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The Quechan tribe, also known as the Yuma, is a Native American Indian tribe, whose name is pronounced “kwuh-tsan” and means “those who descended.” The tribe originated along the Colorado River in eastern California and western Arizona. In 1852, the U.S. military took control of the Yuma region, and the Indians’ power there quickly declined. By 1884, the U.S. government had established the 44,000-acre Fort Yuma Reservation for the Quechan tribe near Yuma, Arizona. The tribe continues to live there today.
The Quechan tribe originally lived in huts along the lower Colorado River, where they farmed and fished. Farming accounted for only half of the tribe’s food because of the unpredictable flood patterns of the river. Their diet typically consisted of wheat, beans, corn, squash, and melon. They also hunted deer and rabbit and fished for salmon, bass, and other fish. The Indians were nomadic, traveling as far away as the Pacific Ocean at times.
The members of the tribe normally lived in small settlements of about 100 people each that were divided into family groups of 25 at certain times of the year. These separate settlements were necessary in order to farm the bottomlands of the river. A headman typically led each settlement, although a civil chief and a war chief governed the tribe as a whole.
The Quechan tribe fought with other American Indian tribes in order to maintain control of the strategic Yuma crossing of the Colorado River. In the 1700s, after befriending the Quechans, the Spanish established a settlement near the river crossing hoping to gain control of it, and also convert the Indians to Christianity. The tribe rebelled against the Spanish in 1781 and destroyed the settlement, killing 55 of the inhabitants, and taking the rest captive. The Quechans retained control of the crossing and operated a ferry there until the California gold rush began.
Today, the Fort Yuma Quechan Reservation with its 2,475 residents continues to be a thriving community. The Quechan tribe leases not only its farmland, but also a sand and gravel operation. The Indians also take advantage of the year-round warm weather and the millions of automobiles that pass through the reservation, traveling between Phoenix, Arizona, and San Diego, California, by providing a grocery store, bingo hall, museum, and five RV parks.