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Historic Yuma prison hosts re-enactor gathering
YUMA, ARIZONA - More than a dozen Old West re-enactment groups from across the region will ride into town for a old-fashioned showdown at the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park Jan. 11-12, 2014.
But what will fly at the 16th Annual Gathering of the Gunfighters isn't really hot lead - it's fightin' words and old-school acting from folks portraying outlaws, lawmen, cowboys, saloon gals, townfolk and a veritable cornucopia of disreputable characters.
For spectators, the fun is seeing Western lore unfold in live-action skits with lots of shoutin' and shootin' - and no doubt, some prolonged and dramatic "deaths." And while there weren't regular gun battles at the fearsome Territorial Prison, the authentic setting overlooking the Colorado River, the still-active rail line and the Ocean-to-Ocean bridge just adds to the atmosphere.
"What better place to have a 'Gathering of the Gunfighters' than at the notorious lockup that struck fear in their hearts?" said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which now operates the park. "There's a reason Ben Wade didn't want to get on board the '3:10 to Yuma'."
The special admission price - $8 for those 14 and older, $3 for kids age 7-13, free for ages 6 and younger - includes the re-enactment competition and full access to the prison and its exhibits, along with vendors of vittles, libations and Western wares and wear. Tickets are only available at the gate the days of the event. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.both days, with groups taking turns presenting 20-minute skits.
For the competitors, skits may be light-hearted, but the judging - which includes whether get-ups, gear and firearms match the 1876-1909 time period - is dead serious. Forgetting to remove a modern wristwatch or a getting a mistimed call on a 21st century smart phone is no joke when it comes to besting the rest of the West for historical accuracy.
The 2014 Gathering of the Gunfighters is sponsored by the Heritage Area with the cooperation of Arizona State Parks, the City of Yuma, and the Reenactment Guild of America. Flynn also noted the ongoing efforts of the local Deguello Gunslingers group, which performs at the prison weekly during the season.
It was just four years ago that Arizona State Parks announced that the prison would close its doors because of cuts in the state budget. The Yuma community raised more than $70,000 in just 60 days, making it possible for the City and Heritage Area to keep it open.
Since then, the Heritage Area has renovated the museum exhibits and fully restored the prison's original adobe sally port. New this year is a motion-triggered sound installation in the cell block that lets prisoners and guards tell their tales, along with an expanded exhibit about the prison's "bad girls" who were trouble in or out of jail.
"Even if you've visited in the past, we're always adding something new," Flynn added. "To keep the park operationally self-sustaining, we need to attract new visitors and give old friends a reason to come back and see us again, and events like this are part of that."
About the Yuma Territorial Prison: On July 1, 1876, the first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. Thus began the legend of the Yuma Territorial Prison. A total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived within the walls during the prison's 33 years of operation.
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. Yuma's population nearly doubles in the winter months, thanks to more than 23,000 spots in RV parks and resorts. The community also offers nearly 4,300 hotel rooms, conference and meeting facilities, and three casinos. Recognized by Guinness World Records as world's sunniest spot, Yuma offered free meals to hotel guests "every day the sun doesn't shine" from Aug. 1, 2011 until July 31, 2012 as part of Arizona's Centennial celebration. Yuma's final score? Sunshine 365, Gloom 0.
Yuma Territorial Prison contact:
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