Yuma Territorial Prison The Yuma Territorial Prison first opened on July 1st, 1876 with only seven inmates. Because of this prison, Yuma evolved in many ways. This prison was the first prison built in Arizona and was humanely administered at the time. This prison stood strong for the thirty-three years when it was up and running, and it would go on to hold over 3,000 prisoners. This building is a big part of Yuma and is an important factor in why Yuma is the way it is today. The Yuma Territorial Prison had many impacts on Yuma such as increasing its population, keeping harm away from civilians and imprisoning all kinds of criminals.
This famous historical park held exactly 3,069 prisoners in its existence. The youngest prisoner was only 14 years old and the oldest was 88. Some of the prisoners had to build their own cell. Over a thousand of the prisoners could read and write, were single and either Caucasian or Mexican (Prison Demographics). Their crimes ranged anywhere from murder to polygamy. Since a lot of criminals were placed in this prison, that amount increased the population. In 1870, the population was only 1,114 but in 1910, it had grown to 2,914, almost 3,000 (Population).
It is astonishing how the prison has maintained its shape and structure after 140 years of still being there. Since this prison was a big addition to Yuma’s surroundings, it has influenced it. Because of the Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma got its first public library. The tour fee that was charged to visitors was used to buy books. In 1907, the prison had finally overcrowded and relocated to Florence, Arizona. From 1910 to 1914, the Yuma Union High School had occupied the prison’s buildings. The district was in need of facilities and at the time, the prison had been abandoned, so, the prison was also used as a school (End of Territorial).
This is how Yuma High School got their mascot, the Criminal. After being used as a high school, the hospital had used its facilities until 1923. The year after, 1924, one-third of the prison was taken down in order to make new tracks. Another thing the prison was used for once it was shut down was as a clubhouse for Veterans from 1931 to 1960’s. Throughout the depression, hobos and homeless families were sheltered in the cells. The main guard tower there was also used during World War II. Something very shocking that not many people know is that western movies and music videos were also filmed at this very historic landmark.
Although prison is a terrible place to be, it was not as bad then as it is now. The food that was served there wasn’t vile. Each day they had something different to eat: they were fed breakfast, dinner and supper. Ironically the prison had much more modern life amenities than most homes in Yuma did. When the prison was actually used as a prison, there were 138 prison escapes, but only forty-two were successful. Forty-nine of those who attempted to escape were wounded and eight died while trying to escape.
Two inmates who successfully escaped were from inside the prison walls while twenty-four of them were from outside of prison walls while being assigned to work. The other sixteen either escaped while on their way to the prison or while building the new one in Florence. Of the total of 3,069 prisoners that were held there, 1,287 of them were charged with burglary, 473 with assault or riot, 249 for fraud, and 217 for murder. In addition, 170 were incarcerated due to manslaughter, 164 of selling liquor to Indians, and lastly, forty-two men were charged with rape (Prison Escape Chart).
Besides men, women were sent to this prison as well. Twenty-nine of those behind bars were females. Some of their crimes consisted of murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon and robbery. More crimes included were burglary, grand larceny, felony, arson, adultery, receiving stolen goods, and selling liquor to Indians. One of the women who committed murder was given fifteen years and was sentenced in 1889, but was pardoned in 1891. That goes to show how much different it was back then than it is now. Committing murder, the present day, would almost guarantee a life sentence.
One woman, however, did get sentenced to life in prison and she was Bertha Trimble. Her crime was rape and was sent to prison in 1902 but was discharged in 1903. Today the prison is used as a historic park in the Southwest region of the United States. It was not until January 1st, 1961 that the Yuma Territorial prison opened to the public on a limited basis as a state historic park. Prior to this, in 1939, local residents had raised funds in order for renovation of the guard tower and construction of the museum that still stands today.
Up until 1960, the city of Yuma had operated that area. Once it finally opened as a park, its first park manager was Clarisa Windsor. This great piece of history is still open to the public and is an amazing place to visit to get some insight on what it was like there, over 100 years ago. For example, imagine walking the footsteps of a former prisoner. Surprisingly, this prison is still in suitable condition, even after most of it was torn down in order to make new buildings and tracks because of a terrible flood in 1916 (End of Territorial).
This research paper was difficult to type, due to the lack of information. When researching online, the only information that comes up is the history of the prison. Also, everything that came up was repetitive, each website had the same information as the one looked up before. That information included when it was built, ow many prisoners were held, when it shut down and why it shut down. The source packet also had limited information. The source packet mostly held pictures, the rules and regulations for the prisoners, and what the prison was used for after it was closed down.