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Friday, March 27, 2009

Yuma Territorial Prison

With another beautiful day on tap, we decided to check out the area. First stop - Cracker Barrel! But, of course. :) This was #69 for those of you helping us keep track.

After breakfast, it was on to the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park. The prison was built out of necessity - there were too many prisoners to keep them in the local town/county jails. There was fear of escape from the local jails so it was decided to build larger, more contained prison. It was originally meant to be built in Phoenix, but through some quick thinking on the part of a couple of Yuma politicians, the location was changed to Yuma. These politicians simply lined out the word, "Phoenix" on the authorization before the Legislature and wrote, "Yuma." Interesting, huh?

Construction on the prison began in late April, 1876 and the first prisoners walked through the doors on July 1, 1876. Those men were also the ones who helped build the prison in which they would serve their time. During its 33 years of operation, a total of 3,069 prisoners were incarcerated here; including between 30 and 40 women.

The park sits up on a hill overlooking the Colorado River. At the time it was built, the junction of the Colorado and Gila Rivers was here. But now, due to the damming up of the Gila River, that junction is now four or five miles away.

The Main Guard Tower sits over top of the water cistern. Since the weather becomes so hot in the summer, the water tended to evaporate, so a platform was placed over the cistern and then the tower was built on top of that. From this tower you can see the Colorado River meander along, as well as the site of Fort Yuma, which is now gone.

It was kinda spooky walking into the cells, especially the Dark Cell which was used for the ultimate punishment. Prisoners who caused trouble and would not adhere to the rules were put in the Dark Cell and provided only bread and water during their time there. The cell was only five feet tall and sometimes there were more than one person in it at a time. There is lore that says the guards would drop snakes and scorpions through a hole in the roof to torture the prisoners. Of course, there is no record of that.

Randy walking into the Dark Cell
Main cell block
A typical cell
There is a cemetery onsite in which 104 are buried. In all, 111 prisoners died during the prison's operations. Not sure where those other 7 are. We decided there must be multiple bodies buried at each grave because there aren't 104 graves in the cemetery.

Due to overcrowding, a new prison was built in Florence, AZ. The last prisoner left Yuma in 1909. In 1910 the Yuma Union High School took over the facility and used it until 1914. During the 1920s hobos used the cells for lodging while riding the trains. Many homeless folks lived there during the Depression.

This facility was also the site of several movies that starred John Wayne, Gene Autry, Ernest Borgnine, etc. It is said that the door to the New Yard was lowered so that the men looked taller on screen than they were in life. :)

Here's some beauty we found:

The "Ocean-to-Ocean" Bridge is located beside the park. The building of this bridge in 1914 meant that folks could now travel from Florida to California without having to take a ferry across the Colorado River. That drive could now be totally done on land.

The gray bridge in the background of the picture is the ocean-to-ocean bridge. The black bridge in the front is a railroad bridge.

It was a good day of sightseeing. Learning the history of our nation is one of the greatest perks to this lifestyle. We find many interesting places along the way.

Tomorrow is shaping up to be another at-home day. Sunday we take off for San Diego. Until the next time . . .

1 comment:

  1. I heard ya'll went to prison, just thought I would check in to see if you needed anything, cigarettes, magazines, a hidden file maybe? :)