Genealogy Trails

Yuma County, Arizona

more history

Yuma is one of the original counties into which the Territory of Arizona was divided by the first legislature of the Territory, which met at 'Prescott in 1864. This county is bounded on the north by Mojave County; on the east by Yavapai, Maricopa and Pima Counties; on the south by the Mexican State of Sonora; on the west by Lower California and California; and contains an area of 9,783 square miles, or over one-fifth of the area of the great State of New York.

Yuma County in one respect may be styled the "Banner" County of Arizona. Other counties have as much, maybe some have more, fine land, capable of a high state of cultivation ; climate as fine, and all that; but this county has the land and has the water which it can not be deprived of, except by a convulsion of nature. She has the grand Colorado River on her whole western border, and the Gila River crosses the county from east to west and enters the Colorado at Yuma City, some twenty miles from the southern boundary, affording much of the year a supply of water sufficient to irrigate the bottom lands alongside it. The climate of the whole southern portion of Yuma County is such that nearly all kinds of fruit which are grown within the tropics can be produced in abundance. The first settlement by Europeans made in this county was opposite the old Fort of Yuma, on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, where the town now is. Two missions were established in 1778 by the Franciscan fathers. These missions were destroyed by the Indians, who rose against the priests three years later, killed several and drove the rest away.

In 1849, so great was the travel to California, then the new Eldorado, that a ferry was established across the river by a discharged soldier from the United States army in conjunction with, and protected by, the Yuma Indians. A party of renegades, under one John Glanton, known as "Dr." Glanton, arrived at the river about this time, having come from Texas through the Mexican States of Chihuahua and Sonora, committing all sorts of depredations en route, robbing ranches and churches and leaving desolation in their track. This band of worthies soon discovered that the ferry across the Colorado River at Yuma was a steady producer, and determined to have control of the business; one night they attacked the Indian's boats and destroyed them, killing the American ferryman and two Indians. For a short time after this "victory" this party enjoyed a monopoly of the ferry and were fast getting rich, for, if a party crossed with good teams rather weak-handed, they were waylaid a few miles from the crossing and all remorselessly murdered and the property appropriated. The Indians kept quiet, none were seen around, or to use the
euphonious expression of " Dr " Glanton, " The dare not show their faces in the presence of ' honest ' white men." "Lo" bided his time. This precious band of cutthroats had a hilarious night over a fortunate robbery, but at daybreak, when all were in drunken slumber, the avenging Indian pounced upon them in force and slaughtered all of the party but a boy whom, perhaps, the Indians were willing should escape. Whether the Indians rendered God a service in exterminating this precious band of worthies is a question, but they certainly rendered a service to the toiling emigrant who was striking for California by the Yuma crossing of the Colorado River.

The Yuma City of today was first laid out and called Colorado City in 1854, and sometime in the '60's was changed to Arizona City, and still later to Yuma. Yuma is now the county-seat, and by census of 1900, had a population of 1,519, but now it has, probably, fully 2,500.

In 1858 rich placer diggings were discovered by Jacob Snively and others at what was, and is yet, known as Gila City, some eighteen miles east of Yuma, and soon a heterogeneous population of 3,000 persons gathered there. Something like $3,000,000 were taken from the ground in about two years. Gila City is now almost abandoned, but occasionally an Indian will stumble on a place and get out a few dollars in placer gold. Along the range of mountains southerly from old Gila City, there have been discovered some very valuable gold ledges, and one called the "Fortuna" is worked now by C. D. Lane; it has yielded somewhere near to half a million dollars net per year for several years.

In the year 1862 Captain Pauline Weaver made the discovery of gold placers some few miles easterly from La Paz, and during that year as many as twelve hundred persons were at work there and it has been estimated that somewhere near a million dollars in gold was taken out that year. La Paz was the first county-seat of Yuma County, but in 1871 it was changed to Yuma, where it is at present and will probably remain.

In 1852 Fort Yuma was established upon the right or west bank of the Colorado River, opposite the mouth of the Gila River in the State of California. The Yuma Indians were held in check to such an extent that the ferry across the Colorado was again established, and continued in operation with fair profit to owners until the river was spanned by the bridge of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The coming of this railroad into Arizona in 1878 caused new life to enter into the Territory. The lethargy of ages was shaken off and a new order of events took place. Probably the town of Yuma since the Southern Pacific Railroad crossed the Colorado, and continued on up the Gila River and across the Territory, did not for a number of years enjoy the prominence in comparison to other points of commercial activity that it had enjoyed before the advent of the railroad, as it had been for some years for all southwestern Arizona, and it took some time for the business methods to adjust themselves to the changed conditions. The act which established the Territorial Prison at Yuma, was passed by the legislature which convened at Tucson in

There is considerable agricultural land in this county along the Gila River, which runs, in all its windings, nearly one hundred miles through the county from east to west, and there also is a large body upon the Colorado which will be very remunerative when water in sufficiency shall be gotten upon it. At present, probably, the greatest part of the revenue of this county comes from mines as in her barren mountains wherever one goes are found leads of great richness and extent and in the near future Yuma County will be a great producer of precious metals.

The Gila River rises in the vast mountain range west of the Rio Grande in New Mexico, through which runs the continental divide, with an eastern trend. The Gila River enters Arizona at north latitude, about 32° 40', and runs nearly a west course through Graham, Pinal, Maricopa and Yuma Counties and joins the Colorado in nearly the same latitude on the west, as it crosses the east line; so its many meanderings north and south have not deflected its current from a west course. Considerable attention has been paid to the agricultural lands of the Gila River, which winds its way through some of the finest agricultural land of the county, maybe the river with its life-giving moisture causes the adjacent lands to be so fruitful. This valley is from one to five miles in width, but probably for the whole distance across the county it would be equivalent to a valley of two miles wide and one hundred miles long. When once brought under cultivation, with a sufficient amount of water, what sustenance for a vast population would so much soil afford.

Until some general system of building reservoirs is adopted, whereby the surplus of streams in times of high waters can be impounded and saved to be distributed over the land during the dry season, Arizona will remain subject to great droughts and great floods by turns, and with cultivated land in abundance only a small fraction of this land can be tilled to a profit.

Fruit culture has so far been prosecuted upon a limited scale and in a small way, but it has been learned from actual experiments that it is possible to produce an excellent fruit ready for market from four to five weeks earlier than from the great fruit orchards around Los Angeles in California. The climate and soil is congenial for the orange, lemon and lime; the fruits yield in abundance. The fig and pomegranate also do well, producing fruit of such character as if they were the native fruit of the country. The pomegranate is not recognized to be of much value in the United States, though in Mexico it is quite highly esteemed. Of the fig it is not easy to say which is the more desirable variety. For eating, as the fruit comes from the tree, perhaps, the blue-black variety will afford as much satisfaction as any, but for commercial purposes, to dry and transport long distances, probably the white fig of Smyrna or the Ionian Islands in the Grecian Archipelago, may be considered the universal favorite. Its yield would be prodigious as in the climate of Yuma the tree will produce two and has been known to produce three crops in a single year. Grapes, when cultivated properly, become hardy and thrifty and all kinds mature from four to five weeks earlier than in the vineyards around Los Angeles. Heavy wines and brandies of a superior character can be manufactured from these grapes. For refining wines the climate is unsurpassed anywhere. The olive grows luxuriantly and is a profitable fruit to raise. The mulberry matures rapidly and when rooted withstands great heat and lack of water. Most other semi-tropical fruits grow in great abundance when cultivated properly.

The raising of cotton has been tried for some years with satisfactory results. When watered and pruned properly it grows to a large tree being in flower, ball and cotton throughout the year. These bushes or trees have in known instances borne steadily for several years, surpassing the most favored section in our cotton-growing States, where, on account of frost, it has to be planted yearly, and tenderly cared for. Hemp grows wild, indigenous to the country, growing to a great height, in many instances from fifteen to seventeen feet; it has a long and strong fibre and is worked into fishing nets and lines by the Yuma Indians. It seeds itself annually and after the receding of an overflow of the Colorado River, shoots up in every nook and corner and excludes all else by its rank growth. It covers not less than one hundred square miles of territory, commencing near the southern boundary line of the Gadsden Purchase, twenty miles below Yuma City extending southward following the river to Hardy, where the tides of the gulf force back the flow of the Colorado, causing a great tumble of waters. Ramie, a fibrous plant, has also been tried with success.

Sugar-cane has been tested with Sonora cane—the growth was immense and the percentage of juice was much increased by the transplanting process. The sugar beet yields well; two crops each year. Wheat produces wonderfully; as an instance, four hundred and eighty-three pounds were sown upon twenty acres, which lay some nine miles east of Yuma City on the Gila River, and the yield an acre was 52,750 pounds, or nearly forty-four bushels of sixty pounds to the bushel. This crop, which was irrigated three times, was sold in San Francisco, and on account of its plump appearance, being almost like a berry, brought fifty cents per hundred over the best wheat in that market. Barley does well, two crops a year, the first yielding about thirty bushels to the acre, and the second fully two tons to the acre of excellent hay. Corn can be raised in quantities and when there is no frost can be grown the whole year. The Cocopa corn is noted for sweetness, plumpness, and for its solid grains and the rapidity with which it matures. In five weeks after the time of planting, roasting ears are plentiful.

When the land is sufficiently irrigated all kinds of grasses grow rapidly. Alfalfa can be cut from five to seven, and, in instances not rare, eight times each year, yielding fully two tons per acre at each cutting. A field of eight acres yielded in one year, with, perhaps, extra care, eighty tons of hay or ten tons to the acre, and hay that whole year brought not less than ten dollars per ton, most of it twelve dollars. Perhaps the most prolific and valuable crop that can be produced is sorghum or Chinese sugar-cane. This plant is not only valuable for its saccharine qualities from which a valuable syrup is distilled, but as forage for mules, horses and cattle, it is much sought after and yields from fifteen to twenty tons per acre and has a value in the markets of from twelve to fourteen dollars per ton. Vegetables of all kinds grow in abundance the year through. From fifteen pounds of potatoes, planted in bottom land, a Gila farmer gathered seven hundred pounds of fine potatoes, a yield of forty-six and two-thirds for one. The sweet potato yields largely and equals the finest grown in South Carolina.

There is some placer mining done in the county, but the yield of precious metals is mostly from quartz mining, though the barren mountains have not been thoroughly gone over, and there is but little doubt that many a "For- tuna" mine will yet be brought to light, which for years will throw into the world's markets every month a million or more dollars of the precious yellow metal.

The large amount of fertilizing matter brought down the Colorado will ever be a source of wealth to the farmers upon those bottom lands along this river in Yuma County. The River Nile is often called "Father of Egypt," and is known to have fertilized and supplied for fully fifty centuries the moisture for that hoary country, yet it is well known that the Colorado River water carries more than double the fertilizing matter in its bosom than old Nile does. Perhaps it may be owing to the fact that the water is continually scouring and eroding fertilizing material from the rocks in the bottom of the Grand Canon, while the Nile denudes mountains and washes plains for its material.

Yuma City is upon the eastern or left bank of the Colorado River, just below the junction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers and is the county-seat of Yuma County. The Colorado River is the dividing line, from the boundary of the county, to the center of the mouth of the Gila from the Territory of Lower California.

The southeastern corner of the State of California is the center of the mouth of the Gila (old mouth), and from there to the southwest corner of Arizona, which is in the center of Colorado River is twenty miles below the old mouth of the Gila. The right, or western bank of the Colorado River, is Mexican territory. I have said "old mouth" for the reason that the point where the Gila River now enters the Colorado River is some three miles farther up the Colorado than it was when the boundary line between the United States and Mexico was established, as per treaty of 1853.

This county possesses within itself great natural advantages, perhaps in one respect ahead of any of the other counties of Arizona, viz.: she has the Colorado of the West occupying her whole length upon her western boundary, while along this river at many points are large bodies of the finest agricultural land to be found in the world, and sufficient water in the river, even when at its lowest stage, to irrigate it all.

Below the City of Yuma the Colorado River runs nearly west some distance, say ten miles, and the general course to the boundary line is west of south; and along the river of the left bank in this county is an extensive bottom, for say fifteen miles in length by eight miles in width, much of it inundated in very high water, but of the richest quality of soil, and with such levees as the Mississippi has, there would be a vast body of fine agricultural land permanently reclaimed from the turbulent river.

This great body embraces fully 70,0x30 acres and there are many fine farms now producing. Probably now there are ten thousand acres that are partially farmed but this is only a small matter to what will be brought into the producing column when the great works in process of construction shall have been carried to completion.

The whole of this vast bottom land has been formed from sediment or overflows brought down at different times through past ages and spread over the land until now, except in the highest stages, it is above overflow. For farming purposes this bottom land upon the Colorado River is not surpassed by any in the world. The farmers now produce wheat, barley, corn, most luxuriantly and from two to three crops each year as there are no frosts to interfere with the growth of products the year through. Of hay, alfalfa produces wonderfully, and in many instances produces eight cuttings in a year of at least two and a half tons to the acre each cutting. Judging from the price of hay for several years past, each acre would net the owner at least seventy-five dollars, if sold. Some farmers consider it more to their advantage to raise cattle and horses and particularly mules, thus using up their hay. Hogs are also found to be very profitable and some farmers are now extensively engaged in that branch of business.

Of fruits, all varieties that can be produced within the tropics are grown here, and of a quality equal to the best in the world—oranges as fine as those of Sicily, and at all seasons of the year, as there is no cold weather to contend with, so that at all times and often upon the same tree oranges may be seen from flower to full maturity. Figs, equal to those produced in Western Asia, that are marketed at Smyrna, in Asiatic Turkey. Dates that have heretofore been considered a product of Mesopotamia and Syria, Western Asia, are found to do as well here as those to the manor born. Lemons, equal to those of Sicily, do extremely well and limes grow almost wild. Olives are produced in great quantities; although not cultivated much as yet, pineapples will do well. Apricots, of an extra fine quality, grow so luxuriantly as absolutely to become a drug.

Garden vegetables grow almost spontaneously; all that needs to be done is to plant the seeds and they will fight their way with the weeds and produce well. Of course they do better when cared for.

Private parties are making several attempts to irrigate a small portion of this tract of land, but the most extensive is a syndicate or corporation from the State of Washington, under the superintendency of Mr. Ludy, who is an able engineer. This company takes out of the Colorado River, some five miles below Yuma City, quite a body of water by means of a canal or aqueduct which extends already some eight miles to a large reservoir which will hold millions of gallons of water. When this company shall have finished their aqueduct with the laterals run, they can irrigate fully 50,000 acres of as fine producing agricultural land as there is in the world. The reservoir has been constructed and filled with water so that should any accident happen at the head of the canal to the machinery or otherwise, adjacent farms can be irrigated until repairs can be made.

There are already in this valley, separate from the town of Yuma, two churches, one Methodist and one Baptist, and there are some six school houses, so religion and education are not neglected. Crime is unknown among this industrious and thriving people.

There is another extensive plan for irrigating what may be considered second bottom land below Yuma City, which, if carried out successfully, will open up a large body of land to cultivation, say 50,000 acres, in fact, some of it is already through what water can be gotten to the surface by pumps and windmills, and it is found that with water this land produces equally well with the bottom lands, especially fruits.

The plan is to take the water from the Colorado River, some distance above Yuma City, pass it under the bed of the Gila River in pipes, so that it will have a sufficient head to irrigate this land. It may require pumping power to get the volume of water to the proper altitude to irrigate this second bottom land. When this is done, Yuma City will have nearly 150,000 acres of the finest land for agriculture at its very door, which must make Yuma City one of the first cities of the southwest.

The mining camps of this county are numerous, as here generally barren mountain ranges, are filled with leads of the precious metals. There is the Castle Dome District, that has been a heavy producer; the Harqua Hala, that is a great gold region. The "Fortuna" Mine, some twenty- seven miles southeast of Yuma City, that has paid net for several years some $50,000 per month; the Old Gila City, never thoroughly prospected, but which yielded largely as placer ground in the gulches many years ago. Some day an energetic mining company will drive a tunnel into and through the mountain and the "find" will astonish the world. The new camp of Picacho, some thirty miles above Yuma City, is a wonderful producer of gold, but if the writer is not mistaken, it is in California. Yuma City has now a population of fully 3,000 people, and is fast increasing, and will, at no distant day, be one of the large cities of Arizona, as Arizona is destined to have more than one large city. The Southern Pacific Railroad crosses the Colorado River from California at this point. Yuma City is a fine business point and the merchants are apparently doing a flourishing business. Many costly structures are being erected and the place wears an air of prosperity.

The Territorial Penitentiary is located here upon what is known as the "Hill," on the bank of the Colorado River, and at this time has about three hundred occupants, among them five women, under the management of Colonel William Griffith, and it must be said the prison is well managed. Perfect order is maintained and all about the place is as neat and tidy as the best kept hotel.

Of hotels, Yuma City has several, and well conducted. Of papers, there are two, weeklies, the Sentinel, established in 1871, and the Sun, both ably edited.

Of churches, there are, Catholics and Methodists. The schools are first-class, with an able corps of teachers. The city is well lighted by electricity. Total valuation of property for taxation, $1,277,571.69 for 1903.

Source: The History of Arizona: From the Earliest Times Known to the People of Europe to 1903 By Sidney Randolph De Long, Arizona Pioneers' Historical Society Published by The Whitaker & Ray company, 1905

Return To The Main Index Page