YUMA, AZ (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) - Now, one site you don't want to miss is the Yuma Territorial Prison.

It opened in 1876 on the twin hill across the from the fort and remained in operation until 1909. It is now the main attraction at Arizona's most-visited state historic park.

The townspeople in Yuma called it the Country Club on the Colorado River, but the convicts called it the hellhole.

Either way, it's not a club where you would want to be a member. Back in 1876, the Yuma Territorial Prison was home to Arizona Territory's most dangerous criminals, and unusual ones, too!

People committed crimes ranging from murder, larceny, cattle rustling and horse theft. There was one gentleman in for seduction under the promise of marriage.

The main cell block housed more than 200 convicts and accommodations were tight.

Six men to a cell, it can get very crowded, especially if you're not liked by your other cellmates, that could cause problems.

They only took showers once a week, which was on Saturday. You also had the problem of the bucket that was used as a restroom that was emptied out only once a day.

Not what you would consider luxurious, but during that period, the prison was ahead of the game. It had electricity before the town of Yuma.

It did a ventilation system at the prison, and it actually had the best library in town.

Even the way prison officials kept tabs on the inmates was considered innovative.

A special mirror was used when snapping mugshots. It was one way to get both views of the convict. And actually, unfortunately, the first 200 convicts do not have a photo, but the remaining convicts do.

And at this prison, there were some pretty famous faces.

The most famous male convict was probably Buckskin Frank Leslie, who was a character down in Tombstone, Arizona about the same time Wyatt Earp and his brothers were down there. And he was sent to prison for murder. The prison even had women convicts. Our most famous female convict was Pearl Hart, who committed the last stagecoach robbery in Arizona.

Whether you are a celebrity criminal or not, when the convicts acted up, the results were swift and severe.

There were strict forms of punishment at the territorial prison. One was a ball and chain for those who tried to escape. Another was maximum security for some of the troublemakers, but for the real troublemakers, there was a dark cell.

In the center of the cell, there's a cage, and the cage was 5 feet high, 10 feet long, and that's where they kept the troublemakers. There were two solid metals doors so there'd be no light whatsoever coming into the cell. The only light is from a vent that's in the center of the room.

By the early 1900s, the prison closed its doors to criminals. But some say inmates are still serving time.

There are two areas that are supposedly haunted here at the prison. One is the main cell block area, the cell on the far end. The other area that is haunted is the dark cell, and that is haunted by the spirit of a little girl who lived in the dark cell in the 1930s during the Great Depression.

Hauntings and history, it's the prison on the hill that still teaches people today, a touch of Arizona's Old West and a legacy no longer kept under lock and key.

 


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