Smokey Goes To Prison

I didn’t do it! It was all Lister’s fault.

Seriously, though, I remembered seeing and enjoying pictures from The Gable Bus (who I met in September way back in Pennsylvania) of their visit to the Yuma Territorial Prison. It operated from 1876 to 1909, all before Arizona became a state in 1912. After falling into disrepair for many years, and the railroad taking over half of the original grounds, portions of the prison have been restored to give visitors an idea of what this frontier prison was like back in the days of the old west.

You enter the prison the same way everyone else did back in the day, through the sallyport. It’s large enough for a horse and wagon to park inside, and wait while they close one set of gates before opening the other set. At least, that’s how it normally works. I learned of one escape attempt where some prisoners held the superintendent hostage to come out the main gate. The superintendent called out to the guard on the tower “standing orders,” which were to shoot inmates trying to escape. So he did, and a nasty shootout took place here.

Here’s the “heavy artillery” the prison had in case a riot got seriously out of hand (which happened at times). Unlike most Gatling guns, the barrels on this one don’t spin while firing. It shoots only through the top barrel. If the barrel gets too hot, a hand crank rotates to the next barrel, and it can keep firing. By the time the first barrel rotates back into place it’s cooled off enough to resume firing. Low tech, but it worked.

Conditions here look pretty brutal, but for the time this was actually pretty cushy compared to other jails and prisons, or even Yuma itself. The prison had running water and electricity before much of Yuma, which was still a small frontier town at the time. It still got pretty hot here, though, particularly with up to six inmates to a cell. Showers were required once a week whether they needed it or not. No doubt they desperately needed it.

My timing worked out perfectly to go on the guided tour of the prison, which was both educational and entertaining. This was our tour guide. His name is Smokey. Thankfully, because I had connections on the inside, I didn’t have to wait long to get released.

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