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.This 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.
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.When 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.
The 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.The 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. The 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.
There 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.
There 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.
The 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.There 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. You can see the iron bars built into the rocks. The 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. The replica of the cage sits outside in the yard but you can see where it sat in the cell. After 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. 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. The 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. The Quartermaster’s office has the original desk that President Roosevelt once sat at to sign some documents. (It is hard to get clear photos through glass with sunlight and reflections.)
The water reservoir was behind the Quartermaster’s Offices. The 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. The 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. All 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. The last building was the Bureau of Land Reclamation where there was an interesting film that explained how they channeled the water for irrigation.
And, 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.
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!