Yuma Territorial Prison

While we were in Yuma, AZ, we visited the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park.  This prison opened in 1875 while Arizona was still a U.S. territory.  For the next 33 years the prison held a total of 3,069 prisoners, including 20 women.  The prison was under continuous construction, and the labor was provided by the prisoners.  The last prisoner left the prison in 1909.

The Yuma Union High School occupied the prison from 1910-1914.  When the High School football team play against Phoenix, they unexpectedly won.  The Phoenix team called the Yuma team “Criminals.”  Following that game Yuma High adopted the nickname with pride, and they are sometimes referred to as the “Crims.”  Their symbol is the face of a hardened criminal and their school’s merchandise shop is called the Cell Block.

You enter this historic park through a gift shop (of course!).  One of the museum workers takes you outside, tells you a little about the prison, and gives you a map.  We took a “self guided” tour, but you can get a guided tour, I think, if it’s arranged in advance.  Most people just do the self guided thing.

It was kind of hot the day we toured the prison (90+ degrees).  I could NOT even imagine how hot it would have been in one of those cells with SIX inmates per cell during the REALLY hot summertime!  With no windows, there would have been NO way to even get a breeze through most of the cells.  The whole time we were in the prison, all I could think about was HOW miserable it must have been to be a prisoner here back in the late 1800s.

Here are a few of the pictures I took.  The first several pics are inside the museum, and, if you zoom in, you might be able to read some of the interesting history.  After those, the pictures are of the actual prison (or what is left of it and has been restored).



Three of the more notorious women prisoners.



A photo of what the prison looked like perched on the bluff of the Colorado River in the early 1900s.



Each cell housed six prisoners who slept on these narrow bunk beds.



That’s a pretty tough looking prisoner!



Two bunk beds with three beds each. MAYBE the cell was 10 feet x 8 feet. With only one man in the cell there would barely be room to turn around. Can you imagine SIX men inside?

The dark cell was just that:  DARK.  They dug a room out of the solid granite with no windows and one door.  It was used as a type of solitary confinement for punishing wayward prisoners.  They put an iron cell inside this granite room.  The iron cell was to keep the prisoner (or prisoners) from jumping the guards when they brought in their food which was bread and water once a day.  There was one small hole through the top of the dark cell to let in air.  Sometimes the guards would drop a snake or scorpion down that hole just to watch and see what the prisoners would do.


Entrance to the dark cell.


This is the hole in the ceiling – the only place for air and light to come in (other than when the door opened). The ceiling looked like it was 2 feet thick, or more, of solid rock.


This is the floor of the iron cell. It sure wasn’t very big. It looked as if this iron cell was a lot smaller than the regular cells.


Yep! It was kind of creepy in the dark cell. I was SO glad to get out of there!

We walked around the prison “yards” and tried to imagine how hot it would be there in the summertime when the temperatures were at least 15 degrees hotter than the day we were there.



Much of the prison yard wall was destroyed or carried off as building materials for other structures after the prison closed and before it was deemed an historical site.


Several more prison cells were added in the latter years.



The bell was used to warn the town when prisoners escaped. When the prison closed, it was used at a local church. Of course, Jack HAD to ring the bell. Believe me – it was LOUD!

As we left the prison and museum, we climbed to the top of the main guard tower.  It was the only guard tower left from the original prison.  The views from the guard tower were gorgeous!



The building in this picture is the gift shop where you enter the prison museum and prison.  There are two bridges behind the building that cross the Colorado River.  The darker one in the front was built by the railroad;  the silver one in the back (you can barely see it) is for cars.  


The building on the left is the museum.


If you look closely, or zoom in, you can see the Colorado River. The prison was built on a bluff overlooking the river.

After we left the prison, we drove across the bridge over the Colorado River.  On the other side, at the top of a hill was an old mission.  Just passed the mission was a casino.  What a MIX of old history and modern times!  There was a state park right below the bridges and people were swimming in the river.



The Colorado River. It was so hot the day we visited the prison that I seriously considered jumping in the river.

Touring the prison gave me the opportunity to learn more about the history of the Yuma, Arizona, area.  I’m beginning to realize what a RICH history each place we visit has and how much each area contributed to the building and development of our wonderful country!

After leaving the prison, we went back to the RV to load everything up and get ready to leave the next morning for our next location.  I’ll tell you where we are headed in the next post.

So, for now ….. “On the Road Again!”


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maria Sherfield
    Apr 06, 2018 @ 00:50:07

    Very interesting and great pictures!


  2. Betty Huffman
    Apr 06, 2018 @ 05:07:15

    Thank you!


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