(ARIZONA HIGHWAYS TV) - Our crew recently took a tour of the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, met up with some modern day prospectors in Wickenburg and got to know the town of Clifton. Best known as a mining town, Clifton has another claim to fame - The Clifton Cliff Jail. It’s not on top of of a mountain, it’s inside! But this isn’t Arizona’s only unusual home for law breakers. We’ve rounded up a few to show you how outlaws used to face law and order (dun, dun), Arizona style.
THE JAIL TREE
During the mining boom of the 1860s, the town of Wickenburg was the third largest city in Arizona. The town was growing so rapidly that residents were unable to build a proper jail. Their solution? Lasso alleged criminals to an old mesquite tree. The sheriff and his deputies latched the bad guys to the Jail Tree and that’s where they stayed until they were transferred to Prescott or Phoenix, which could take as long as a week! It was a tough sentence if you were arrested during the summer. Lawbreakers did get some relief after the town built its first jailhouse in 1890. The Jail Tree still stands in Wickenburg’s historic district.
In 1878, the small smelter town of Clifton in southeastern Arizona blasted their jail out of the side of a mountain. During the copper mining boom, criminals were sentenced to work in the mines, but they kept escaping. So the jail was blasted right into the side of the mountain. Unlike Alcatraz, this underground jail is actually built into the rock. It has just two rooms with chains so criminals could be shackled to the ground. Reportedly, the first inmate was the man who actually built the jail. He was so excited to have completed the job, he got drunk on whiskey and shot up a dance hall in celebration. Clifton Cliff Jail is open for tours and is part of the town’s historic district and the National Historic Register.
WATER TOWER JAIL
Downtown Gilbert’s Water Tower Plaza wasn’t always the place to stop and play in the water fountains. The water tower itself was built in 1925. Before being used as a pump house, the small adobe building below the tower was built as the town’s first jail house in 1918. Specifically, it was where those who had a little too much to drink (and we’re not talking water) had to check in for the night.
Aside from the interesting history, the biggest takeaway here just might be making sure you stay on the right side of Arizona’s law and order (dun dun).