Fort Yuma fire and the Yuma Treaty

Published on October 15, 2014 by Carol

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Yumans along the Colorado River by William Emory, circa 1857.

Fort Yuma fire and the Yuma Treaty

That month a fire started at the fort because of the cook who left the door to his oven open. Wind blew some embers into the walls which turned to flames and engulfed the structure in fire, quickly it spread throughout the post’s makeshift buildings. Fearing an explosion due to the large amount of munitions, the garrison fled to the far side of the parade ground. Captain Davidson, who was described as a coward by Heintzelman on many occasions, went after his personal belongings instead of the ammunition and food which was being salvaged by the some of the others. Davidson then fled to the other side of a nearby hill, to prevent being hit by shrapnel from a potential explosion. In November a major earthquake shook up the area, even altering the course of the Colorado. After the fire, the garrison began constructing rock and adobe walls but all were destroyed by the quake and it was not until the following year that measures were again taken to create a permanent base. For the next several months after the surrender of the Yuma, till the spring of 1853, Heintzelman and various war chiefs negotiated until finally signing a treaty. The war between the Yumans and the United States ended but the final campaign of the conflict was about to be fought.

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Conflict with the Cocopah

As result of the peace, the Cocopah cut their alliance with the Yuma and conflict broke out in May 1853. First the Cocopahs besieged three Yuman villages, killing Chief Macedon, four other warriors and ten women and children. Twelve prisoners were taken and a herd of Yuman horses captured. Cocopahs then massacred Chief Jose Maria’s camp, killing three men and twenty-three women and children. Heintzelman noted that this massacre was an “unprovoked aggression on part of the Cocopah”. A burial detail was formed and sent to the scene of the attack, within Mexican territory and present day Arizona. The bodies were burned according to native American tradition and then the detail returned to the fort. Days later, Chief Maria arrived at Fort Yuma and informed Heintzelman that the high Cocopah chief had released some Yuman women and children but the majority were still in captivity. Maria also told the captain that the Cocopah were retreating into the mountains and that the Yuma were preparing their own raid in retaliation.

The Cocopah also formed an alliance with the Paipai and Halyikwamai and together they outnumbered the Yuman warriors who gathered at Fort Yuma, which was now a center of trade with the Americans. So many warriors at the post alarmed the garrison but the Yumans were not hostile. When about 250 men were assembled, they raided south into Cocopah territory and killed seven warriors and four woman. Simultaneously, the Mohave under Chief Arateve raided Cocopah territory after the Yuma asked them to join in the war. The Mohave, by all accounts, did not want to fight, but because their Yuman friends feared for their safety, the Mohave came to their aid. In the raid, three Cocopah men were killed and two women were taken captive. According to the Mohave, years later, the Cocopah women were captured to be married to Mohave men and by producing a half Cocopah and half Mohave offspring, they would help ensure peace between the two tribes.

When conflict with the Cocopah ceased the Americans at Fort Yuma received a new objective which was to prevent further bloodshed between the native tribes. Chief Arateve went to Fort Yuma where he asked the Americans to deliver a sort of contract to the four other Mohave war chiefs. The four braves were Kapetame, Asikahota, Tapaikuneche and Hatsurama, and with Arateve they were known as the “Five Brave Men”. All ranked equally and all received five letters from the American army, which, if accepted, they would no longer attack other native tibes or American settlers and they would not prevent the army from building forts and roads on their land. If the stipulations were not met the United States would go to war against the Mohave. With some convincing from Aratave, the four other chiefs eventually agreed to be peaceful and the Yuma War came to an end.


Following the Gadsden Purchase in June 1853, the eastern side of the Colorado became part of the United States and though the war was over between the Yuma and the Americans, the United States Army could now launch major military campaigns across the river without having to concern themselves with the Mexican military. War between the United States and the Mohave became a reality in 1858 when warriors attacked American settlers at Beale’s Crossing in Arizona. The attack resulted in the establishment of Fort Mohave and the war ended in 1859 after the Mohave were defeated twice in two significant engagements.

Later the Yumans came into conflict with the Maricopas, and in 1857 the last major battle involving the Yuma was fought. In an engagement at Pima Butte in the Sierra Estrella Mountains, the Maricopas and Pimas defeated and killed well over 100 Yumans and their allies. After which the Yuma were no longer a military power

Source: wikipedia Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2014 Native American Encyclopedia.
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