Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Yuman
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Member of an American Indian people living in the lower Colorado River valley by the mid-16th century. They gave their name to the Yuman branch of the Hokan linguistic family, a group of American Indian languages of California and western Mexico also spoken by the Maricopa and Mojave. The Yuman farmed areas that flooded annually, using irrigation trenches, although hunting and gathering were also important. They were aggressive warriors, frequently at war with the Mojave, and travelled great distances on foot to raid neighbouring peoples. Most now live on reservations on the California–Arizona border, where agriculture, sand and gravel quarrying, and tourism are the main economic activities. They number some 7,300 (2000).

The Yuman cultivated maize (corn), squash, and beans in plots that were usually passed from father to son. They lived in large communal rectangular houses that were built with a log frame and four-pitched roof, the whole structure being covered with thatch and sand to insulate against the heat. They wore little clothing because of the hot climate, but tattooed and painted their bodies. Yuman society was loosely organized and consisted of bands of around 130 people led by a headman; these would sometimes come together under a chief, particularly for religious festivals and warfare. However, for most of the year the Yuman remained in their extended family groups, either on scattered farms or in loose settlements. Dreams were important to their spiritual beliefs, and alcohol was taken during religious ceremonies to induce intoxicated dreams which were thought to have supernatural potency.

The Yuman occupied both sides of the Colorado River for 80 km/50 mi from just below its junction with the Gila River. The first European to mention them was the Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino in 1701. The region was explored in the following years, but their aggressive nature deterred early settlement. The Spanish attempted to establish a mission in 1781, but it was quickly destroyed and several priests were killed. In 1852 Fort Yuma was set up by the US army to protect white settlement in the region. A reservation was established in 1884, but the Yuman were forced to sell much of this land in 1893, and in 1912 they were restricted to 4 ha/10 acres per person. In 1978 10,000 ha/25,000 acres of their original reservation lands were restored.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.