Doing Time at Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
In 1876, seven inmates built a prison in the desert in southwestern Arizona. Today, the foundation they built still stands and it offers you a glimpse into Arizona’s unique history. It’s Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park and it’s well worth a stop on your next Arizona vacation.
Justice, Old West-Style
The prison was operated for 33 years and in that time it gained a fearsome reputation. It housed a total of over 3,000 inmates. The inmates were mostly men but counted about 30 women among their ranks. Many of them were notable criminals like gunslinger Pete Spence and stagecoach robber Pearl Hart. Their crimes were various, ranging from larceny and polygamy to cold-blooded murder. Today, the prison is a living museum of the Old West.
In spite of its fearsome reputation and desolate environs, the prison was quite humane. In fact, it was a model of modernity in its time. It had electricity, running water, and flush toilets, which were unheard of in prison institutions at the time. Some people even referred to it as “The Country Club on the Colorado.”
Things only got inhumane when prisoners acted out. Escapees, once captured, were put into an old-fashioned ball and chain to ensure they wouldn’t be running again any time soon. Violent inmates were kept in a solitary room, known as “the dark room,” a part of the facility so eerie that many modern-day visitors don’t even want to enter it.
Doing Time in Yuma
Today, the prison has been rebuilt and refurbished in order to give you an idea of what it really felt like to be inside its four walls back in its heyday. The main gate at the front is the only original adobe structure that still stands. But a walk through its hallways and cells gives you a feeling of actually being there.
In addition to tours through the facility, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is full of educational information that teaches about the prison, its inmates, and old Arizona. The exhibits are exhaustively detailed. There is no lack of information here. The exhibits bring the prison to life.
Things to Do at Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
The entrance fee to the park is extremely reasonable, especially considering that it’s an attraction where you can easily spend an afternoon. There are guided tours where you can learn about the prison, or you can take a self-guided tour and experience it on your own.
There are a number of events that are held at the park. There’s a regular gun show where actors dress up and shoot it out. The gun show has a full story line with an ending that will surprise you. It’s especially fun for kids. The Old West reenactment event Gathering of the Gunfighters is also held here.
Once you’ve toured the prison, there are many other things to do here. You can walk around the prison cemetery. No inmates were executed here, but 111 died while serving time. There is also a hiking trail, picnic area, and gift shop.
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park offers a truly unique Arizona experience and it’s conveniently located near other southern Arizona attractions. Click here for unique things to do at Arizona State Parks!