This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why the lower left part of Arizona angles up


If you've studied your Arizona history, you know that the area south of the Gila River (which is just south of Phoenix) down to the current border of Mexico was purchased by the United States from Mexico in 1853. It was called the Gadsden Purchase, by the way, if you want to look it up.

But even if you know that, you may be wondering why there is that angle there going up to Yuma? Maybe you've heard that it was a surveying error? Or maybe people got lost in the desert? No, it was intentional, and it had to do with the importance of the Gulf of California.

Take a look at a map of Baja California. Now travel back in time to before any railroads were built to Arizona. The easiest route, believe it or not, was waaaayyyy around the tip of Baja, and upstream to Arizona City (now called Yuma), then along the Gila River to Tucson, and Phoenix. And while the railroads made this process obsolete only a few decades after the Gadsden Purchase, the country of Mexico had no interest in seeing their west coastline become a place filled with American ships. That is, if access to the Gulf of California had been included in the Gadsden Purchase, the United States would have had a strong incentive to use the Gulf of California as a seaport.

It was an excellent strategic move on the part of the Mexican government. It discouraged foreign ships from using the Gulf, and the United States was forced to find another way, which they did, overland with railroads. And it was such a successful strategy, that nowadays very few people realize that but for that angle, Arizona would have had a seaport.


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