Yuma's ancient history: A timeline before statehood
The Yuma area's history didn't begin with Arizona statehood 100 years ago — although that certainly was an important happening.
The events that led to the development of the area that today is our home began not one century but centuries ago.
Below are some key dates in the history of Yuma County and its communities, Yuma, Somerton, San Luis and Wellton.
1540 — Capt. Hernando de Alarcon leads an edition of Spanish soldiers up the Colorado River from the present-day Sea of Cortez to supply the army of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who is seeking the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. Alarcon reaches the Yuma Crossing, becoming the first European in the area, but turns back.
1774 — The Spaniards return to the Yuma when Juan Bautista de Anza arrives at the Yuma Crossing, the constricted, low-lying stretch of Colorado River that lends itself to easy crossings. De Anza is on his way to founding San Francisco, and in the meantime, the Spaniards enjoy initial friendly relations with the native inhabitants, the ancestors of the Quechan Indians.
July 17, 1781 — Spanish priest Francisco Garces is killed and the Purisma Concepcion Church is destroyed at present-day Indian Hill and Fort Yuma as the native Indians rebel against the Spanish settlers of the area.
1848 — The Yuma Crossing affords an easy place for settlers to cross the Colorado River on their way to California as part of the Gold Rush.
1852 — The U.S. Army establishes Fort Yuma on Indian Hill, overlooking the Yuma Crossing. The Army's arrival brings about the Colorado City townsite, today the city of Yuma.
1854 — Nearly 30,000 square miles, including present-day Yuma and south Yuma County, are acquired by the United States form Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase, which is ratified by the U.S. Senate on April 25, 1854, and signed by President Franklin Pierce.
1859 — Jose Maria Redondo, often called the father of modern-day agriculture in Yuma County, arrives in Arizona from Mexico, where his Castillian Spanish grandparents had settled. In 1871, he and his brother begin diverting water from the Gila River to grow crops previously unheard of in Arizona.
1862 — The Colorado City townsite is washed away in Colorado River flooding. It is rebuilt and renamed Arizona City.
1864 — The U.S. Army establishes the Quartermaster Depot on the Colorado River at present-day Yuma to oversee the distribution of supplies brought up the Colorado River from the Sea of Cortez to Army troops in the West.
1871 — Arizona City is formally incorporated. In 1873 it is renamed Yuma.
1875 — The Arizona Territorial Legislature allocates for the Territorial Prison in Yuma. Construction begins in April 1876 and the prison opens its doors to the first inmates in July of that year. Over the next 33 years, it houses 3,069 inmates, including 33 women. After the inmates are transferred out in 1909, it houses Yuma High School from 1910 to 1914, thus giving the school its Criminal mascot.
1877 — The Southern Pacific Railroad reaches Yuma.
1878 — Wellton is founded. It is named for the water wells drilled in the area to serve the Southern Pacific Railroad – “Well Town.” In 1970, it is incorporated.
1898 — Somerton is founded.
March 1909 — Laguna Dam is completed on the Colorado River to divert water for agriculture to the Yuma area.
Oct. 25, 1911 — The first airplane to land in Arizona touches down in Yuma near 4th Avenue, between 1st and 3rd streets. The pilot, Robert Fowler, is piloting a Wright Model B biplane in a cross-country flight just a couple of years after the Wright brothers made their historic flight.
Feb. 14, 1912 — President William Howard Taft signs the bill making Arizona the nation's 48th state.
June 29, 1912 — Water pours for the first time through the Yuma Siphon, a tunnel that passes beneath the Colorado River to divert water from the river to the Yuma Valley, opening up the area to agriculture.
May 22, 1915 — The Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge opens over the Colorado River at Yuma, serving as a key link for auto travel from the East Coast to the West Coast. Its use declines in the 1970s with the opening of Interstate 8. In 1988, the bridge is closed to vehicle traffic, but is reopened in 2002 following renovations.
1930 — San Luis, Ariz., is established as a port of entry for traffic from Mexico. In 1979, it is incorporated as a city.
June 1942 — U.S. Army opens Yuma Army Air Field.
January 1943 — Camp Laguna opens at present-day Yuma Proving Ground to train U.S. troops for combat in World War II.
1943 — The Yuma Test Branch opens at present-day Yuma Proving Ground to test combat bridges for use crossing rivers in Europe during World War II.
August-September 1949 — Woody Jongeward and Bob Woodhouse, piloting the City of Yuma airplane, stay aloft over Yuma for 1,124 hours and set a flight endurance record as part of a campaign to demonstrate the area's optimal flying conditions and to persuade the U.S. military to reopen the shuttered Yuma airfield that is today the Marine Corps Air Station.
1951 — The Army's Yuma Test Branch is reopened with a greatly expanded mission as Yuma Proving Ground.
Jan. 1, 1983 — Yuma County is reduced in size when the northern half of the county breaks away to form La Paz County, with Parker as its county seat. The split had been approved by voters the previous year.
1990-91 — Yuma's military bases and military personnel play a key role in the United States' efforts to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait, first in Operation Desert Shield and then Operation Desert Storm. Yuma Proving Ground tests equipment and arms used successfully in the war effort, while the Marine Corps Air Station sends Harrier squadrons to fight in the Gulf War.
September 1995 — The Military Free Fall School, which trains special forces troops from the nation's military branches in parachuting, relocates from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Yuma Proving Ground.
March 1997 — Former President George H.W. Bush parachutes over Yuma Proving Ground just a couple of months before his 73rd birthday. It is the first parachute he makes since World War II, when as a Navy pilot, he bailed out of aircraft shot down by the Japanese.
2000 — The Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area is officially designated as the first federal Heritage Area west of the Mississippi River.
2001 — With the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Yuma's military community takes part in the United States' efforts to root out Al-Qaida and their Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. Yuma-based Marines units are sent over to Afghanistan on a rotating basis in the years to come, and Yuma Proving Ground conducts its testing mission in support of the U.S. military
2002 — The first phase to develop the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area begins with the development of the West Wetlands Park.
March 2003 — The Iraq war begins and Marine Corps Air Station sends Harrier squadrons and other units overseas against Saddam Hussein. Yuma Proving Ground again conducts numerous testing programs in support of the U.S. military, among them testing to find ways to counter improvised explosive devices being used against U.S. troops.
2004 — Work begins in the development of the East Wetlands, part of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.
July 2009 — The GM Desert Test Center opens at Yuma Proving Ground.