In the spring of 1877 the Southern Pacific Railroad was preparing to build the Transcontinental Railroad east along the 32nd Parallel through Arizona. After getting permission from the federal government to cross the Colorado River at Yuma they spent the summer building a bridge.
Ironically, when they started to lay the track across the bridge another branch of the government decided they couldn’t build a railroad line cross a military reservation.
At the time there were only five soldiers manning Fort Yuma, the commanding officer, Major Thomas Dunn, a doctor, a sergeant an enlisted man and a prisoner. With the exception of the prisoner, it was their duty to stop the railroad come hell or high water.
On the evening of September 29th, 1877, fearing the track layers might try surreptitiously to lay the tracks at night Major Dunn posted a guard on the bridge but by eleven o’clock the major decided the tracklayers were asleep he called off the guard. The construction crew waited until the guard went off duty then they quietly began laying down track. Just before dawn a rail was accidentally dropped with a resounding noise awakening the garrison.
The major, a sergeant and a private. Only the prisoner remained at the fort while the three rushed to the bridge with fixed bayonets. They stood bravely on the tracks but quickly realized they were no match for the approaching carload of rails was rolling towards them. Deciding discretion was the better part of valor they jumped out of the way retreated back to Fort.Yuma. That morning the Arizona Express rolled triumphantly into the town of Yuma.