Results 1-4of 4 Reviews
March 6, 2012
From journal Western Haunts and Ghostowns
Rodeo, New Mexico
January 21, 2006
In Yuma Territorial Prison’s 33 years of operation , over 3000 prisoners served time inside its walls. Twenty-nine of them were women. Often, they were the only woman among the male hordes. This was the case with Manuela Fimbrez, sentenced in 1889 to 15 years for murder. Seven months after she began serving time, she delivered a baby in prison. Local churches petitioned the governor for her (and the baby’s) release. She was pardoned and deported to Mexico almost 2 years later.
Pearl Hart, sentenced to 5 years for stagecoach robbery, was probably the most notorious of Yuma’s female prisoners. Pearl was born in 1871 in Ontario, Canada to a middle-class family. As a teenager, she fell in love with a gambling man, eloped with him and gave birth to a child. Drawn to the fast and wild life of the American West, she left her child with her mother, and traveled to Trinidad, Colorado, where she worked in a saloon. Reunited with her husband in Phoenix, she soon gave birth to a second child.
At age 28, after her husband left her, she became an instant celebrity when together with outlaw Joe Boot, she robbed the Globe-to-Florence stagecoach. She was pardoned early due to public sympathy, or some say, another pregnancy. Pearl’s image was tough: smoking, drinking, using drugs, and wearing men’s clothes. After her time in prison, she committed no further major crimes and faded into history.
Both men and women were convicted of crimes such as adultery and selling liquor to Indians. Some men did time for seduction, obstructing the railroad, and prizefighting.
I asked the ranger on duty if he’d had any ghostly experiences. He told me he didn’t believe in ghosts, but recounted one occasion that almost changed his mind. One morning years ago he came on duty early, and was attending to some business near the old prison cells, when he heard a shuffling noise. Looking up, he saw a shadowy figure down at the other end of the cells, seeming to be floating towards him. Frightened half to death, he called out, “Who are you?” but the figure, looking to be male, kept coming soundlessly towards him. As he got close enough to discern more detail, he realized he looked like just an old bum, and he only seemed to be floating because his long, tattered clothes were dragging on the ground. Close enough to speak, the old guy told him he’d sheltered in one of the cells overnight and would be on his way. People unwilling to believe in ghosts will engage in whatever rationalization is needed to maintain their disbelief.
In Fall 2005’s RV Journal, Phantom Inmates tells of numerous ghosts that have been detected here by employees, visitors, and a psychic. Mostly they are ghosts of prisoners, but one very prominent ghost is of a little girl, particularly attracted to people wearing red clothing. Speculation is she’s from one of many homeless families who lived here during the Depression.
From journal Yuma del Sol
Yet brochure and museum exhibits make a point of noting that Yuma Territorial Prison was considered to be a humanely administered model institution for its time. Of the 3,069 prisoners incarcerated here between 1876 and 1909, 111 died within its walls, most from tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. Others were murdered or committed suicide. One-hundred-four of them are buried on a slope of hill between the guardhouse and the Colorado River. Rocks mark the graves, a plaque memorializes their names. No hangings took place here. Executions were the responsibility of the county, not the territory. Prisoners sentenced to death were hung on gallows in downtown Yuma.
Allow at least a couple of hours for your stay here. Bring a picnic lunch; there are tables and a view deck of the Colorado River and bridges that cross it into California. These are the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway Bridge and a railroad bridge next to it. The guard tower provides even better views. The visitor center/gift shop serves as an entrance to the complex. The museum, built on the foundations of the old prison mess hall, provides passage to the old cell blocks and “new” yard. Other structures such as residences and offices, prison shops, more towers, a pump house, stables, and the prison walls were torn down by fire, weather, railroad construction, and locals gathering free building materials as needed.
By far the most common crime for which prisoners were interred was burglary, but there were also many sentenced for murder and manslaughter. Of special interest is a display about the 29 women prisoners who served time here. The plastered and whitewashed strap iron and granite cellblocks are the most compelling part of this park, though. Bleak and depressing don’t begin to describe the feeling one gets walking through one of these 9 by 12 foot cells, containing triple-decker iron bunkbeds for six. Though the interiors of the cells are cool in winter, one can only imagine the claustrophobia brought on by stifling summer heat and sweating bodies close together in small spaces.
From 1910 to 1913, the Yuma High School campus was moved from downtown to roomier location at the prison, which had seen its last prisoners leave in 1909. Kids attended classes in the prison buildings. Read about how the Yuma Crims got their name from an outraged Phoenix sports reporter. Yuma High School’s official mascot has been a mean-looking crew-cut criminal in ball and chain, since 1917!
Blue Springs, Missouri
March 22, 2004
From journal Desert Gardens