Yuma: A military town through and through
By James Gilbert | The (Yuma, Ariz.) Sun | Published: January 10, 2013
A place is commonly known as a military town if it receives a large economic impact from nearby military installations, or if it is home to thousands of retired military personnel.
But those aren't the only things that make Yuma a military town, according to Tammy Snook of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historical Park. She said Yuma has been a military town since it was established.
“Yuma, as a settlement, was established as a military town,” Snook said. “It has been a military town throughout its history.”
Snook said the Yuma area's ties to the military can be traced back many hundreds of years and that the confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers played a major role in that history as well because it was tied to the western expansion of the United States.
One of Yuma's earliest military installations, Fort Yuma, was originally a post established in 1848 to defend the newly settled community of Yuma and protect the travel route through the area.
Snook explained that by the 1850s the California Gold Rush was on and thousands of travelers — from both the eastern United States and Mexico — were moving through this area, which was known as the Yuma Crossing, establishing it as the main crossing point westward.
“It was known as the Yuma Crossing because it was an ideal spot to cross the Colorado River. This was the narrowest point of the river,” Snook said. “The river was really essential to everything.”
In March 1851, the post was moved to its permanent site, on the California side of the river, and a year later was designated as Fort Yuma. Snook said over the years, the town of Yuma grew to support the fort and then later the Quartermaster Depot.
“These military installations were primary sources of employment for settlers coming through the area.”
Although Fort Yuma was difficult to supply during its early years, it remained in operation until May 16, 1883, and later transferred to the Department of the Interior. The old Fort Yuma Indian School and a mission now occupy the site.
In addition to being registered as California Historical Landmark, the site is also one of the “associated sites” under the Yuma Crossing on the National Register of Historic Places in the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.
The Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, Snook said, is the site of an old Army supply depot that operated between 1864 and 1883. It was also an active military installation during the Civil War.
The purpose of the depot was to store six months' worth of supplies for all the military posts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas.
Five of the original depot buildings remain on the park grounds, and four of these buildings contain exhibits that cover both the military history of the site and the history of the Bureau of Reclamation's construction of major irrigation works in the Yuma area during the early 1900s.
After abandonment by the military, various federal government agencies moved into the buildings. These agencies included the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Weather Service.
But that's not Yuma's only tie to military history. In 1846, during the war between Mexico and the United States, Col. Stephen W. Kearny, who was in command of the 1st United States Dragoon Regiment, led his army across the Colorado River near Pilot Knob on his way to California to claim it for the United States.
Today Yuma is the home to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, the busiest air station in the Marine Corps and the third busiest in the Navy, and Yuma Proving Ground, the country's premier facility for testing military equipment and technology.
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