Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona, just for fun. Advertising-free, supported by my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

From San Francisco, California to Wickenburg, Arizona in the 1860s, via Yuma

When gold was discovered in Wickenburg in 1862, it suddenly became very important to find the best route between there and San Francisco. And that route, which went through Yuma, only makes sense if you time travel, and follow the water.

With due respect to places like Los Angeles and San Diego, in the 1860s the only city that really mattered in California was San Francisco. It was the most important seaport on the west coast, and everything went through there, including a lot of money. And the amount of gold in Arizona got a lot of attention, you can be sure!

Ships sailed in and out of San Francisco constantly, to and from every port in the world. Getting a ship to Arizona took a bit of work, but they did it. Actually Arizona isn't really all that far away from the ocean - take a look at a map and zoom out. Something that people rarely think about nowadays is the Gulf of California, which comes within a few miles of Arizona. In fact, the United States tried to buy that bit of land from Mexico to use as a seaport in 1853, and failed. The Mexican Government snipped the lower left edge off to stop that. You can Google the Gadsen Purchase if you wanna find out more.

Since a ship can't sail up the Colorado River, whatever had to be shipped had to be transferred there at the mouth of the Colorado, onto something else. It must have been brutally difficult! But there was a lot of money in gold, so it was done. And there a couple of other things to consider, water, and defense.

The water was the Gila River, and the defense came from an alliance of the Indians who lived along the Gila, including the Yuma, Maricopa, and Pima people. And if you know your Arizona history, you know that north of the Gila River, in the Salt River Valley, was the war zone. Apaches.

The route crossed the Salt River at about where Phoenix International Raceway is nowadays and went along the eastern edge of the White Tank Mountains, not too far from where I'm typing this now in Glendale. Every once in a while I look at those mountains and wonder about how people did it, and why. Gold. As it's done for thousands of years, gold brought wealth, even at the risk of death. And without that gold, Phoenix would not have succeeded, and without the alliance, there would have been no gold.

The best resource I've found for figuring out all of this is the 1915 History of Arizona by Thomas Farish.

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