Explore Tucson Arizona / Historic Landmarks

El Presisio San Augustin del Tucson

At one time a Papago Indian village stood where present day Tucson is. The first Jesuit priest visited the Tucson area in 1692 and the Franciscans followed after that.

In 1775 the Spanish built El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson to help solidify their claim to the northern frontier of New Spain. One positive reason for the selection of Tucson as a garrison site was provided by the Native Americans themselves.

tucson in the 1800's

Tucson in the 1800’s

The Spanish first built the Tubac Presidio, about forty miles south of Tucson in 1751. This was following an Indian rebellion in which Tubac was razed and most of its inhabitants slain.

When the Spaniards built their missions along the California coast northward from San Diego in 1769, there was a need for protection for an overland route to frontier California from Sonora. Because of this the Spaniards ordered the garrison at the Tubac Presidio transferred northward to the new presidio in Tucson. The Tucson Presidio would be built along the Santa Cruz River across from Pimam Tucson.

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St Anns Church in Tubac Arizona

Visiting St. Anns Church

While St. Anns Church is in Tubac Arizona, just a short drive south of Tucson, it is worth adding it to your Tucson trip planner. Along with it’s deep Spanish history, today, Tubac is a growing art community and offers fine resorts, shopping and dining.

A guided walking tour map of Tubac is available from any of the town merchants and at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.

St. Ann’s Church, which stands on Calle Iglesia near Placita de Anza in Tubac, is a relatively modern reminder of the presence of the Catholic Church in the area for most of 250 years.

Construction of a new church on the site of the original churches was begun in 1910 after parishioners mounted a fund drive, and St. Ann’s Church was completed in 1912.

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Photo of the reconstruction Presidio San Agustin del Tucson northeast bastion, 2009.

Building El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson

The social structure of the entirety of colonial Spanish America had been built around a base of food-producing Native Americans. In fact one big reason why the site for the new presidio in Tucson was chosen  was because of the close proximity of the Indians.

Defense officials could rely, they assumed, upon the Native American gardens at Tucson providing the garrison with at least some of its food needs. The site also offered adequate pasturage and firewood resources.

The new Tucson garrison was responsible with building the presidio.  Tucson garrison at first lived on an open post. A typically defensive fort was not built immediately at the new location, even though some Apache bands had been stealing horses and raiding and killing settlers near Spanish outposts to the east since 1773.

The first actual fortifications erected apparently consisted of a wooden palisade. Some of the houses of citizens and soldiers were outside the palisade. Eventually an earthen defensive wall surrounded the military post, although some members of the garrison and civilians still lived in houses outside the wall.

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Tucson Historic District street photo

The El Presidio Historic District

As one of the oldest continually inhabited areas in the country, Downtown Tucson has no shortage of history. Located downtown at Washington and Church Shttp://tripsintohistory.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=10483&action=edit&message=10treets, the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson is a re-creation of the northeast corner of the original 1775 Spanish presidio.

The walls of the Presidio were said to have run along Washington Street on the north, Church Street on the east, Pennington Street on the south, and Main Avenue on the west. Each wall was reported to be approximately 750 feet long.

The El Presidio Historic District is a residential neighborhood containing adobe and brick buildings in the Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American and Eclectic architectural styles. The district is on the site of a prehistoric Hohokam Indian site and the original presidio. The Tucson Presidio Trust hosts Living History Festivals, October through April, where visitors can sample Spanish colonial food, listen to stories of old Tucson, learn period crafts and see musket and cannon fire.

The El Presidio Historic District is located north of West Alameda Street and west of North Church Street.

southern pacific steam locomotive exhibit

Southern Pacific locomotive exhibit outside Tucson Railroad museum

Tucson and the Southern Pacific Railroad

There’s one thing about Tucson Arizona that differentiates it from many of the other towns in southern Arizona and New Mexico. While the Southern Pacific Railroad certainly added to the growth of Tucson, the difference is that Tucson was a key settlement long before the arrival of the railroad.

Where some Arizona towns grew in direct relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad, the story of Tucson, as explained above has all to do with the Spanish fort on 1775. Also, one time during the American Civil War Tucson served as the capital of the Confederates western Arizona region.

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reno Locomotive built in 1872

The Old Tucson Studios

This is a site you want to be sure to visit when in Tucson Arizona. The Old Tucson Studios is a replica of an old western town that was built in 1939 for the movie “Arizona”. The studios have also been used for many western movies and TV films. The studios offer visitors stage coach rides as well as rides on a narrow gauge railroad.

Also see the staged old west gunfights and stunt performances. Also see Old Tucson’s very own “silent” movie star, The Reno locomotive. The locomotive is stationed at the north end of Old Town Tucson. The Reno has more than 100 film and television credits. From Interstate 10 exit at Speedway Blvd and head west following signs to Old Tucson. From Interstate 19 exit at Ajo Way (AZ 86) and head west following signs to Old Tucson Studios.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Western Civil War Trips

Drive the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway

A La Jolla California Getaway

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is also located in Old Town Tucson adjacent to the train station. The museum address is 414 N. Toole Ave. Tucson, AZ. Here you can explore much of the town’s railroad history regarding the Southern Pacific Railroad.

southern arizona transportation museum

Southern Arizona Transportation Museum adjacent to the Tucson Train Depot

Outside of this Old Town Tucson museum is the famous Southern Pacific Railroad locomotive #1673. Southern Pacific locomotive #1673 is one of 105 of its type originally numbered 1615-1719. During it’s operation on the Southern Pacific it traveled over one million miles, primarily in freight service in the Southern Arizona region.

The locomotive was built by Schenectady Locomotive Works in New York in the year 1900. The SP locomotive #1673 was retired in 1955 and donated to the city of Tucson. In December of 2000, the old engine and tender were brought home to the historic Southern Pacific depot in downtown Old Town Tucson.

Hotel Congress

Now here is an old hotel with quite a history. The Hotel Congress, located in Old Town Tucson and across the street from the Tucson train station, in itself is a living piece of Tucson history.

historic tucson hotels

Historic Hotel Congress

The Hotel Congress is a historic building located in downtown Tucson and built in 1919.

The train station directly across the street at the rear of the hotel. The Hotel Congress building was added to the National Historic Register in 2003. The hotel is a valuable part of the Old Tucson community.

The Hotel Congress is conveniently located downtown and is extremely well restored right down to the rotary dial phones in the rooms. The Hotel Congress is also home to a Tap Room, the music venue Club Congress and an excellent restaurant. Club Congress is a music venue attached to the historic hotel. The music venue was opened in 1985. You’ll also find a great patio for food and beverages and it’s a good place to people watch.

(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Photos of Congress Hotel, Southern Arizona Transportation Museum and Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive from Trips Into History Collection. Remainder of photos and images in the public domain.)

Visiting the Southwest / The Roots of the Long Apache War

Fort Apache located in the foothills of the White Mountains of Arizona offers a very interesting travel stop. The fort was established in 1870 at the confluence of the east and north forks of the White River. This was a very important military outpost in the center of the White Mountain Apache homeland and today is within an Apache Arizona Indian Reservation.

One of the most interesting aspect of Fort Apache is what was established there in the latter years of the fort’s existence. This was the Theodore Roosevelt School, established in 1923 by an act of Congress.

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One of the surviving structures from old Fort Apache

There were many ways to start an Indian war in 1800’s America. One way was to take land from the Native Americans and force them to live on reservations. Another way was to hunt the buffalo to near extinction thus taking away the most important source of their sustenance. Still another was to make a treaty and then break it. In the 1861 Arizona Territory a new way was found. That was to kidnap a chiefs family and hold it for ransom.

The Story Begins

This story starts in 1861 when a Tonto Apache Indian party raided a ranch in far southern Arizona Territory. The raiders stole livestock and ended up kidnapping a twelve year old boy, a stepson of the rancher’s Mexican wife.  The rancher told his story to the local military at nearby Fort Buchanan (the remains of which are pictured below right). The commander, a Colonel Morrison, ordered a Lieutenant George Bascom to take a large contingent of troops and locate the boy. It’s thought that while the army (Morrison) wanted to make a concerted effort to find the boy and have the ranchers livestock returned, his main concerns were the raging Civil War back east. He may not have been involved as much as he should have been in the unfolding drama.

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Ruins of Fort Buchanan

Lieutenant Bascom

A bit also needs to be said regarding Bascom’s background and experience. A Kentuckian and recent graduate from West Point, he had just recently arrived in the Arizona Territory about three months prior. He was unfamiliar with the area and likewise unfamiliar with the Apaches. In other words, he was inexperienced on the ground. Likewise, the troopers assigned to accompany him were a new contingent of troops also inexperienced. Not a good combination to deal with a delicate kidnapping situation as future actions would reveal.

The Story Unfolds

Bascom was unable to locate the tribe or the boy. Bascom’s opinion however was that the raid and kidnapping was done by the Chiricahua Apaches which is what the rancher claimed.

His commander then ordered him to go after the Chiricahua’s and do anything necessary to free the boy. That’s a  fairly open order and a lot of responsibility for a relatively new Lieutenant.

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Apache Pass in today’s Cochise County Arizona

Bascom along with 54 troopers traveled to a location known as Apache Pass where a Butterfield Stage station was located. In fact, the two station attendants were familiar with Cochise who had a winter camp in the nearby rugged mountains.

There Bascom sent word that he wanted to have a meeting with Cochise. Bascom and his men set up tents about a mile away from the stage station and awaited Cochise. Apparently Cochise, who had a reputation for honesty, was suspicious of the meeting and as a precaution took along several family members.

What happened next was probably not a good move by the army. When Cochise and his family arrived at the meeting site pictured to the left, Bascom arrested him. Cochise managed to escape from the troopers and in retaliation Bascom took captive five members of Cochise’s family. This appeared to be the tipping point.

The Conflict with Cochise Grows

A short time later Cochise sent a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family members. Lt. Bascom refused the request and simply sent word back to Cochise that his family would be released when he twelve year old boy was released. When Cochise received Bascom’s reply, he went out with some braves and attacked and kidnapped three Americans. Cochise planned to trade the Americans for the release of his family. Bascom refused to negotiate with Cochise. Cochise was in a corner.

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The Dragoon Mountains in southern Arizona and the Cochise Stronghold

The situation just continued to escalate. Cochise, pictured to the right, decided to flee to nearby Sonora Mexico and on the way he killed the three American captives. Not a wise thing to do. This intensified the conflict.

A short time later Cochise sent a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family members. Lt. Bascom refused the request and simply sent word back to Cochise that his family would be released when he twelve year old boy was released. When Cochise received Bascom’s reply, he went out with some braves and attacked and kidnapped three Americans. Cochise planned to trade the Americans for the release of his family. Bascom refused to negotiate with Cochise. Cochise was in a corner.

The situation just continued to escalate. Cochise, pictured to the right, decided to flee to nearby Sonora Mexico and on the way he killed the three American captives. Not a wise thing to do. This intensified the conflict.

fort apache arizona structures

Commanding Officers residence at Fort Apache

Escalation Continues

When Bascom came upon the remains of the murdered Americans he hung all five of Cochise’s family members in retaliation. It’s not entirely clear who exactly made that decision.

The moment Cochise learned of the killing of his family is commonly recognized as the start of the 25 year long Apache War. An interesting fact is that the Apaches from Arizona looked upon the Mexicans as there enemies, not the Americans. The antagonism toward the Mexicans was an offshoot of the years of Spanish rule. It was the Spaniards who originally explored the American southwest and it was the Spaniards who first changed the Apache way of life. This was the situation in the entire southwest, all the way from Texas to California.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Sioux War and the Army’s First Victory After Custer’s Defeat

American Frontier Doctors

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Could Be The best Hiking Trail in Sedona Arizona

A Situation Out of Control

The act of the kidnappings and the escalation that followed went out of control. The killings of the kidnapped victims turned into a catastrophe that in all respects could have been avoided. When you consider what occurred, you almost have to ask if the higher authorities were involved or was the kidnapping of Cochise’s family by Lt. Bascom a decision made by him alone. If it was a spur of the moment decision by an inexperienced young officer then the 25 year long Apache War may have been avoided.

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Apache leader Geronimo

It should also be noted that the period from 1862 to 1886 when Geronimo (pictured left) finally surrendered was not the only period of conflict with the Apaches.

Skirmishes took place as far back as the 1840’s and even after Geronimo’s surrender there were small skirmishes up to about 1900. Most of the latter skirmishes resulted from the army trying to put wayward Apaches back on their reservation land.

Small fights also resulted between Apaches and miners and ranchers over suspected theft of livestock and property.

The question really is would there have been conflicts with the Apaches regardless of the Bascom Affair? With settlers heading into the territory in large numbers there certainly would have been problems. Would the warfare go on as long as it did without the Bascom Affair? You be the judge. Nobody knows for certain.

Visit Fort Apache

For those wishing to visit Fort Apache Historic Park, the site is located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation about a 170 mile drive east/northeast of Phoenix Arizona, about a 190 mile drive north of Tucson and a 29 mile drive south of Pinetop-Lakeside Arizona.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos of Fort Apache from Trips Into History collection. Remaining photos and images in the public domain)

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park


Today the site of Fort Apache is an Arizona State Historic Park located off Arizona State Hwy 73. The site of Fort Apache is in the White Mountains of Arizona about 190 miles north of Tucson and about 177 miles northeast of Phoenix.  The fort is also four miles south of Whiteriver Arizona in a very scenic and pine forested part of the state.

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Fort Apache Captain's Quarters

It’s a fun and educational stop during your Arizona vacation road trip and one of Arizona’s finest historic landmarks. You’ll also find several other historic sites within a thirty mile radius.

Fort Apache

Fort Apache was a major outpost during the Apache wars (1861-1886) and remained a military post until 1922.

Today, the 288 acre site is comprised of 27 buildings dating between 1870 and 1930. Buildings include a guardhouse, officer quarters, stables and dormitories. Also included is the White Mountain Apache Cultural Center and Museum.

The museum features an exhibit about the legacy of Fort Apache and an exhibit “Footprints of the Apache”. Many very interesting photos and artifacts make this a must see during your Arizona vacation. It’s one of the most historic of Arizona State Parks and it’s an ideal family road trip destination.

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Fort Apache Commanding Officer's House

Some may even remember the 1948 John Ford directed film Fort Apache starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple. The film involves an honorable and veteran war captain who finds conflict when his regiment is placed under the command of a young, glory hungry lieutenant colonel with no respect for the local Indian tribe.

The Battle of Fort Apache

The Battle of Fort Apache took place on September 1, 1881. It was an engagement between the cavalry of Fort Apache and dozens of mounted White Mountain Apache’s. The attack on Fort Apache was actually a  reprisal for the Battle at Cibicue Creek in which a notorious medicine man had been killed along with a cavalry officer.

theodore roosevelt indian school

Theodore Roosevelt School Dormitory Building

The Fort Apache battle lasted all day but the Apaches more or less stayed outside of the range of the cavalry riflemen. Reinforcements arrived a few days later but by that time the Apaches had scattered into hiding.

Only three American soldiers were wounded and White Mountain Apache casualties were unknown. While the battle itself was not large in scope, it’s repercussions were.

After the battle other groups of Apaches left their newly formed reservations. They either escaped to northern Mexico or joined Geronimo and other Apache leaders in their war against the whites, both military and civilian. Many innocent people were killed in this running conflict. Geronimo was to later surrender at Skeleton Canyon New Mexico in1886. This represented the ending of the Apache Wars.

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First Commanding Officer's Quarters log cabin

The Great Indian Leaders

Geronimo remains a Native American legend much the same way as Cochise, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The difference was that each of these Native American leaders met a different ends.

Cochise was sent to Florida as a captive, returned to Indian Territory and died, Sitting Bull was slain during the uprising that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 and Crazy Horse was killed by a soldier at Fort Robinson Nebraska in 1877. Geronimo like Cochise was sent to Florida as a prisoner only later to be sent to the Indian Territory where he died.

What to See at Fort Apache

Fort Apache is one of the most preserved old forts in the southwest. The twenty-seven historic buildings on the site will give you plenty of opportunities for picture taking.

One interesting group of buildings was part of the original Theodore Roosevelt Indian Boarding School which was established at the fort during the 1920’s. Several of the  school buildings you’ll view were built during the 1930’s by the WPA.

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Cibucue Creek Battle Monument

Other finely restored structures include the commanding officers quarters, the captains quarters and general barracks structures. Visiting Fort Apache is definitely a trip back into history.

Another excellent stop to make is to the Kinishba Ruins.  The ruins are a National Historic Landmark and are located just four miles west of the fort. The Kinishba Ruins are what remains of a pueblo village that was once occupied by ancestors of today’s Zuni and Hopi pueblo tribes. The site was initially excavated during the 1930’s and was partially rebuilt. This historic site dates back to 1200 to 1400 A.D.

Each year there is an opportunity to attend the annual Apache Song and Dance Celebration at the fort. Arts and crafts are on display as well as food vendors, trail hikes and tours of Fort Apache / Theodore Roosevelt School National Historic Landmark. Information can be found at website www.fortapachearizona.org

For additional information regarding planned events, visit website www.fortapachearizona.org

You’ll also enjoy additional TripsIntoHistory photo articles found on the links below.

The Comanche Indians

Stagecoaches in Black Canyon Arizona

Fort Apache State Historic Park is open daily from 7A to sunset. The Nohwike’ Bágowa museum at the historic park is open Monday-Saturday 8am to 5pm during the summer, and Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm during the winter.

(Content and photos copyright TripsIntoHistory)


The Sonora Desert / Fort Yuma Steamboats

An American River Like No Other

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Sonoran Desert

The Colorado is a river that exists in a part of the American Southwest where one would think there would be no river. The Colorado River didn’t flow past mighty settlements like St. Louis, Cincinnati, Memphis and New Orleans. After all, this was the Sonora Desert. The Colorado River passed through hot sands and barren wilderness where next to nothing grew. Vegetation was spares to say the least and even the Native Americans who lived near it had a difficult time to even survive. This was a water stream that penetrated a land where there wasn’t water and for someone to think for a moment that this river, the Colorado and Fort Yuma, would someday be an aorta of commerce was totally laughable at best. the river would carry 500,000 tons of silt and sediment per day, in an average day, through the Grand Canyon.

The Colorado River flow was unlike the large rivers of the midwest. The lower Colorado bisects two large deserts in the southwest, the Sonora Desert on the Arizona side and the Mojave Desert on the California side. To the south of the Mojave Desert was the Salton Basin which was a large depression 235 feet below sea level. This large depression would eventually fill up years later, in 1905, when a levee broke on the lower Colorado, after some tinkering by people trying to divert water to the Los Angeles area. What resulted is today’s Salton Sea which many people now see while flying to Los Angeles or San Diego. Yes, the Salton Sea happened by accident. The Salton Basin is about 70 feet deep, 50 miles long, and 15 miles wide, with a total water area of some 300 square miles.

The Colorado River Was Quite Different

The nature of the water that flowed down the Colorado River was different from any other river in North America.

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Steamboats at Yuma, 1875

The water was extremely silty, especially on the lower Colorado near Fort Yuma. To give you an idea of the nature of the water, prior to the modern day Glen Canyon Dam constructed at Page Arizona, the Colorado River would carry about 500,000 tons of silt and sediment per day, in an average day, through the Grand Canyon. This is what the people of the 1850’s saw when they reached the Colorado. It wasn’t like the Mississippi, the Missouri, the mighty Columbia or the Ohio Rivers. Yet, regardless of the river’s character and the fact that nobody ever thought the lower Colorado would be a busy transportation highway, it became just that.

You’ll also be interested in our articles on the Steamboat Natchez and High Piracy on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

It Was the Right River at the Right Time

The importance of the Colorado River in the 1850’s could not be overstated for those who traversed this arid region of America. Remember, the 1850’s were the early years of American settlement in the Southwest. The end of the Mexican American War gave title to the lands of the southwest to the United States Government. The trails to the southwest out of Missouri and Texas would bring more people than ever through this passageway across the Sonora Desert to California which was also ceded to the U.S. in 1848. Add to that the U.S. Army’s general incursion into the southwest after 1848 and the Colorado River and the future Fort Yuma suddenly became a significant, yet silty, body of water and a bustling port city. The most well known army post built on the river was indeed Fort Yuma on the west side of the Colorado. The fort was first established in 1849 as Camp Calhoun, after a U.S. Senator, and then as Camp Yuma in 1851, and then Fort Yuma in 1852. One of the main reasons the fort was established was to aid in the Yuman War. This was a Native American conflict that ran from about 1850 to 1853. A peace treaty in summer of 1853 was signed and hostilities ended between the Yuman and the United States government.

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Yuma Crossing and the Railroad Bridge in the 1880's

Even though hostilities had ended, supplying Fort Yuma was at best a daunting task. Years later this fort would also be important during the American Civil War when Union troops would be dispatched east to fight the Confederate troops in Arizona who were trying to push west into southern California. Yuma was also the site of the Yuma Territorial Prison.

The Busy Port of Yuma

A lot was happening in Yuma. Supplies would have to be sent by sea from San Diego, around the Baja Peninsula and to the mouth of the Colorado and then sent up on the Colorado with it’s strong currents. Supplies eventually were sent overland from San Diego but it was a difficult journey. Fort Yuma was also a stopping off point for the short lived, but important, Butterfield Overland Stage Line started in 1858 which was carrying passengers and more importantly, mail, along the southern route from Missouri, through Texas, through the Sonora Desert of southern Arizona and then into California. In addition to this, gold was being discovered near the Colorado River and this only added to the importance of transporting people and supplies. People generally follow the transportation routes. In the case of the lower Colorado River, it was really a case of transportation following the flow of people.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

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Warehouse at Yuma Quartermaster's Depot State Historic Park

To send supplies to settlements springing up on and near the Colorado River, a reliable way had to be found. The plan was to send supplies on ocean going vessels south from San Francisco, around the Baja California peninsula and up the lower Colorado by steamboat. As daunting of a task as this was, there were comers who thought they knew a way. The U.S. government took some surveys, particularly north of Yuma, and found that the river could be navigable. Several names emerged.

Captain James Turnbull launched the “Uncle Sam” in November 1852. Turnbull had a contract with the Army to supply river forts, including Fort Mohave to the north of Yuma, and had shipped the parts of his small steamboat from San Francisco in the hold of the larger vessel, named Capacity. The small steamer Turnbull purchased was then assembled at Yuma. Witnessed by Cocopah Indians, smoke belched from the Uncle Sam’s stack, sparks popped from her firebox and the engine shuddered. The Indians were at awe when they saw this strange and unusual craft. Unfortunately, the Uncle Sam had only a 20 HP motor and could haul only 35 tons of supplies at a time. It also took about two weeks to steam from Yuma down to the Gulf of California. At the time, a California newspaper, The Alta California, humorously wrote a story that a passenger found himself eight miles from Yuma by land, but as the boat followed the rivers windings for another 60 miles he found out that he was now 25 miles from Yuma. While Captain Turbull left the area to look for a larger engine for the small 65 foot boat, the Uncle Sam was lost when a drifting timber tore a hole in it.

Next up to bat was George Alonzo Johnson who was operating steamboats on the Sacramento River. Johnson took on the Colorado in 1854. Johnson brought the steamboat General Jessup down to the mouth of the Colorado River by steamer. It had been disassembled before the trip and had to be assembled again before starting upriver. After it was assembled, the General Jessup started carrying both freight and passengers up the river to Yuma. He continued to explore the river further north right up into Nevada. Johnson had good success and founded the George A. Johnson Company which eventually became the largest steamboat company on the Colorado.

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Steamboat Mohave No. 2 at Yuma, 1876

The steamboats employed to run up and down the lower Colorado had to have very shallow drafts. The river’s depth varied greatly with plenty of sandbars. The river was also subject to drastic tidal changes which could make depths unpredictable. This river was nothing like the Sacramento. An old saying at the time was that the great steamboat pilots of the lower Colorado River could navigate up the river on merely “dew”.

The following to events proved once and for all that navigating far to the north of Yuma was very possible. In 1858, Captain George Johnson reached the mouth of a canyon he named Eldorado and also to the mouth of the Las Vegas Wash. A few months after that, a Lieutenant Ives, in his iron hulled Explorer, reached the Black Canyon, even further up river than Johnson. These two voyages proved beyond a doubt that, at high water and with a shallow draft vessel ( possibly only a two foot draft) , shipping was very possible nearly 500 miles upriver from Fort Yuma. Five hundred miles upstream covered a lot of settlements.

The Inevitable Railroad Comes to Yuma

As any history buff knows, the last part of the 1800’s was a time of great change for America’s transportation system. The famed Golden Spike was driven into the ground in Utah in 1869 marking the beginning of the transcontinental railroad. In regards to Fort Yuma, the big change occurred at the hands of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The Southern Pacific didn’t only effect Yuma in a big way, but it’s also credited with the rapid growth of Los Angeles during the last quarter of the 1800’s. The Los Angeles population multiplied starting in the late 1870’s.

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Present day Yuma Amtrak Station

The tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad reached the west bank of the Colorado at Yuma in 1877. Port Isabel, which was the settlement at the end of the river on the Gulf of California delta (also known as the Sea of Cortez), was dismantled and abandoned in 1878. The Southern Pacific made it unnecessary to ship goods around Baja California to the mouth of the Colorado River. As they were often called at the time, “The Steamboats from Hell“, continued their hazardous voyages upriver from Yuma for several years after. Although the names of the companies changed as well as the names of the steamboats, the snags, sandbars and heavy silt of the mighty Colorado still remained. Mining was still going full tilt in these upper areas and the steamboat was the way people received supplies up from Yuma.

The Sanguinetti Museum and Garden

When you find yourself on a western road trip passing Yuma Arizona, you might just want to stop and visit the Sanguinetti House Museum and Garden. It’s located at 240 and 248 Madison Avenue in downtown Yuma. The house was built in the 1870’s by E.F. Sanguinetti, a Yuma merchant. The structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The museum and garden are sponsored by the Arizona Historical Society and offers visitors an excellent glimpse back to Yuma’s boom times, steamboats, settlers, desert fauna and it’s Native American roots.

For those visiting in the Pacific Northwest interested in steamboating, the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria Oregon is one of the finest maritime venues found anywhere.

Two excellent books about Yuma Arizona history are Early Yuma by author Robert Nelson and The Hidden Treasures of Arizona Special Edition by author Jesse Horn.

(Photos are in public domain)