Yuma is in the far southwest corner of Arizona, just below
where the Colorado and Gila Rivers converge. Since prehistoric
times, Yuma has been the best site for crossing the Colorado River.
Yuma was named for the Yuman Indians, so called because of their
habit of setting fires along the river (humor) meaning smoke in
Spanish). Fort Yuma was built during the gold rush to bring peace
to the area and to insure a safe southern route into California.
First established in 1854 as Colorado City, the town became
Arizona City and finally Yuma. Incorporated under the name
Arizona City in 1871, it was reincorporated as Yuma in 1873 and
now serves as the Yuma County seat. At an elevation of 138 feet,
Yuma remains a key crossroad for air and land transportation,
although steamboats no longer carry supplies to mining communities
and forts” up river."
Agriculture plays a dominant role in the Yuma County economy.
Nearly 219,485 acres were harvested in 1993. Ranching is also
important to the community with 113,000 head of cattle pen-fed
annually. Military bases contribute substantially to the local economy
with the Marine Corps Air Station and Yuma Proving Grounds located
in the county.
Tourist business, comprised mainly of cross-country travelers and
winter visitors, creates an estimated gross revenue of $370.1 million.
New and existing light industry increases Yuma's economic diversification.
The Mexican free port of San Luis Rio Colorado is located 23 miles
southwest of Yuma. For an industry interested in offshore manufacturing,
or twin-plant operations, San Luis offers all the facilities necessary
for a modern manufacturing operation.
Yuma currently is an Arizona Main Street Community, providing
business assistance in organization, design, promotion and economic
restructuring in the historic downtown.
The Yuma State Territorial Prison, with cells carved from rock, once
housed Arizona's most dangerous outlaws, but today is a popular
tourist attraction operated by the Arizona State Parks Department.
Other attractions in and around Yuma include Fort Yuma (built in
1851), the 16th-century St. Thomas Mission; the Quechan Indian
Museum; Laguna, Imperial and Morelos Dams; and, across the
Colorado River, the California sand dunes.
In nearby San Luis, Mexico, a port-of-entry community, night spots
and shopping are popular activities. Fishing, water skiing and swimming
at lakes along the Colorado River are attractive sports to residents
and tourists alike. The Arizona State Parks Board and the City
of Yuma operate the new Yuma Crossing State Park, featuring living
history on the Colorado before 1900.
Yuma County was one of the original four counties designated by the First Territorial Legislature. Until 1983, when voters decided to split it into La Paz County in the north and a new Yuma County in the south, it maintained its original boundaries. In 1540, just 48 years after Columbus discovered the New World,18 years after the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, and 67 years before the settlement of Jamestown, Hernando deAlarcón visited the site of what is now the city of Yuma. He was the first European to set foot in the area and to recognize the best natural crossing of the Colorado River. From the 1850s through the 1870s, steamboats on the Colorado River transported passengers and goods to mines, ranches and military outposts in the area, serving the ports of Yuma, Laguna, Castle Dome, Norton’s Landing, Ehrenberg, Aubry, Ft. Mohave and Hardyville.
For many years, Yuma served as the gateway to the new western territory of California. In 1870,the Southern Pacific Railroad bridged the river, and Yuma became a hub for the railroad and was selected as the county seat. Much of Yuma County’s 5,522 square miles is desert land accented by rugged mountains. The valley regions, however, contain an abundance of arable land, which is irrigated with Colorado River water. Agriculture, tourism, military and government are the county’s principal industries. During the winter months, the population grows considerably with part-time residents. All of Yuma County is an Enterprise Zone. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management accounts for 14.8 percent of land ownership; Indian reservations, 0.2 percent; the state of Arizona