Yuma Territorial Prison
State Historic Park
Adult admission $8 (age 14 and older), $6 seniors age 62 and over, $4 kids ages 7-13, kids age 6 and younger free
1/2 price for active-duty military, plus spouse & children
Other pricing may apply during special events
Setting The Stage
The Yuma Territorial Prison only operated for 33 years - but that was long enough to etch a fearsome reputation into the history of the Old West, a legacy that lives on in movies like "3:10 to Yuma."
Authorized in 1875 with a construction budget of $25,000, the prison opened in July of 1876 when the first seven prisoners were locked into cells they'd hacked out of the granite of Prison Hill with their own hands.
Over the next three decades, a total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived within the prison's walls - surrounded by waters of the Colorado and the Gila, with the fearsome desert beyond. Haunted? Perhaps ... no executions took place at the prison, but 111 persons died while serving time, and are buried on the grounds.
Despite its reputation, the prison was a model institution for its time -- and because it boasted electricity, running water and flush toilets, some Yumans even called it "the Country Club on the Colorado."
By 1907, the prison was severely overcrowded, and there was no room for expansion on Prison Hill. The last prisoner left Yuma September 15, 1909.
"Crims For Life"
After its building burned down, Yuma Union High School held classes at the abandoned prison from 1910 to 1914. When the football team upset a Phoenix rival, the crowd taunted the Yumans as "criminals" who stole their victory. Yuma High School turned the tables by adopting "Criminals" as its mascot name - a term still used proudly by Yuma High students and grads today.
Saving The Prison
About half of the original prison was destroyed when the railroad rerouted its main line in the 1920s. Hobos and homeless families took shelter in the remaining buildings during the Great Depression. The rest of the site would have fallen victim to fires, weather - and "recycling" of building materials - if Clarissa Winsor and other local volunteers hadn't fought to preserve it as a city museum that later became one of Arizona's first state parks.
In 2010, the prison was again threatened, this time by the state's budget crunch. But "Chain Gangs" of local volunteers raised funds to keep the prison open, and the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area took over operations March 29. Exhibits in the renovated prison museum tell the story of both fights to "save the prison."
It's you! Put on a scowl and create your own mug shot using the original mirror that allowed front and profile views of new prisoners in single photo. The mirror, one-size prison stripes and lucky prisoner numbers can be found in the museum.
Plus, support is always "wanted" to help keep the Yuma Territorial Prison open to new generations of visitors. For more information on how you can help, go to the Prison's website for current news and fundraising opportunities.
Bill Geist of CBS Sunday Morning attended the annual Gathering of the Gunfighters
at Yuma Territorial Prison a few years ago - enjoy his report