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Sonoran Desert Landscape Sunrise

O U R   R I C H   H I S T O R Y

Named for the big bend in the Gila River, the Town of Gila Bend figures prominently in the early history of the southwest. Located on an historic route of travel, for centuries Gila Bend has has been a place for weary travelers to stop and rest. 


A large Hohokam settlement once thrived here and remnants of their platform mound and canal system still remain. The Hohokam had created an important center for trade. Those that stopped to rest and regroup in Gila Bend include famous guides Father Kino, Juan Bautista de Anza, Kit Carson and Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Lewis and Clark Expedition guide, Sacagawea. Well-known groups of travelers that stopped and rested include the Mormon Battalion and numerous 49'ers on their way to the California gold fields. The Butterfield Overland Stage route had a timed stop in Gila Bend. Known as the Gila Station, the stop was built in 1858, burned down by marauding Apache and rebuilt. The Oatman family tragedy occurred near Gila Bend. Of the family of nine, one survived the massacre, one died in captivity and one, Olive Oatman, was ransomed from the Mohave's with whom she had lived in captivity for many years.

When the railroad laid its tracks in 1879, the town moved four miles southwest to its present location to take advantage of the economic opportunity. Portions of the 1879 Wagon Road and 1920's unpaved 'highway' from Yuma to Phoenix are still visible today. Travelers in the 1920's and 1930's enjoyed rare ice cold drinks and fresh ice cream when stopping at the Stout's Hotel in Gila Bend, which had its own ice generating plant.

Today, Gila Bend, a small rural community, continues to be a transportation hub and a community that looks to the future. It is home to the Gatlin Archaeological Site, a National Historic Landmark, the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, and is a gateway to the Sonoran Desert National Monument.


The abundant and varied history of Gila Bend is better appreciated in person. To learn even more about the rich history of Gila Bend, take a tour through our museum!

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