Sunday, July 22, 2012

Yuma: The Quartermaster Depot

The Quartermaster Depot in Yuma, which also doubles as the Yuma Visitors Center, is a lovely state historic park located near the California border on the Colorado River (see photo at right).  A large map in the Visitors Center explains that “Settlement  of the Southwest hinged upon the Army’s ability to protect American lives and property during the frequent Indian conflicts. 

But, the effectiveness of the soldiers was only as great as the Army’s ability to keep outposts supplied.  The Quartermaster Depot at Yuma was established in 1864 as the primary supply terminal for posts in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas."

Of course, this being the nineteenth century, horses were an important part of Army life and there was a large corral on the grounds for them (see photo at right).  Mules were also stabled here.  In 1906, the Bureau of Reclamation, part of the United States Department of the Interior, took over this building and added an addition to it. 

Nowadays, what one sees when visiting here is a history of the Bureau’s efforts to siphon water from the Colorado River to the surrounding land in Arizona and California.  The purpose was to provide water for irrigation and, in fact, the Yuma region produces 90% of the United States’ yearly lettuce crop.  A canal several yards from the corral building is visible through a fence and apparently is part of the Colorado River Siphon.

The house where the commanding officer of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot and his family lived was built by George Alonzo Johnson in 1959.  It is thought to be the oldest home still extant that was built of adobe in Arizona by an Anglo.  Each room in the house exhibits the furniture and accoutrements of the time period when Army officers resided there.  There is a glass barrier prevents visitors from touching the contents in any of the rooms, though, which accounts for the glare and shadows in the photos accompanying this blog entry. 

And, had there been cross-ventilation, the temperature inside the building would undoubtedly have been somewhat cooler but as it was, it was extremely hot and uncomfortable.  I hope for the sake of the people who actually lived there, especially since they wore much heavier clothes than we do nowadays, that they found it more tolerable.  The master bedroom room (see partial view in photo above, top) was adjacent to the children’s bedroom and they occupied one side of the house; on the other, connected by a hallway, lay the dining room and parlor (see partial view in second photo above; i.e. fourth from top of screen).  The kitchen and servant’s quarters were in a separate building only a few feet away.  The “servant” was usually a soldier from the post and a sign explained performing this duty earned him additional pay and his own room to sleep in.   

In 1872, the Army constructed a building that the Quartermaster could use as his office (see photo at right).  It was the last building that the Army built on the grounds.  It currently has displays about Army uniforms and their insignia, and about its use from 1875 to 1891 by the Signal Corps as a telegraph office and weather station (see photo at right of the desk where the telegraph equipment was) until the Army left in 1883.  When the Weather Service was formed as an independent agency in 1891, separate from the Army, civilians maintained the weather station on the grounds through 1949.

Six months’ worth of supplies was always kept at the Yuma Quartermaster Depot.  They were stored in a large building (see photo below) which is now a transportation museum.  Inside the huge, barn-like structure are numerous vehicles ranging from an 1846 wagon used by the Mormon Battalion  to dump wagons from the late nineteenth century used in the construction of the Yuma Territorial Prison and for harvesting grain to an Army escort wagon, to early twentieth-century combustion-engine harvesters and cars modified as wagons for business purposes.  A small room off the central room showcases the importance of steamboat travel in the area, for both business and pleasure, and contains maps, a hand cart for transporting goods, and a model of the Cocopah steamboat.

Making a circuit of the lovely, well-manicured grounds of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot and exploring all the buildings should take about two hours.  There are picnic tables set up by the canal and in a cooler season would be a very nice place to relax.  The Visitors Center has plenty of free brochures about the area as well as a gift shop; it is air-conditioned, which provided pleasant relief from the stuffy interiors of the other buildings on the premises.

If Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry did take that ride down the Colorado River, as Heyes suggested at the end of Six Strangers in Apache Springs, maybe they transferred to a steamboat and made it all the way to Yuma.  If they did, they might have ended up at the Quartermaster Depot looking for work at the conclusion of their journey.

Website for the Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park: