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Yuma Territorial Prison - Newsletter #2
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Still Not Free: Ghostly Prisoners at the Yuma Territorial Prison

 At a glance:

  • Actively haunted and easy to access prison from 1875
  • Site of a deadly riot
  • Famous prisoners and an infamous isolation cell
  • Photos on left of this page

I’ve made countless trips across the California and Arizona desert, entering and leaving Los Angeles.  On one of these trips, I ended up taking a very southern route that passed me through Yuma, Arizona.  Even just briefly seeing the micro city from Interstate 8, I was immediately taken by its beauty.  Trains traversed the Colorado River via aged bridges, huge sand dunes formed the horizon, surrounding the historic western town.
 
I thought to myself immediately, “I need to find a haunted location here and get back as soon as I can.”  To my surprise, the work was done for me pretty quickly.  Turning on an episode of “Ghost Adventures,” I could tell from the first establishing shot, “They’re in Yuma!”  Sure enough, the episode was about the Yuma Territorial Prison (season 12, episode 8), a captivating, haunted structure that’s 36 years older than the state of Arizona itself.
 
Soon, I was making my own pilgrimage, heading south from Los Angeles and tip-toeing along the US/Mexico border to make my way to the wild west era prison.
 
The Yuma Territorial Prison (now operated by the State Park system of Arizona) is open year-round to visitors for a minimal fee (check out the operating hours prior to your visit here: http://www.yumaprison.org/hours-fees-parking.html).
 
The site is intimate.  You are given a brochure at the visitor’s center and told to enjoy.  And with that, you are off!  The prison was surprisingly well attended considering 1) it’s Yuma and 2) it was a typical day, with temperatures reaching well into the triple digits.  That said, there was still plenty of opportunities to explore the grounds alone as most visitors spent their time indoors.  The main yard looks out over a canal and to the site of another place that merits future investigations – the location of a revolt of the Yuma/Quechan tribe that resulted in the destruction of two missions and the death of every European male, including the mission’s leader, Padre Graces, in 1781.
 
It’s hard not to think of the site of a failed Native American revolt that I investigated in Santa Barbara, which yielded the most drastic cold spot I’d ever personally observed:

The prison, colorfully, and accurately, nicknamed “Hellhole Prison,” saw a tremendous amount of history and colorful characters pass through it’s doors despite only being in operation for 33 years (1876-1909).  Those very first inmates were put to work immediately, helping complete construction of their still unfinished new home.
 
The most iconic feature of the prison is the solitary confinement cell, aka “The Dark Cell.”  Prisoners found themselves confined within a strap iron cage, in the middle of this this dark cell.  The only light came from a small ventilation pipe directly overhead.  It was not uncommon for a prisoner to find themselves in the dark cell multiple times.  Just check out the rap sheet for attempted murderer AA Stewart, who was sentenced for 4 days for insulting an officer, then another 10 days for disobeying an officer and threatening him.  One might think spending a full month in solitary after an escape attempt would break his will, but the rebel had spirit, escaping and disappearing into the desert two months later.
 
Today, there is talk of a spirit of a child haunting the dark call.  In addition to people not feeling alone there, there are reports of being touched by a small, cold hand.  See a short video “tour” of the cell at AZCentral here: http://azc.cc/1RS0Nwv
 
The most infamous single incident at the prison happened in 1887 during an attempted prison escape that left four prisoners dead, three wounded and the superintendent of the prison suffering from multiple wounds from a butcher’s knife that were so severe, the man, Thomas Gates, eventually committed suicide to escape the pain.  A detailed step-by-step retelling of the escape attempt can be found here: http://westernamericana2.blogspot.com/2010/06/yuma-territorial-prison-1875-1909-by.html along with a write-up of one of the more famous prisoners, “Buckskin Frank Leslie,” who was once a co-worker of Wyatt Earp at the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone.
 
Present day, the scene of the blood bath is... continue reading here.
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Pictured to the right is the hill where the Yuma/Quechan revolt took place.  A church again stands on the grounds where the original mission was destroyed.
Some cells were literally dug out from the land by the prison's first inmates.
Solitary confinement (aka "The Dark Cell").  Not only were prisoners placed in a dark cell alone, but they were confined to a cage within this (now haunted) room.
The view from the guard tower where Benjamin Hartlee stood his ground during the "Gates Riot."  The structure to the left is sallyport where superintendent Gates was held at knifepoint before being bludgeoned with a butcher knife and surviving.
The reverse angle, looking to the guard tower from the sally port.
Just outside the gates, with the guard tower looming in the distance is the prison cemetery, containing the remains of 115 men who died on the premises.
Need it by the holidays?  Order today!  Great gift for any ghost story lover.  Signed by the author!  BUY HERE
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