Did steamboats bring passengers and supplies from California to Arizona?

Sue Burwell

Scottsdale, Arizona

The 2,100-mile monthly voyage from California to Arizona took only 12 days by the steamer, Newbern, in 1871. First class tickets cost $90 and steerage cost $40. Passengers traveled another four to five days to get from Port Isabel at the mouth of the Colorado, upstream to Fort Yuma in Arizona, then four more weeks to get from Fort Yuma to Fort Mohave. Before the arrival of the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe Railroads in the early 1880s, steamboats were Arizona’s main link to the outside world.

Young Army bride Martha Summerhayes moved to Arizona with her husband in August 1874. In Vanished Arizona, she wrote: “The incessant wind was like a breath from a furnace.” Following endless delays at Port Isabel, they boarded the steamer, Gila, and headed for Yuma. The officers and their wives rode on the paddle-wheeler, which towed open barges holding the enlisted men.

The river port city was a welcome sight. “After 23 days of heat and glare, and scorching winds, and stale food,” she wrote, “Fort Yuma seemed like paradise.”

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