Quechan tradition describes their creation, along with that of other lower Colorado River tribes, by their culture hero, Kukumat. After Kukumat died, his son Kumastamxo took the people to the sacred mountain Avikwame, near the Present city of Needles, California. There he gave them bows and arrows and taught them how to cure illness and then sent them down from the mountain in various directions. The ancestors of the Quechan settled along the Colorado River to the south of the Mohave. Little archaeological evidence of the Quechan past has survived the Colorado's flooding. The Quechan and some of the other lower Colorado tribes may have begun as rather small patrilineal bands that gradually grew into larger "tribal" groupings. What caused the formation of these tribes is not altogether clear; the interrelated factors probably included population increase from a generally reliable and abundant riverbottom horticulture; competition with neighboring riverine groups for control of lucrative trade routes between the Pacific Coast and cultures to the east of the Colorado (including, for a time, the great Hohokam Culture between about A.D. 1050 and 1200); and increasingly strong social bonds between small groups living next to one another along the river's banks.
In 1540 a Spanish expedition under Hernando de Alarcón was the first group of Europeans to reach Quechan territory. For the next three and a half centuries the Quechans were in intermittent contact with various Spanish, Mexican, and American expeditions intent on developing the land route between southern California and the interior to the east of the Colorado River. The Quechan controlled the best crossing point along the lower Colorado, just to the south of where it is joined by the Gila. During this time, too, warfare was endemic between the Quechan and other tribes living along the Colorado and Gila rivers. No permanent White settlements were attempted at the crossing until 1779, when Spanish settlers and soldiers arrived. In 1781, after two years of Spanish depredations, the Quechans attacked them, killing some and driving the others away. The tribe retained control of the area until the early 1850s, when the U.S. Army defeated them and established Fort Yuma at the crossing. Just across the river from the fort a small White American town soon sprang up to cash in on the increasing overland traffic between California and the East, and to the north and south along the Colorado itself.
A reservation was set aside for the Quechan on the west (California) side of the river in 1884, but most of its acreage, including some of its best farmland, was lost to the tribe by the fraudulent 1893 agreement with the U.S. government. The government restored twenty-five thousand acres of the original reservation in 1978, minus most of the best farmland taken earlier. For most of the twentieth century the tribe has been attempting to create a secure economic base for the Reservation, one to replace the relative abundance of the traditional riverbottom farming that gave out in the early 1900s.