Arizona Territorial Prison At Yuma
2002, 2008, 2010

The first thing you notice as you get out of your car at the Territorial Prison at Yuma is the view of the COLORADO RIVER:

©JAL 2002

©JAL 2008
We saw the Ocean to Ocean bridge and the train bridge from the other side at Gateway Park

Those in the OBSERVATORY could see even farther. The guards used to walk the prison's wall rims and there was a footbridge connecting the top wall walk to the observatory.

©JAL 2002

©JAL 2008

Click for full size view...

View of the 'Sallyport' entrance, as seen from observatory tower steps.
The term 'sallyport' comes from the Spanish "salir por la puerta"- meaning "to go out the door."
©JAL 2010

There is a SCALE MODEL of how the prison looked in its heyday at the prison museum, which was built in 1939. The museum was constructed by volunteer labor, on top of the old mess hall location, with locally raised and federal funds in a record 60 days.

The prison ITSELF was first built in 1876.

The cells were constructed of STRAP IRON AND GRANITE ROCK, which was plastered and white-washed. The iron was shipped in from California via steamboat, but the prisoners themselves quarried the granite from on site.

Each of those GATES led to a cell, approximately 9ft by 12ft across, into which six men would be placed. On both long sides of the cell, three beds were stacked. 'Bed' is a loose term. The prisoners originally had wooden beds, with straw mats, but the straw attracted bed bugs. So the wooden and straw 'beds' were scrapped, for use of narrow iron 'beds'. No doubt the prisoners got better sleep on the hard iron surface, for at least their sleep was not disturbed by bed bug bites.

Prisoners were transported by means of a CAGED CART. The main cell block was designed to hold 204 men, but up to 240 had been crammed into it at one time. Those prisoners really had to work, too. Forty eight hours a week was devoted to labor, either in the fields, quarry, adobe yard, or on assignment in a shop.

The prison was self-sufficient. Anything a prisoner could not make himself or barter for, he had to do without. Every thing from tin cups, silver spurs, clothing, shoes, breads and desserts were made in the various workshops. There was no formal program of rehabilitation, but more knowledgable inmates trained willing beginners.

Info card quote:
"Several prisoners in the Territorial Prison are expert lace makers and their work is very neat and desirable." Arizona Sentinel - 1899
©JAL 2010

In 1902, a hospital was constructed on top of the main cell block, with a dispensary, doctor's office, operating room, attendants room, and consumptive ward. The bathrooms even had flush toilets there, and one of the earliest electrical generating plants furnished power for light and a ventilation system.

In 1941, the city took over the prison and made it a historical display. Twenty years later, the Arizona State Park claimed it. Nowadays, SKITS are performed on a colorful stage. Various performers travel from one old West history spot to another. There were many dressed in period costumes the day we visited. I overheard one such man tell another how a skit he'd performed began as a spontaneous thing at Tombstone, another important place in old West history.

Not so much now, but from 1876 to 1909, the thirty three years this prison operated, those gates would have seemed awful narrow. In 1909, the prison was closed because of overcrowding, and the last prisoners sent to the new state prison in Florence, Arizona.

News of 2010:
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park was slated to be closed at the end of March because of budget cuts enacted late last year. But many people in Yuma came together to keep this from happening. Over $70,000 was raised, well above the $50,000 goal. Formerly operated by Arizona State Parks, it is now under the aegis of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area.

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