seekers passed through the Crossing.

From the early 1850's until the coming of the dams, steamboats operated up and down the river, supplying military outposts and supporting commerce throughout the area.

1877 to 1909: The Railroad and Commercial Enterprise

The First Locomotive in Arizona. Southern Pacific 4-4-0 No. 31 was the first to cross the Colorado. The date was Sunday, September 30, 1877.

This photograph was taken on the main line, just south of the bridge, on what became Madison Street. The buildings on the hill in the distance are on the military reservation across the river at Fort Yuma.

historyrailroad1.jpgThe railroad crossed the Colorado at Madison Street. The bridge pictured at left, dating from 1898, was actually the third constructed at this site. The previous two, wooden framed and including a swing span near the Arizona shore to accommodate the steamboats of the day, were washed out in floods.

Today little remains at this site, as the railroad now crosses the river approximately .5 miles upstream (to the right in this photo) on higher ground.

The Old and the "New". The days of the riverboats were numbered when this photo was made around 1890. The Southern Pacific's first bridge in Yuma included a swing span, opened here to allow the gasoline powered Aztec to pass. But soon she and her sisters would disappear from the scene. The Yuma Territorial Prison appears through the open span.