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Historic Yuma prison hosts re-enactment showdown Jan. 14 & 15
ARIZONA – More than a dozen Old West re-enactment groups from as far away as Colorado and Oklahoma will ride into town for a showdown at the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park Jan. 14 and 15.
But what will fly at the 14th Annual Gathering of the Gunfighters isn’t really hot lead – it’s fightin’ words and old-school acting from folks portraying outlaws, lawmen, saloon gals and a veritable cornucopia of disreputable characters.
For spectators, the fun is seeing Western lore unfold in person with lots of shoutin’ and shootin’ – and no doubt, some prolonged and dramatic deaths. And while there weren’t normally gun battles at the fearsome Territorial Prison, the setting adds to the fun.
"After all, what better place to have a 'Gathering of the Gunfighters' than at the place that imprisoned so many of them back in the day," said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which now operates the park.
The special admission price – $7 for those 14 and older, $2 for kids age 7-13, free for ages 6 and younger – includes the re-enactment competition and full access to the prison, along with vittles, libations and Western vendors. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, with groups taking turns presenting 20-minute skits throughout both days.
For the competitors, skits may be light-hearted, but the judging – which includes an assessment of whether get-ups, gear and firearms match the 1876-1909 time period – is dead serious. Forgetting to remove a modern wristwatch or a receiving a mistimed ringtone on a 21st century smart phone is no joke when it comes to besting the rest of the West for historical accuracy.
"The Gathering of the Gunfighters is a lot of fun, but it’s also based in real history, which is why we’re so glad the prison can host this event,” Flynn said. “This is a great Yuma tradition that needs to be supported and sustained, just like the prison itself. I would particularly like to thank the local Deguello Gunslingers group, because their dedication has been invaluable in making the Gathering of the Gunfighters an ongoing success.”
It was just two years ago that Arizona State Parks announced that the prison would close because of cuts in the state budget. The Yuma community mobilized to prevent that by organizing into “Chain Gangs” that created a variety of fundraising projects. In just 60 days, volunteers raised more than $70,000, making it possible for the Heritage Area to take over the park and keep it open to the public.
Since then, the Heritage Area has been working to give the historic facility a facelift, including a major renovation of museum exhibits. Restoration of the prison’s original adobe sally port – using historically accurate materials and techniques – is under way now, though the work will pause during gunfighters’ gathering.
“Even if you’ve visited the prison in the past, we think you’ll be impressed with its fresh new look and focus,” Flynn added. “Events like this are important to bring new visitors to this historic site, and are an important part of reaching our goal of making the park self-sustaining.”
Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area is an independent nonprofit corporation governed by a local board of directors. It was among the first national heritage areas in the West officially designated by the U.S. Congress. The Heritage Area's master plan projects earned the Governor's Arizona Preservation Award in 2009. For more information, call 928-373-5198 or visit www.yumaheritage.com.
Yuma Visitors Bureau markets the Yuma area within the travel and tourism industry and to the general public. Direct travel spending in Yuma County totaled more than $566 million in 2010, supported nearly 5,800 jobs and generated $36.3 million in state and local tax revenues. For more details about Yuma's year-round attractions, special events - and the rarely "cloudy with a chance of tacos" forecast* - visit www.visityuma.com or call 800-293-0071.
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Yuma Territorial Prison: 928-783-4771
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