“Get a glimpse behind bars”
High school can sometimes feel like you've been put behind bars... but imagine if you actually had to attend class in a former notorious Wild West prison! For four years, between 1910 and 1914, the Yuma Union High School held classes in the building that's now Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, right after the prison inmates were transferred to the Arizona State Prison Complex in nearby Florence in 1909. It was after an unexpected football victory against a team from Phoenix that the school received its infamous nickname: The Criminals. The Phoenix team, bitter over the loss, began calling the Yuma players "criminals", and the Yuma players liked the moniker so much that it stuck. In fact, even today the Yuma High School's team mascot is a tough-looking convict, and they affectionately refer to themselves as "The Crims". They even named their school spirit shop "The Cell Block". But it is a little weird to consider that the school was once home to some of the West's most dangerous outlaws. It opened in 1876, and saw over 3,000 delinquents pass through its doors over its 33 years as a prison. Some better-known inmates included deputy sheriff-turned train robber Burt Alvord, notorious con-man and gunfighter Buckskin Frank Leslie (he once married the widow of a man he killed a mere eight days after murdering her husband), and Pete Spence, who was at the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. An infamous Mexican revolutionary, Ricardo Flores Magón, a Mormon named William Flake who was convicted of polygamy, and the woman who committed one of the last known stagecoach robberies, Pearl Hart, also called the prison home. Today, the prison is now a museum and state historic park. If you visit, you can learn what it was like to be an outlaw behind bars in the Wild West-- it actually wasn't as bad as you might imagine. Most inmates were treated fairly well for the time and got the chance to go to school and make crafts to sell at fairs, although thousands died while staying there-- none of those deaths were executions, though; most were the result of tuberculosis. Twenty-six people escaped successfully, including two from within the confines of the prison-- those who were caught trying to break free got the ball and chain. Nowadays, though, it's pretty easy to stroll on out of the prison when you're ready to leave... no ball and chain necessary! -Roadtrippers 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. At Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park walk through the actual strap iron cells and solitary chamber of Arizona Territory’s first prison. Now a museum, the building houses photographs and colorful exhibits of those who once “involuntarily” stayed there and the prison life they had to endure. A total of 3,069 prisoners, including 29 women, lived within the walls during the prison’s 33 years of operation.Despite an infamous reputation, written evidence indicates that the prison was humanely administered, and was a model institution for its time. The only punishments were the dark cells for inmates who broke prison regulations, and the ball and chain for those who tried to escape. Come experience this fascinating slice of Arizona history. The park offers a museum with exhibits, a gift shop, video presentation, picnic area, and restrooms. The park is reportedly haunted by spirits who enjoy pinching children and those that wear the color red. Others have reported a "presence" that enjoys whistling.
It's cool seeing the old prison. They also have a small graveyard outside. The cell inside where they used to put the prisoners for punishment is actually quite creepy. Appropriately coined "The Hole", it could scare even the bravest. The room is super dark, with no windows, and I think I have read about it being haunted.
the website link is wrong it should be http://azstateparks.com/Parks/YUTE/
If you want to experience the dark side of Yuma’s past, a visit to the Yuma Territorial Prison is in order. Here, the ghosts of the Old West haunt this centuries-old site. The prison first opened in 1876, and some folks say not all the prisoners have left this impressive site.
The Yuma Territorial Prison has had an intriguing life. After its closure as a prison in 1909, it served as a high school, during which the Yuma Union athletics team became known as The Criminals – a moniker the school has kept ever since. It was not until 1939 that actions to preserve the prison as a landmark occurred.
Today, the Yuma Territorial Prison offers a scenic walking space where visitors can stroll through the city’s history. There’s also a picnic area that overlooks California territory, and a gift shop. In January, the site hosts the Gathering of the Gunfighters, a festival where gunfighters and Wild West enthusiasts descend on Yuma for historical reenactments and fun.
We think a visit here is one of the best things to do in Yuma, AZ!
Pretty cool, worth checking out if nearby. Not a ton of original structures remain though so a lot of it is imagined reconstructions to give the idea of the original. Still glad I finally saw it; nice views of the bridge, river and mission. Nearby most any of the other spots you’d likely want to check out in Yuma.
Hours NEED TO BE UPDATED on this site! They are closed Tuesdays and Wednesday’s. Very sad to find out when we drove up and it was closed. Thanks RoadTrippers.
Great spot to stop the kids even enjoyed it
Was really hoping for a spooky experience in the dark cell but alas, no luck. Perhaps next time.
Very interesting place. Heard the place was haunted and it definitely has a creepy vibe. The museum is really nice with pictures and stories of some of the more colorful inmates. The employees are fun to talk to and share great stories about the prison's past. They were even setting up for a wedding to be held on the grounds after we left.
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Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
- Sun, Mon, Thu - Sat: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
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