The City of Yuma, then and now

The City of Yuma has a rich history. It sits along the banks of the Colorado River.

YUMA, AZ (3TV/CBS5) - The lower Colorado River is a force of nature that’s provided sustenance for generations of people that called that desert area home. The location where the City of Yuma is situated is where ancient trails converged to a natural point on the river-- where fording the river was possible. It was one of the few spots where travelers could cross the otherwise very wide and wild Colorado River.

Yuma Crossing

Wagons making their way across the Colorado River at the Yuma Crossing circa 1900.

Native Indians were the earliest known inhabitants. They were there in 1540 when the first Spanish expeditions, led by the Hernando de Alarcon and Melchior Diaz, sailed up the Colorado River from the Sea of Cortez. Although, their mission to deliver supplies to the Coronado Expedition was unsuccessful.

Spanish explorers Hernando de Alarcon and Melchior Diaz

In 1540, Hernando de Alarcon and Melchior Diaz led an expedition into what is today southern Arizona. They sailed up the Colorado river via the Sea of Cortez to become the first Europeans known to visit the Yuma Crossing.

When the Spanish explorers first set eyes on the river Valley, the place was thriving with life. There were thriving communities along both sides of the river. They saw the heavy smoke produced from cooking fires of the native people. The Spanish explorers called the place “Humo,” which is the Spanish word for smoke. Shortly thereafter, the local Indian tribe became known as the Umo Indians.

Steam paddle wheel boat

From 1852 until 1909, when the Laguna Diversion Dam was completed, paddle wheel boats delivered goods and people up the Colorado river from Yuma to points on shore along the way. 

The discovery of gold in 1849 was a transforming event for the river-crossing site. The rush was on and everyone who came this way came along the Gila Trail. Thousands of fortune hunters headed west, coming through the quickest way to reach California-- 60,000 in one year alone!

Gila Trail map

The Gila Trail linked Santa Fe to California. It was a major land route for immigration into California from the eastern United States that followed the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico during the California Gold Rush.

Once English-speakers started arriving in the Southwest, the word “humo” was slowly transformed into “Yuma.” The actual town that grew from the site was first called Colorado City. It formally became a part of the United States when the Gadsden Purchase was ratified in 1854. It 1862, a flood washed Colorado City from the map, only to be rebuilt and reborn as Arizona City in 1862. Then finally, on Feb. 3, 1873, the name changed to what it is known as today-- Yuma.


Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.



Content Producer

Eric is an assignment editor and content producer with AZ Family-3TV & CBS 5 News. Read more about Eric in his bio.

Recommended for you