Fort Yuma

Last updated
Fort Yuma
Part of Department of the West
Imperial County, California, USA
Fort Yuma California 1875.jpg
Fort Yuma in 1875
Coordinates 32°43′55″N114°36′58″W / 32.732°N 114.616°W / 32.732; -114.616
Site information
Owner Federal government of the United States
Controlled by Bureau of Indian Affairs
Open to
the public
Site history
Built by United States Army
In use1851–83
MaterialsAdobe, Wood
Battles/wars Yuma War
Mohave War
American Civil War
Garrison information
Samuel P. Heintzelman
George Henry Thomas [1]
Garrison 1st Dragoons
2nd Infantry Regiment
6th Infantry Regiment
Quartermaster Corps
1st California Infantry
Occupants United States Army
Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation
Part of Yuma Crossing and Associated Sites
Reference no.66000197 [2]
DesignatedNovember 13, 1966 [2]
Part of Yuma Crossing and Associated Sites
Reference no.806 [3]

Fort Yuma was a fort in California located in Imperial County, across the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona. It was on the Butterfield Overland Mail route from 1858 until 1861 and was abandoned May 16, 1883, and transferred to the Department of the Interior. The Fort Yuma Indian School and the Saint Thomas Yuma Indian Mission now occupy the site. It is one of the "associated sites" listed as Yuma Crossing and Associated Sites on the National Register of Historic Places in the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. [2] In addition, it is registered as California Historical Landmark #806. [3]

California State in the United States

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents across a total area of about 163,696 square miles (423,970 km2), California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.

Imperial County, California County in California ----, United States

Imperial County is a county in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 174,528. The county seat is El Centro. Established in 1907 from a division of San Diego County, it was the last county to be formed in California.

Colorado River major river in the western United States and Mexico

The Colorado River is one of the principal rivers in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The 1,450-mile-long (2,330 km) river drains an expansive, arid watershed that encompasses parts of seven U.S. states and two Mexican states. Starting in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the river flows generally southwest across the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon before reaching Lake Mead on the Arizona–Nevada border, where it turns south toward the international border. After entering Mexico, the Colorado approaches the mostly dry Colorado River Delta at the tip of the Gulf of California between Baja California and Sonora.



Pre-Civil War

First established after the end of the Mexican–American War (1848), the fort was originally located in the bottoms near the Colorado River, less than a mile below the mouth of the Gila River. It was constructed to defend the newly settled community of Yuma, New Mexico Territory, located on the other side of the Colorado River, and the nearby Mexican border.

Mexican–American War Armed conflict between the United States of America and Mexico from 1846 to 1848

The Mexican–American War, also known in the United States as the Mexican War and in Mexico as the Intervención Estadounidense en México, was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848. It followed in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which was not formally recognized by the Mexican government, who disputed the Treaties of Velasco signed by Mexican caudillo President/General Antonio López de Santa Anna after the Texas Revolution a decade earlier. In 1845, newly elected U.S. President James K. Polk, who saw the annexation of Texas as the first step towards a further expansion of the United States, sent troops to the disputed area and a diplomatic mission to Mexico. After Mexican forces attacked U.S. forces, the United States Congress declared war.

Gila River river in the United States of America

The Gila River is a 649-mile (1,044 km)-long tributary of the Colorado River flowing through New Mexico and Arizona in the United States. The river drains an arid watershed of nearly 60,000 square miles (160,000 km2) that lies mainly within the U.S., but also extends into northern Sonora, Mexico. Indigenous peoples have lived along the river for at least 2,000 years, establishing complex agricultural societies before European exploration of the region began in the 16th century. However, European Americans did not permanently settle the Gila River watershed until the mid-19th century.

New Mexico Territory territory of the United States of America, 1850-1912

The Territory of New Mexico was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from September 9, 1850, until January 6, 1912, when the remaining extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of New Mexico, making it the longest-lived organized incorporated territory of the United States, lasting approximately 62 years.

In March 1851 the post was moved to a small elevation on the Colorado's west bank. This site had been occupied by Camp Calhoun, named for Senator John C. Calhoun. It was established on October 2, 1849, by 1st Lieutenant Cave J. Couts, 1st Dragoons, for the boundary survey party led by 2nd Lieutenant Amiel W. Whipple, Corps of Topographical Engineers. A ferry service, maintained by the soldiers for the survey party's convenience, also accommodated emigrants.

John C. Calhoun 7th Vice President of the United States

John Caldwell Calhoun was an American statesman from the Democratic party and political theorist from South Carolina who served as the seventh vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832. He is remembered for strongly defending slavery and for advancing the concept of minority rights in politics, which he did in the context of protecting the interests of the white South when it was outnumbered by Northerners. He began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. In the late 1820s, his views changed radically, and he became a leading proponent of states' rights, limited government, nullification, and opposition to high tariffs—he saw Northern acceptance of these policies as a condition of the South remaining in the Union. His beliefs and warnings heavily influenced the South's secession from the Union in 1860–1861.

Fort Yuma was established during the Yuma War to protect the southern emigrant travel route to California and to attempt control of the territorial Quechan, or Yumans, in their homeland, the surrounding 100-mile (160 km) area. Established by Captain Samuel P. Heintzelman, 2nd Infantry Regiment, the fort was originally named 'Camp Independence.' [4]

Yuma War armed conflict fought primarily between the United States and the Yuma people

The Yuma War was the name given to a series of United States military operations conducted in southern California and what is today southwestern Arizona from 1850 to 1853. The Yumans were the primary opponent of the United States Army, though engagements were fought between the Americans and other native groups in the region. Conflict generally took the form of guerrilla warfare, and, over the course of three years, the army engaged in pursuing unfriendly natives, protecting American settlers crossing the Colorado River and preventing conflict between the native tribes. A peace treaty in summer of 1853 was signed, ending hostilities between the Yuma and the United States, but it sparked a short war between the Yuma and the Cocopah. During the conflict, the historic Fort Yuma was constructed and became an important outpost on the frontier.

Quechan ethnic group and federally-recognized tribe in Arizona, United States

The Quechan are a Native American tribe who live on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation on the lower Colorado River in Arizona and California just north of the Mexican border. Members are enrolled into the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. The federally recognized Quechan tribe's main office is located in Fort Yuma, Arizona. Its operations and the majority of its reservation land are located in California, United States.

Samuel P. Heintzelman Union Army general

Samuel Peter Heintzelman was a United States Army general. He served in the Seminole War, the Mexican–American War, the Yuma War and the Cortina Troubles. During the American Civil War he was a prominent figure in the early months of the war rising to the command of a corps.

In March 1851, when the post was moved to its permanent site, its name was changed to Camp Yuma. A year later the post was designated Fort Yuma. In June 1851 the Army virtually abandoned the post because of the high costs incurred in maintaining it, and it was completely abandoned on December 6, 1851, when its commissary was practically empty of provisions. The post, however, was reoccupied by Captain Heintzelman on February 29, 1852.

It was difficult to supply the post during its early years. Food supplies and construction materials were shipped by water from San Diego, California, around the Baja Peninsula and up the Gulf of California to the mouth of the Colorado River at the Colorado River Delta in Mexico. The work of transferring the goods to wagons at that point and hauling them across the Yuma Desert and Yuha Desert to Yuma was rigorous and time-consuming. Life at the post was harsh and the military's resolve to maintain a garrison here vacillated. Only after August 1852 did the temporary Camp Yuma became permanent Fort Yuma, and the Army resolved to stay for good. In November 1852 a steamboat, Uncle Sam was launched and in December began carrying a cargo up the Colorado River from Robinson's Landing it arrived at Fort Yuma and delivered thirty-two tons of goods on December 3. Steamboats continued to supply the fort and later settlements on the Colorado River in this way until the arrival of the railroad in 1877.

Gulf of California A gulf of the Pacific Ocean between the Baja peninsula and the Mexican mainland

The Gulf of California is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean that separates the Baja California Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. It is bordered by the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, and Sinaloa with a coastline of approximately 4,000 km (2,500 mi). Rivers which flow into the Gulf of California include the Colorado, Fuerte, Mayo, Sinaloa, Sonora, and the Yaqui. The gulf's surface area is about 160,000 km2 (62,000 sq mi). Depths range from fording at the estuary near Yuma, Arizona, to in excess of 3,000 meters (9,800 ft) in the deepest parts.

Colorado River Delta river in Mexico

The Colorado River Delta is the region where the Colorado River flows into the Gulf of California. The delta is part of a larger geologic region called the Salton Trough. Historically, the interaction of the river's flow and the ocean's tide created a dynamic environment, supporting freshwater, brackish, and saltwater species. Within the delta region, the river split into multiple braided channels and formed complex estuary and terrestrial ecosystems. Use of water upstream and the accompanying reduction of fresh water flow has resulted in loss of most of the wetlands of the area, as well as drastic changes to the aquatic ecosystems. However, a scheme is currently in place which aims to rejuvenate the wetlands by releasing a pulse of water down the river delta.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.

Only one military action occurred at the fort when Yuman warriors surrounded it during the Yuma War, temporarily trapping the future general Thomas William Sweeny and a few others.

Thomas William Sweeny United States Army general

Thomas William Sweeny was an Irish-American soldier who served in the Mexican–American War and then was a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

From 1858 to 1861 the Butterfield Overland Mail had a stagecoach station near the fort, that was subsequently used by other stage lines until the advent of the railroad in 1877.

Civil War

During the American Civil War, the Union retained control of Fort Yuma when the First California Infantry replaced Regular Army soldiers sent East in December 1861. [5] The southern half of New Mexico Territory seceded, becoming the Confederate Territory of Arizona until 1862 when the California Column marching from Fort Yuma expelled the Confederacy, marching as far as western Texas. In 1863 the Union established their control of the region as the Arizona Territory. Fort Yuma served as the supply point for the Union garrisons there. There was no battle action at the fort since the western United States was far removed from the Civil War. [6]

Post-Civil War

Fort Yuma was closely associated with the Yuma Quartermaster Depot on the Arizona side of the river, which provided military supplies and personnel to posts throughout Arizona and New Mexico. The Quartermaster Depot operated between 1864 and 1891, though the Army terminated most operations there eight years earlier.

The depot was used by the Army to store and distribute supplies for all military posts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas during the Indian War period. A six-month supply of clothing, food, ammunition, and other goods was stored at the depot at all times. Supplies were brought from California by ocean vessels traveling around the Baja Peninsula to Port Isabel near the mouth of the Colorado River. There, cargos were transferred to river steamers and brought upstream to Yuma.

Supplies were unloaded at the depot and hauled up a track running from the dock to a storehouse. The depot quartered up to 900 mules and crews of teamsters to handle them. The Southern Pacific Railroad reached Yuma in 1877. There was little need for the Quartermaster Depot and Fort Yuma, and they were abandoned on May 16, 1883. The reservation was transferred to the Interior Department on July 22, 1884.

Present day

Fort Yuma is now part of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. Numerous historic buildings remain from the military period in the Yuma Crossing and Associated Sites in the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area. The Yuma Territorial Prison and Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Parks are in Arizona with buildings preserved or reconstructed, and with museums.

The Yuma Proving Ground is the lineal Army descendant of these original military posts in the Yuma area.

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The Department of New Mexico was a department of the United States Army during the mid-19th century. It was created as the 9th Department, a geographical department, in 1848 following the successful conclusion of the Mexican–American War, and renamed Department of New Mexico in 1853. It had to contend with an invading Confederate force during the New Mexico Campaign of the American Civil War from mid-1861 to early 1862, then with Apache tribes during the remainder of the conflict. It was merged into the Department of California after the end of the war as the District of New Mexico.

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Pacific Division of the U. S. Army was one of its superior administrative organizations that existed during the early 19th century and for a short time in the early 20th century.

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Port Isabel was a seaport established on Port Isabel Slough in 1865 during the American Civil War in Sonora, Mexico in the mouth of the Colorado River on the Gulf of California. It was founded to support the increased river traffic caused by the gold rush that began in 1862 on the Colorado River and the Yuma Quartermaster Depot newly established in 1864 to support the Army posts in the Arizona Military District. The slough was discovered in 1865 by the Captain W. H. Pierson of the schooner Isabel, that first used the slough to transfer its cargo to steamboats safe from the tidal bore of the Colorado River. Shortly afterward Port Isabel was established 3 miles up the slough and replaced Robinson's Landing as the place where cargo was unloaded in the river from seagoing craft on to flat bottomed steamboats of the Colorado River and carried up to Fort Yuma and points further north on the river.

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  1. "POST RETURN of Fort Yuma, California for July 1854". George H. Thomas Chronology. ~dmercado. 1998-01-01. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
  2. 1 2 3 "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. 1 2 "Fort Yuma". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-07.
  4. Hart, Herbert. "Historic California Posts: Fort Yuma". The California State Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  5. "Regiments of the California Volunteers in Federal Service, 1st Regiment of Infantry". The California State Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 30 July 2009.
  6. "The California Column". The California Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 30 July 2009.