Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yuma Territorial Prison State Park

The  above picture shows the entrance to the prison which we toured Sunday. It is the last remaining original adobe structure of the 1875 structure. I was fascinated by the fact that the entrance to the prison was  called the Sally Port. I could not help but wonder if that was a derivation of our expression "sally forth". But an interpretive sign claimed it came from the Spanish "salir por la puerta", "to go out the door". If you saw the movie 3:10 to Yuma starring Russell Crowe you may have seen this prison. When it was built in 1875 it sat on a hill out in the dessert. The prison was used until 1909. After that time it functioned as a high school for Yuma, and during the Depression homeless people lived there. In 1923 one-third of the prison was demolished to make way for a railroad bridge. Pictured below is one of the original watch towers, it was built over the prison's water supply.
  In the museum of the prison we found many interesting stories concerning its history. One time during an attempted prison break the warden's wife, Madora Ingalls, grabbed a Gatling gun from one of the dead guards and stopped the prisoners from escaping. The prison over its 33 years of existence held a total of 3,000 criminals, 29 of them being women. The prisoners were there for everything from forgery to murder. Some of them were Mexican Revolutionaries as well as Native Americans. One man proved to be quite handy in sewing lace products- his story reminded me of the bird man of Alcatraz! Other prisoners carved items from shell and onyx, and some prisoners made fine items from braided horse hair. Those artifacts are displayed in the museum. On our tour of the prison we saw one of the original cell blocks as well as the Dark Cell. The latter provided solitary confinement for incorrigible prisoners. It was dug out of a hillside and its stone walls reminded me of a mine shaft. One prisoner spent over a hundred days in this cell. Story has it that he was a model prisoner after his time spent in there.

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