Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe’s reservation is 69 square miles that spans the Colorado River, with land in both Yuma County and Imperial County, California. The name Quechan is a Spanish approximation of what the Quechan’s called themselves– Kwatáan–“Those who descended.” The word Yuma itself was given to the Quechan by the Spanish, who noted the smoke from their many cooking fires. Yuma comes from the Spanish word for smoke, humo. The Quechan relied on the Colorado for farming and hunting. They also controlled the crossing of the Colorado, making them an important entity in the region. They had identified where rock features slowed the Colorado to a fordable flow. Their leader, Olleyquotequiebe, had met Father Francisco Garcés during Garcés previous journeys into the region in the early 1770s. Garcés was liked by the area tribes, and it was he who introduced Olleyquotequiebe to Anza during the 1774 expedition. Christened Salvador Palma by the Spanish, Olleyquotequiebe saw value in good relations with the Spanish. The Spanish considered him to be leader of all of the area tribes that they collectively called Yuman. Olleyquotequiebe and his people enthusiastically greeted Anza when he returned in 1775 with Spanish colonists, and the Quechan helped the Spanish ford the Colorado River with their many livestock and wagons. Three Quechan even carried Father Garcés across the river face up. Quechan guides further accompanied the Anza Party into what is now Mexico before heading north into Alta California. The relationship between the Spanish and the Quechan would sour as the Spanish sought to control the crossing for themselves, and Spanish livestock overgrazed on Quechan crops. On the morning of July 17, 1781, Olleyquotequiebe led several hundred warriors, including those from other tribes, against the soldiers and colonists at the Mission of La Purisima Concepcion del Rio Colorado and the Mission San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuñer. Victorious, Olleyquotequiebe threw the symbols of Catholicism into the Colorado River and declared the end of Spanish influence in Quechan lands. The Yuma Revolt of 1781 once again placed the Quechan in a position of power, and the Spanish never retook the overland crossing Alta California.
However, changing international politics and new trade routes would undermine Quechan power and influence in the coming decades. After this area became part of the United States in 1848 steamboats would travel up the Colorado River to Fort Yuma, where the supplies were then distributed to U.S. outposts throughout the Southwest from 1851 to 1883. In 1884 the federal government established the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation at the site of decommissioned Fort Yuma.
Today, the Fort Union Quechan Indian Tribe maintains its agricultural heritage farming thousands of acres and leasing land to area farmers. It works to preserve its Kwatáan language through school programs, and operates several tourism-related businesses including its Quechan Casino Resort. Today the Colorado River is crossed via I-8, the Kumeyaay Highway. It is still within Quechan land.