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"Virtual" lead to fly as gunfighters gather

Historic Yuma prison hosts re-enactment showdown Jan. 8 & 9


YUMA, ARIZONA – More than 15 Old West re-enactment groups from throughout the Southwest will ride into town for a showdown at the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park Jan. 8 and 9.

But what will fly at the 13th 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 mistimed ringtone 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 13th edition," 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, who have been invaluable in putting the event together."

In anticipation of a big turnout, Flynn said arrangements have been made for ongoing shuttle service to the prison's lower parking lot from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

It was not quite a year 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.

"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. "We've also teamed up with the Yuma Visitors Bureau to aggressively market the Territorial Prison throughout the state and region, all with the goal of making the park self-sustaining."

As part of that effort, the prison is offering a "get into jail free" annual pass for the first time, along with engraved pavers for permanent installation along a "walk of fame."

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

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 $577 million in 2009 and supported nearly 6,000 jobs. Travel spending in the county also generated more than $36 million in state and local taxes. For more information, call 928-376-0200 or visit


Media contact: Ann Walker, 928-376-0100 (office), 928-210-9044 (cell),
Visitor Information Center: 1-800-293-0071

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Fast Facts About YVB

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Yuma history - narrative

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Yuma Winter Visitors Study 2017-2018

Yuma Winter Visitors Study 2017-2018 Executive Summary

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