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Who Are the Yuma Indians?

The Yuma reservation is located north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
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  • Written By: Kevin P. Hanson
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2014
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The Yuma Indians are a Native American tribe connected to the Quechan, Yuman, Kwtsan, and Kwtsaan American Indian tribes. Yuma Indians have traditionally resided in and around the Colorado River Valley in the southwestern region of the United States. Many members of these Indian nations live on the Fort Yuma-Quechan Indian Reservation. The reservation is north of the Mexican border and includes more than 45,000 acres in parts of Arizona, Baja California, and California.

Quechan and Yuma Indian creation mythology springs from their cultural hero, Kukumat. Legend says that Kukumat's son, Kumastamxo, led the tribe to a sacred mountain called Avikwame in California. There he presented them with bows and arrows and instructed them on ways to cure illness. The Yuma, Quechan, and other Arizona tribes came down from the mountain and settled in an area south of the Mojave Desert along the Colorado River.

Some other elemental religious beliefs of the Yuma tribe involve a spiritual power that comes to them in their dreams and through interaction with the souls of the dead. This dream power is said to have been created by Kukumat and endowed with spiritual authority by Kumastamxo. Yuma Indians and their related tribes believed that they had guardian spirits who used special voices to manifest themselves. These guardian spirits were said to live either on the sacred mountain Avikwame or on one of the many sacred grounds in the area.

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Yuma Indians lived in a very hot region of the U.S. To try and keep their houses cool, the door always faced south and the relative coolness of the ground was used as a kind of air conditioner. A traditional home for the mainly agricultural Yuma Indians consisted of a log-and-pole frame, a woven covering of arrow weed or some other readily available substance, and topped off with a layer of sand. These structures were approximately 20-by-25 feet (about 6-by-7.5 meters) in size and primarily conformed to a rectangular or square shape. It was customary for several members of a family to live in one these dwellings.

The Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza was the first European to have noteworthy contact with the Yuma Indians, in the winter of 1774. Anza, the Quechan chief, and three other members of the tribe traveled to Mexico City in 1776 in an ultimately successful effort to convince the Viceroy of New Spain to establish a mission on the tribe's land. Spanish settlers were not all given a warm welcome to the Yuma Indian's territory, however. In July of 1781, tribal members attacked and killed four priests and 30 soldiers. The Yuma Indian tribe regained control over the area and held it until the early 1850s. During that period, the U.S. Army fought and defeated the tribe, and established Fort Yuma.

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