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With sidebar feature about warden's wife foiling 1891 escape attempt by manning Gatling gun
YUMA, ARIZONA – As summer temperatures settle in, Yuma's historic Territorial Prison will once again be "packing heat" with a one replica Gatling gun in place and another on its way.
The new feature as the state historic park is thanks to the "huge success" of a "3:10 to Yuma" fundraiser in April, said Charles Flynn, executive director of the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area, which now operates it under a lease from Arizona State Parks.
During the 33 years that the Yuma Territorial Prison held Arizona's worst desperados (1875 to 1909), a Gatling gun on the guard tower provided a deadly deterrent to escape attempts. Legend has it that the rapid-fire weapon was even used by a warden's wife to foil one attempted break-out (see sidebar story below).
A replica Gatling gun was long one of the most popular features at the prison when it was "saved" as a museum by Yumans and then became one of Arizona's first state parks. At some point, the weapon disappeared, Flynn said, but was never absent from the memories of visitors.
"Since we took over operation of the Prison in April of 2010, we heard over and over that people missed seeing the Gatling gun," Flynn said. "So we made that a goal of our fundraising efforts this year, and hit that target with a bang."
In fact, the prison park will soon have the original outgunned, with a second replica Gatling gun due to be delivered and mounted on the guard tower later this summer. In the meantime, the first weapon, mounted on an authentic replica carriage, will displayed in the air-conditioned museum. Both guns will be capable of simulating a burst of firepower by means of black-powder caps, a feature Flynn predicts will be a favorite with young visitors to the prison.
Razzle-dazzle – or rat-a-tat – aside, the Heritage Area also has more serious work planned for the summer, including cleaning and resealing all the wood on the guard tower with stain and preservative, a project that will necessitate the park closing for the weeks of August 8 and 15. In the meantime, the park is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through May 31. Beginning June 1, the park will be closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the other five days of the week (Thursday through Monday).
It was just more than a year ago that Arizona State Parks announced it would close the famed local landmark at the end of March 2010 because of the state's budget crisis. In just sixty days, the local community organized into "Chain Gangs" that raised more than $70,000 to support local operation of the Territorial Prison. Thanks to that effort, the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area took over operations April 1, 2010 and has since made major renovations and refreshed and updated the museum.
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 to be 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.
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Prison breakout: Madora gets her gun
Madora Ingalls, the wife of Yuma Territorial Prison superintendent Frank S. Ingalls, is perhaps best known today as the founder of what was certainly the first library in Yuma and perhaps the first in the whole of Arizona – at the prison in 1883. She was concerned about the education of prisoners, helped raised money for a prison band, nursed some of the sickest prisoners and decorated cells, the dining room and hospital with flowers annual on "Floral Mission Day."
But though she may have been warm-hearted by nature, she was also one tough pioneer woman, as illustrated by this story excerpted from "The Hell Hole: The Yuma Prison Story" by William & Milarde Brent (1962) (we believe this escape attempt occurred in July of 1891):
Picture, if you can, a blazing forenoon in July. All was quiet. Guards patrolled the catwalks with the laxity of men who have things under control. Prisoners went about their routine duties and assignments, apparently as usual, but furtive looks and whispered asides revealed the tensions of a small group of cell mates, sprinkling down the grounds in the exercise yard, or bull pen as it was called, to get some relief from the burning heat. Two yard guards, casually watchful, looked on from the meager shade near the south wall.
A lifer, Chico Viscaya by name, worked his way leisurely to one of the guards, then struck swiftly. Metal flashed in the sun, and the guard fell, a steel spike buried deep in his right breast. Another felon grabbed the slain guard's rifle and fired point blank at the second guard inside the bull pen, killing him too. With the two guards' rifles and pistols, the prisoners then stormed the big gates, concentrating their fire toward the main guard tower. A guard there fell.
There was now a bedlam of sound. Sensing escape. the prisoners screamed and yelled with hysterical madness. At gun point, they forced the sentry to open the gates. As the escapees poured through, the steam whistle blew with frantic urgency. Jail break! Then the Gatling gun on the high tower began to spit out its deadly fusillade. Men fell. But a volley from the prisoners silenced the Gatling. An officer raced up the steps to replace the dead gunner, but was cut down before he reached the tower platform. The prisoners outside the gates were a frenzied mob. Escape now seemed certain. But suddenly the Gatling was spitting again, driving the prisoners back inside to escape the deadly fire.
"My God, it's Mrs. Ingalls!" a prisoner yelled.
As indeed it was. Madora Ingalls was the comely wife of the prison superintendent. In her late twenties, she was the mother of three children. How she ever got up on that tower to help operate the Gatling is still a mystery. None of the old timers in Yuma recall the details--or how she learned to man the gun. But man it she did.
For a moment the prisoners milled in desperate confusion. For even among these hardened felons, chivalry toward womanhood still prevailed. Besides they liked and respected Dora Ingalls. In many ways she'd made their harsh lives somewhat easier to bear. With food and tid-bits from her own kitchen; letters written for the illiterate; encouragement and hope. Things like that. In the face of these kindnesses, the grim purpose of the prisoners wavered for a moment.
Then a convict, less chivalrous perhaps than the rest, yelled out: "Shoot her, goddam it! Don't stand there like fools."
This brought the men back to their own desperate plight, their grim purpose. Sentiment and chivalry vanished. Pistol and rifle balls spattered the guard tower, but by some miracle Dora Ingalls went unscathed. Rat-tat-tat-tat-the Gatling poured its fire outside the gates, pinning down the escapees against the wall. The steam whistle kept up its shrill message of urgency.
By this time, the officers and other guards had organized themselves. Ten minutes after Dora Ingalls had taken the dead gunner's place on the guard tower, the jail break was smashed and things once more under control.
In later years, it was said, Dora Ingalls shrank from the attendant publicity, minimizing her part in the event, stating that her fire was directed only outside the gates, never toward the prisoners, believing, she said, that the men would not make a second attempt through the sally port against withering fire of the Gatling. Whatever her intention, it worked.
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