2017 Feb 6 – Day 35 – Yuma, AZ

The day got off to a bit of a later start than planned because I slept until almost 10 am!  I liked that.  Does not happen very often.  We had to find a restaurant for breakfast because we missed the one provided at the hotel.  But after we were fed up and coffeed up we went to explore the Yuma Territorial Prison, which came into being because the year Arizona became a state there was a big meeting to decide the state capital (Prescott), where the university would be (Phoenix), and where the prison would be built.  When the meeting broke for lunch the representative from Yuma stayed behind in the room and he crossed out ‘Phoenix’ under the prison location on the agenda and wrote in ‘Yuma.’  When the delegates returned from lunch they wanted to wrap things up and when the question was read out with the name Yuma as the location of the Territorial Prison it passed.img_7427This blog will be very photo heavy and not very text heavy.  As has become my habit when visiting interesting historical places I take photographs of the placards; mainly because I find all the information so interesting, but it has come in handy now that I write my blog.  I just insert photos of the information and then I don’t have to type the information.  Easy for me. Easy for you too because if you don’t want to read all the info you can just skip past the photos and don’t have to scan through text.

The view over the restored wetlands was pretty nice.  After the creation of all the dams on the Colorado River the wetlands in this area disappeared and the area was full of non-native invasive plants and derelict camps.  In 1992 a group of Yuma citizens began to restore the land.  They have reclaimed 3,000 acres and a further 10,000 are planned.  It is a huge community volunteer project.  The local Indian band is also involved the two groups have created walkways and parks along wetland’s shore.  Birds and other animals that historically lived in the wetlands are returning in greater numbers every year.  It is a huge success story; not just for the land but for the community.img_7304 img_7307 img_7319

Fort Yuma (the original site is on the California side of the Colorado River – which forms the border between CA  and AZ) became a supply center for all of the forts in the south west.  Before the railway was extended this far supplies were shipped from San Francisco all the way around the Baja and then brought by steamship up the river to Yuma.  The Quartermaster’s Depot was here – we visited it after the prison – and was in charge of supplying 19 forts (I think that is the correct number) with all their needs – equipment and food.  The Depot kept 6 months supply at all times and sometimes had as many 900 mules on the premises.img_7479When the railway was built a bridge was needed to cross the Colorado.  At that time the prison was closed and over one third of it was demolished to make way for the Ocean to Ocean Bridge that connected the US from coast to coast.  The community banded together and bought the prison land and volunteers began to restore and preserve it.

img_7315img_7320img_7321The prison cell blocks and wall were built by the first prisoners that were sent to Yuma.  In the 33 years that the prison was used until it became too overcrowded and a new larger prison was built in Florence, over 3000 men and 29 women were incarcerated.  Crimes ranged from forgery, adultery, polygamy to manslaughter and murder.img_7325The guard tower was built over the water cistern to help prevent evaporation.  It also provided an excellent view of the prison yard and the work gangs outside the wall. img_7326 img_7328 img_7329 img_7330 img_7331 img_7334 img_7335 img_7336 img_7337 img_7338 img_7341The prisoners were required to work 48 hours per week in the quarry or the various shops – for which they earned money that was kept for them until their sentence was completed.  Rule breaking would often result in forfeiture of any ‘good behaviour’ credits.   They used their ‘free’ time to make things that they needed or liked to do.  Eventually a craft market was held to sell their goods and the money earned was kept aside for them as well.

img_7342 img_7343 img_7344 img_7345 img_7346 img_7347 img_7348 img_7349 img_7350 img_7351 img_7352There were large banners on the museum walls that told about some of the prisoners and in glass cases there were bios of all the wardens, names of many of the guards and information on a dozen or so prisoners.

img_7353 img_7354 img_7355 img_7357 img_7359 img_7360There were very few successful escapes.  You could not tunnel out because the prison was built atop a granite hill and there were iron grids built into the rock walls.  If you did escape there was no where to go except the desert.  The dunes where there are no plants growing and no water are only a few miles away.  I think there were four successful escapes.  None of the men were ever heard about again.

The prison was not built for women but it did have women prisoners.  A section behind the library was carved out to make cells for the women.

img_7363 img_7364 img_7365 img_7368 img_7366img_7382img_7387img_7388The prison had a library of 2,000 books, the most books in the entire territory.  Prisoners were taught trades and to read and write and do arithmetic.  The books in the library were very well cared for by the prisoners.img_7395There were six prisoners per 8′ x 12′ cell.  The three-tier cots were originally made of wood but were replaced with iron ones (built by the prisoners) to solve the horrible bed bug problem.img_7369 img_7374 img_7372 img_7377img_7375 img_7378img_7376You can see the iron bars built into the rocks.img_7404 img_7405 img_7399img_7397The only recorded punishment used on the prisoners was solitary confinement of various lengths of time for different offenses.  This was the Dark Cell – a large cavern cut into the granite with a tiny hole in the ceiling for ventilation.  Inside the cavern was a 8′ X 15′ iron cage.  Prisoners were stripped to their underwear.  There was no slop bucket, no light, and only bread and water once a day.img_7340 img_7380 img_7386The replica of the cage sits outside in the yard but you can see where it sat in the cell.img_7389 img_7400 img_7402 img_7406 img_7409 img_7410 img_7413 img_7414 img_7417 img_7418 img_7419 img_7420 img_7423 img_7430After we spent about three hours at the prison we drove over to the Quartermaster’s Depot.  There are five original buildings in the park which is entered through the Arizona Visitor’s Center.img_7432 img_7433 img_7436 img_7438 There was a lot of information on the dams on the Colorado River and the water that is harvested.  The Bureau of Reclamation (which is actually reclaiming water for the land not restoring land) has a display center at the Depot.  The Yuma area produces 90% of the fresh vegetables in the US.  Yes, that is correct 90%.  Virtually all winter vegetables come from here and all because of the dams and irrigation canals that harness the Colorado river. 230,000 acres of land in the Yuma area are irrigated for crops.img_7440 img_7439img_7441img_7443The first building – which was the storehouse for all the goods held at the depot for distribution to the area forts – had some really nice old vehicles in it.  Including a fire department ladder truck – pulled by hand.img_7444img_7446img_7447 img_7448 img_7449 img_7450 img_7451 img_7454 img_7455 img_7458The Quartermaster’s office has the original desk that President Roosevelt once sat at to sign some documents.  img_7460 img_7461 img_7462 img_7463 img_7465 img_7467(It is hard to get clear photos through glass with sunlight and reflections.)

The water reservoir was behind the Quartermaster’s Offices.img_7471 img_7478The Quartermaster’s house had four rooms; a parlor, a dining room, a master bedroom and a bedroom for a child.  Two rooms on each side of a very wide hallway that separated the bedrooms from the parlor and dining room.  Even today, when it is winter down here and pleasantly warm I could understand the reason for the wide hall.  The building had covered verandas on all four sides and that shade would create a breeze that would go down the hall and help cool the house during the very hot (100-110F) summers.img_7477 img_7484 img_7483 img_7485 img_7487 img_7482 img_7480 img_7489 img_7490 img_7488 img_7492The kitchen/laundry was a separate building attached by the veranda to the main house. The cook/servant, usually a soldier, would sleep in the kitchen.img_7493 img_7495img_7494 img_7497 img_7499 img_7500 img_7498 img_7502 img_7504 img_7505All around the grounds there were native plants, mostly varieties of cactus. These few are:  purple prickly pear, golden barrel cactus and ocotillo cactus, one still bare and the other with new leaves.img_7508 img_7512 img_7523 img_7526The last building was the Bureau of Land Reclamation where there was an interesting film that explained how they channeled the water for irrigation.

img_7520img_7530img_7531img_7532img_7528img_7529img_7539And, bummer, we found out the other day that there is a huge geocache event happening in Yuma this weekend!  And we have made plans to meet my cousin up the road in Parker on Wednesday and friends near San Francisco for the weekend.  Something to keep in mind for another year perhaps.img_7537


I love historical places.  Tomorrow we are heading out to a mine museum and ghost town.  And there just happens to be a power trail of about 30 geocaches on the road out to it.  What a coincidence!


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