Yuma Territorial Prison

We have finished up our work camping in Yuma, and have moved on to the Phoenix area for a week of relaxation.  I will do a final post on our work camping experience, but I wanted to finish up on our Yuma posts first.  We always enjoy visiting museums and historical sites, and spent a few hours with our friends Dave and Marilyn visiting the old prison in town.

On July 1, 1876, the Yuma Territorial Prison opened its gates for the first time to prisoners, and continued to accept prisoners, both male and female, until it closed in 1909.  The last prisoners were transferred to the new Arizona State Prison in Florence, Arizona.

The prison has an interesting history, and is worth visiting if you are in the Yuma area.  Many of the original cell blocks remain, but a lot of the buildings and exterior walls have been demolished to make room for the railroad, or were destroyed in a fire.  This is a photograph of the prison complex when it was in full operation.  At the time, the Colorado River came right up to the rocks.

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The main guard tower was reconstructed on its original site.  The Sally Port remains intact, as well as the buildings behind it, which are not visible on this photo.

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Main Guard Tower

The Sally Port is where the prisoners entered/exited the prison.  It was large enough to hold a covered wagon, with both doors locked, for unloading the prisoners.

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Six prisoners were assigned to each cell, and in 1901, iron bunks were installed, since the wooden bunks became severely infested with bed bugs.

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Marilyn, Dave and Dan

This is the exterior of the six-person cell blocks.   The cage on the left is part of the “incorrigible” ward that was built in 1904, and consisted of five steel cages.

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When prisoners misbehaved, they were sent to the “dark cell,” where they endured 24 hours of darkness, along with snakes and bats.  As part of the guided tour, you go down the hallway into the dark cell, to experience what it was like.  As we discovered, the bats are still there…they didn’t like the flash photography (you can see a few in the photo on the right)

The Yuma prison was “co-ed”, and twenty-nine women spent time in prison (many for adultery).  They had a separate cell that was a bit “nicer.”

The prisoners, not surprisingly, hated the place, but the local community thought the prison was more like a country club.  The museum contains a lot of interesting information about the prisoners, life at the time, and a display of weapons.

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The Yumans perspective:

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The prisoners perspective:

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In 1910, the Yuma high school burned down, and classes were held in the prison from 1910 – 1914 while a new school was being built.  When the Yuma high school football team upset a team from Phoenix, those fans complained it was ‘criminal’ and the school decided to adopt the nickname “Criminals.”   That name remains in place today, and their mascot is the face of a hardened criminal.  It’s the only school in the country where you can rightfully call the students criminals!

Quote for the day:  “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” – Victor Hugo

2 thoughts on “Yuma Territorial Prison

  1. Hope you enjoyed Yuma and Phoenix area. We especially enjoy Mesa area as so much to do. Where do you go next? We hope to be in Montana/ND/SD/Utah and possibly Canada (Baniff) this summer

    • We will be in AZ until the end of April, then a slow trek north to the Tetons for the summer. Sounds like you have a nice summer planned out. If you will be coming to The Tetons or Yellowstone, let us know!

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