Thursday, September 22, 2016

Open Invitation to Upcoming Events

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

It's fall. Although the summer heat felt endless at times, fall has finally - and suddenly - arrived. 

My October calendar is blossoming along with the citrus and the yerba mansa. In addition to some private gatherings, I'm scheduled for book signing events that are open to the public. Please join us at any of the following! I will have copies of my book of New River history available - or just stop by and say hello.

On Saturday, October 1st from noon to 2:00 p.m., Old Canon School Museum at Heritage Park in Black Canyon City have invited me to do a book signing.  The museum is inside Canon's former one-room schoolhouse. Here's an opportunity to visit the museum, tour the Heritage Park, and talk history.  The historic schoolhouse, pictured below during its recent repainting and restoration, is waiting to welcome you. While you're there, consider joining the Black Canyon Historical Society. Small town historical societies and museum depend on the support of those who recognize the value of keeping local history alive.

Only twelve miles apart, Black Canyon's history is closely intertwined with the history of New River.  Although the communities had significantly different historical foundations, the cast of characters and the forces of nature largely overlapped. The road that gave life to both communities - the Old Black Canyon Stagecoach Road - forged a link between residents and wayfarers alike.  Many of the original homesteader families intermarried. Local cowboys worked ranches that spanned the region. 

Address:  33955 S. Old Black Canyon Highway, Black Canyon City

Copyright (c) 2016 by Marcy J. Miller

On October 18th from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., I'll be signing books at the historic Wrangler's Roost Resort in New River. The Roost represents not only New River's local history, but the influence of the hospitality industry in Arizona. One of New River's original homesteads, colorful Oklahoma-born Chief Meyers developed the Roost into a guest ranch. Chief sold the ranch to Port and Lois Halle in 1941. The Halle family continued its operation as a guest ranch for several years until selling it to the famous Lew King of Lew King's Rangers television show. 

The site still boasts its original stone lodge and bunkhouse. It is still in operation as a resort and wedding venue. Don't miss the chance to see Wrangler's Roost. It has such an interesting history it merited its own chapter in the book.

Address:  25500 W. New River Road, New River

Wrangler's Roost
Photo courtesy of Lance Halle

For the holidays, look forward to a gathering of authors on central Arizona history at the Old Canon School Museum on December 1st.  Stay tuned!


Copyright (c) 2013 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without the author's express permission * Links, however, may be freely shared * Thank you for linking, liking, sharing, tweeting, +1ing, forwarding, and visiting * Hope to see you again soon!





Monday, September 5, 2016

Now in Print: My New River History!

There's nothing quite like the feeling of opening that newly-arrived box of one's own books. It has been quite a journey writing this smallish edition.  It involved meeting with thoroughly amazing people who were either a part of New River's history or who help to keep it alive. It meant hundreds of hours late at night poring over old census records, newspaper archives, land patents, and as many other primary sources as I could find. During the research and compilation of this book, I contended with one torn rotator cuff, bouts of lameness due to multiple foot conditions exacerbated by too many birthdays and too many miles, an utterly miserable oral surgery, husband's heart issues and procedures, husband's broken ribs, two newborn calves, one miscarried foal, the loss of two beloved old dogs and the arrival of two beloved puppies, and my elderly mother's multiple hospitalizations. The book research kept me grounded throughout. It has been exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. Most of all, it has been an incredibly rewarding process.

The distinctive landmark Gavilan Peak,
also known as "Twin Peaks" or "Twin Buttes" to locals
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
I transitioned from feeling as if I merely lived on the skin of New River to actually being a part of it. I visited as many locations I wrote about as possible, hiking to ruins, riding old trails, studying old maps and new aerial photos. Most of all, researching history involves human research: studying family histories, listening to anecdotes, reading letters and memoirs. At times I'd cry when I read about the tragedies and losses of those families I came to know so well. Mostly, I'd revel in the courage and grit they exhibited as they settled in the area. I shall be forever honored to have met the Jackas, the Gees, the Halles, June Evans Bond, and so many others who contributed to the book - and who built the community. These were the sons and daughters of ranchers, homesteaders, cowboys and soldiers, who watched their parents sacrifice and struggle. I felt as if I was watching those labors myself as I heard their stories and studied their photos.

So, here it is, at long last:  Images of America: New River 

I collected far too many stories and bits of local history to include in this volume. I also photographed  the places I visited along the way and, as the current book is solely comprised of vintage photos, I could not include the current photos. In the future, I'll release the longer, more complete story of New River with the "now" photos to complement the "then" photos of the current book.

For now, I'm enjoying sharing New River's story with anyone who wishes to hear it. Thanks to the families who shared their photos with me, I can also share the area's images with you.

Jerry Jacka and Lois Essary Jacka generously contributed a tremendous amount of photos and information. For an outstanding history of the Jacka's historic Sun-Up Ranch, contact Jerry directly:  Jerry Jacka's Website. (You'll also want to look at Jerry and Lois' other stunning books!)


On Tuesday night, September 13, 2016, I'll speak about the book at the New River - Desert Hills Community Association meeting. It's open to the public. Join us from 7:30pm to 9:00pm at the Daisy Mountain Fire Department Station #141, 43814 N. New River Road. 

Should you have an interest in having me speak on local history or if you'd like a signed copy, please contact me at:  marcyjmiller06@gmail.com. 

Thanks for stopping by!






Saturday, April 23, 2016

Gillette: An Agua Fria Ghost Town




Ruins, Gillette, Arizona
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
By 1877, villages had sprouted up throughout the Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona Territory to support the numerous mining efforts within. One such mine, the Tip-Top, produced a great deal of ore that required freighting to Wickenburg for milling - an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Recognizing the need for a closer and more convenient stamp mill, the legendary Arizona pioneer Jack Swilling founded a new ranch and town on the banks of the Agua Fria where the Little Squaw Creek feeds in from the New River Mountains to the northeast.

Open shaft near Gillette
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Already living nearby at their Black Canyon ranch, the Swillings were but five or six miles from the new townsite. Jack had been operating three mines in the region in addition to his ranching. Despite his then increasingly ill health, he claimed 160 acres at the new site to be his new ranch and soon began selling properties in the area.  By early 1878, he and his family had moved to the new site.

On October 15, 1878, John J. Hill was appointed postmaster at the new town. It was called "Gillette" after the superintendent of the Tip-Top mine, D. B. Gillette. Soon, Gillette would become the mill site for the Tip-Top ore.

Looking at the ruins of the townsite today, it's hard to imagine it as a once-bustling mining town, but bustle it did. Situated as it was on the Old Black Canyon Stagecoach Road from Prescott, Gillette was ideally positioned in the treacherous and unforgiving terrain for a stagecoach station. It would become the last station before travelers would reach New River Station, twelve miles south. Gillette and its sister settlements in the Bradshaws were quickly populated by a veritable litany of characters that would make any western movie proud. The 1880 census of the district - including Gillett (the "e" is fickle and is sometimes dropped in records of the time), Boulder Creek, Big Bug, Bumble Bee, and Black Canyon - includes gamblers, miners, packers, station keepers, and Chinese cooks. The area boasted an international cast of Swedes, Germans, Mexicans, Prussians, Irish, English, Chinese, and plenty of Americans. Names include the founder of Wickenburg, Prussian miner Henry Wickenburg; a stagecoach driver boarding in the area, W. Humphreys; a gambler from California, William Boond; a Hanoverian miner named John Tipp; and even a Cuban cigar maker.

Relics of Gillette's past life as a mining town have been gathered on a plywood sheet near the ruins.
Note the ox shoe towards the bottom, just right of center.
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Mining towns were notoriously rough, attracting hard-working miners and the many opportunists who sought their share - earned or not - of the takings. Robberies along the Black Canyon Stagecoach Road were commonplace. In one of the more notorious incidents, in November 27, 1879, three Mexican bandits - Demetrio Dominguez, Gomecindo Moraga, and Fermin Tramblas - robbed a coach approaching Gillette from the north. Just two miles before its destination, the coach was stopped by the highwaymen. They fired at the driver, Bill Ayers, but missed him. They then attacked the passenger, William Thomas, who owned a claim at Tip-Top. Wounding him first with gunshot, they then brutally stabbed him until he was mortally wounded. The robbers then took anything of value before fleeing. The following January, based on Ayers' description, Demetrio Dominguez was located in Tucson. He still had upon him personal effects that had belonged to William Thomas. Dominguez was convicted and hanged for his part in the robbery in November, 1880, in the county courtyard in Phoenix.
Myself, standing before the ruins of a stone building at Gillette.
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved

Today, although much of the Old Black Canyon Stagecoach Road has been incorporated into the I-17 freeway, the winding, oft-steep road through Gillette remains unpaved. The ruins of the town are west of the freeway. Finding the rocky dirt road we'd intended to take to Gillette closed, we opted to hike in along the Little Squaw Creek. The going was slow - in part because of my bad feet, but also because the creek bed is rocky most of the way. Where it is not rocky, it is thick with sand. Gorgeous craggy cliffs line much of the creek.

Little Squaw Creek
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Occasionally, there's even a small, shallow pool of water to be found. (Our Arizona creeks are often on the dry side.) Behind me in the photo below, you can see some greenish water in the creek bed - and the scale of the rocks that slowed our hike.

Little Squaw Creek
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
As we approached the Agua Fria, beef cattle (a day-old calf among them) stared curiously. Giving the bull among them a wide berth, we rolled up our pants legs and forded the mighty river. Wet-footed and toting ample sand in our shoes, we had yet one more obstacle before reaching the ruins - a deep, slippery crevasse cut into the earth just past the river. 
An idyllic setting for an Arizona pastoral scene
(c) 2016 MJ Miller
The ruins are protected by wire fencing; perhaps to keep the cattle out, perhaps to protect what little is left from souvenir-hunters. Somewhere - I do not know where - are buried the bodies of many who died in this little town. In an altruistic endeavor that would spawn a series of events ultimately resulting in his own death, Jack Swilling reburied his friend Colonel Snively's body on his ranch in Gillette. Swilling himself did not receive such a posthumous privilege; his own remains are unmarked, somewhere in Yuma, undeserving of such anonymity.

(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved

The trek back, heading east
(c) 2016 MJ Miller * All rights reserved
Copyright (c) 2016 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be reproduced without express permission of the author * Links, however, may be freely shared! * Thank you for linking, liking, forwarding, emailing, sending by passenger pigeon, or otherwise helping grow my readership * Most of all, thank you for visiting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The House that Jack Built

On the corner of a neatly kept property in Black Canyon City are the ruins of a small stone house. Built by one of Arizona's most intriguing and influential citizens, it is surprisingly intact - that is, if ruins might ever be considered "intact." The walls and doorway remain. It's astonishing, really, when you consider the house was built in the 1870s; that it is on the banks of the Agua Fria, a river given to violent flooding that too often decimates buildings in the community; and that it has withstood generations of treasure hunters and adventurers.

The Swilling House, Black Canyon City
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

It is the house that Jack built: Jack Swilling, who contributed so much to the settlement and founding of Phoenix. Swilling was a man of stunning contrasts. A kind-hearted and thoroughly courageous man, Swilling was also deeply flawed and tormented most of his life not only by physical pain, but by addiction to the opiates and alcohol that helped him face it. A Confederate officer and a prominent Indian fighter, Jack was known for his generous nature and in addition to his own large brood, even adopted two Apache children. He married at 21, ostensibly much in love with his 16-year-old wife Mary Jane, yet left her and his young daughter behind as he moved west, never to see them again. Unlike many western pioneers, Jack held no apparent bias against Indians or Mexicans: his second wife, Trinidad, was Mexican, and he loved her and their children dearly.

Prone to bloviation, Jack both alienated and inspired affection from his acquaintances in perhaps equal measure. Plagued by ill health and injury, Jack was yet industrious to an extent that nearly defies imagination. By 1874, he had already achieved more adventures and accomplishments than many far more celebrated westerners. It was in this year that he moved to Black Canyon and built the stone house on the river, bringing his wife, Trinidad, to the site the following year.

Black Canyon village, at the time, was but a motley crew of roughly 50 miners who worked claims in the Bradshaw Mountains. Trinidad was the first non-native woman to arrive in the community. They planted crops such as watermelon and pumpkin, Jack began a vineyard, and they ran over a hundred cattle as well as maintaining horses and mules. There, they welcomed their fifth child, a son named Berry, and buried their second-oldest child, a daughter named Matilda. There, they often sheltered the travelers who made their way down what was called "Swilling's Road."

The stone house - not by any means as large as the house Jack had built in Phoenix many years before, when he was postmaster and mayor of the fledgling city - was never a stagecoach stop, although Jack had spoken of such plans for the future. Located where Black Canyon Creek met the Agua Fria, it was ideally situated on the ever-busier route between Prescott (then the territorial capital) and Phoenix.


The Agua Fria
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
Jack never had the chance to turn the ranch into a stage station. By 1878, Jack had been wrongly accused and arrested for a stagecoach robbery that occurred near Wickenburg. Confined to the county jail in Yuma (not the far more humane Territorial Prison), Jack's already-precarious health deteriorated rapidly. In the heat of summer and locked up in a jail that was even then considered a cruelly primitive facility, Jack died on August 13, 1878.


A Legacy in Ruins
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller


Left destitute and in grief, Jack's wife and children moved away from the stone house on the river. Although Jack's name was later cleared, his legacy had been tarnished irreparably. His Black Canyon house is a poignant reminder of the hardships Jack faced - and obstacles he overcame - in settling this rugged land.

For his work in helping found Phoenix by restoring water to the ancient canals, Jack's papers have been carefully archived and maintained by the Salt River Project and by historical associations and libraries. Jack's small, hand-built stone house, though, remains thanks to the care of private landowners. The lovely naturalized landscaping frames it beautifully.

For further reading, I recommend Albert R. Bates' "Jack Swilling: Arizona's Most Lied About Pioneer" (Wheatmark, 2008) and R. Michael Wilson's "Tragic Jack" The True Story of Arizona Pioneer John William Swilling," (Two-Dot, 2007) as well as the Salt River Project's "Jack of All Trades" exhibit and collection.

For Further Reading: Find "Tragic Jack" available on Amazon here 

Copyright (c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be reproduced without the permission of the author * Thank you for linking, liking, +1ing, tweeting, emailing or otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thank you for visiting and reading!




Sunday, April 3, 2016

Patriot Day at Cave Creek Fiesta Days Rodeo 2016

Rodeo, from the fans to the trappings, is a uniquely western sport that not only honors our western lifestyle and heritage but traditional American values as well.  Rodeo is unashamedly patriotic and unabashedly value driven and family oriented.

Today's final performance of the 2016 Cave Creek Fiesta Days Rodeo was "Patriot Day" - almost a redundancy, since just about every day of a rodeo is patriot day. Rodeo-goers (with some greenhorn exceptions) still put their hands on their hearts and remove their hats for the presentation of the flags and the singing of the national anthem; performances are generally still opened with a brief prayer. The Cave Creek rodeo once again featured a military color guard with a female soldier singing the anthem; in a few weeks, she'll return to active duty in Iraq.

Arizona's own 2016 rodeo queen, Alanna Hamilton, is herself a lance corporal in the United States Marine Corps.
Arizona's 2016 Rodeo Queen, Ms. Alanna Hamilton
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
Rodeo still offers a refreshing mix of family values and lighthearted, non-PC humor. Rodeo clowns and their close cousins, the cowboy's own bodyguards against angry bulls known as "American bullfighters," still might affect a lisp for comic affect or make jokes calling another's masculinity into question - and it's okay. Nobody calls for a safe space. 

American Bullfighter, Hollywood Yates
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
The Cave Creek rodeo featured prominent American Bullfighter, Hollywood Yates. Also known as "Wolf" from American Gladiator, at 6'4" "Hollywood" made the cowboys around him appear small. Don't let his muscle-bound appearance fool you: he limbered up by effortlessly doing the splits a few times before the bullriding began.

A Close Call
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
In this sanitized, risk-averse world, rodeo is still about risk-taking, adrenaline, and putting yourself in harm's way as either part of competition or to assist others in the arena. Although riders now routinely wear protective gear, there's just no way to make rough-stock riding safe. The horse above came out of the shoot backwards and soon fell; although being on a bucking animal is not exactly safe, being under a 1,200 pound animal is even less optimal. (Neither horse nor rider was injured in the fall).
Saddle Bronc: Flying without Wings
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller 
Unlike traditional "bullfighting," the American Bullfighter is responsible for protecting the bull rider. They do not torture the animal nor injure it in any way, but instead draw the aggressive bull's attention away from the rider until the rider can move to safety. 

American Bullfighter Luring a Bull from the Fallen Rider
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
Rodeo saves the most popular event, bull-riding, for last. Unlike bronc riding, where a "pick-up man" rides next to the rider and assists him in dismounting by climbing onto the pick-up man's horse, there's only one way off a bull.


(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 The true "rodeo clown" is now a separate function from the "bullfighter" task. The rodeo clown entertains the crowd during lulls in the action, such as when the arena is being dragged between events or when stock is being changed out. They keep the pace from lagging and provide humor. Note the Coors-can barrel: Coors has long supported rodeo and is ubiquitous in the cowboy world. Cowboy Artists of America painter Gordon Snidow long ago began using a Coors-can holding cowboy as a motif that distinguished his work from his colleagues.
Justin, a Rodeo Clown (and Proud Father of Triplets)
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 Bronc riding takes two forms: saddle bronc riding and bareback riding. Ironically, there's a "bareback saddle" used for the latter event. A saddle without a seat, it gives the rider something to hold onto with one hand (the other must remain in the air).
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
I mentioned above that there's only one way to come off a bucking bull - the hard way. However, the "shape" that takes has infinite variety.
Cowboy: Flying without Wings
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 Another proud American tradition honored at rodeo is ... capitalism. Rodeo relies on sponsors as much as it does fans. Whether it's bull-riders wearing a sponsor logo on their custom chaps or the flags carried by riders in the opening ceremonies, rodeo's not afraid to recognize the companies that make the sport possible.
Cowboys and Coors Go Together
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 Rodeo's also about civic involvement, charity, and service organizations. From the "Pink Day" supporting breast cancer awareness where the cowboys and staff wear pink shirts, to the Boy Scouts' merit projects, rodeo encourages contribution to the greater good. The attitude shows throughout the event: from people in the stands taking the hands of strangers climbing up the steep bleacher steps at each row, to "retired" riders assisting unpaid at the stock gates, rodeo's a joyful blend of self-sufficiency and lending a hand to those around you.

(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Copyright (c) 2016 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content, including photographs, may be used without the express permission of the author * Thank you for sharing, liking, emailing, +1-ing, tweeting, or otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

March 13, 1896: On This Day in Arizona History: The Suicide of Supt. Gates

March 13, 1896: The Death of Yuma Territorial Prison Superintendent, Thomas Gates

The story of Yuma Territorial Prison Superintendent Thomas Gates' suicide begins many years earlier. On October 27, 1877, seven Mexicans prisoners of the Yuma Territorial Prison made a violent escape attempt in what is known as "the Gates Riot." Taking penitentiary Superintendent Thomas Gates hostage, the convicts, led by inmate Puebla, quickly encountered difficulties in their efforts. Inmate Padilla was carried over the prison embankments by guard Fredley, who then regained custody of him; inmate Baca was shot twice by Guard Reynolds. Inmate Puebla was shot by the gun in inmate Lopez' hand; as for Lopez, he was pistol-whipped by a staff member, Rule, during the struggle, then shot by guard B. F. Hartlee and by staff member Rule.

Inmate Bustamante then attempted to attack Superintendent Gates with a butcher knife, at which point from his position in the guard tower guard Hartlee shot Bustamante, then shot inmate Vasquez. The remaining would-be-escapee, Puebla, savagely stabbed the Superintendent in the neck. Using Gates as a shield, he tried to work his way toward the west wall of the institution.

Although severely wounded by the stab wound and battered by knife handles during the struggle, Gates continued to fight with the convict. He would likely not have survived had another convict, Barney Riggs, not leapt into action. Riggs - a lifer convicted of murder himself - came to Gates' rescue. Gates directed Riggs to shoot Puebla with the gun inmate Lopez, lying lifeless nearby, had used.

Riggs swiftly shot Puebla, stopping the assault. Guard Hartlee also delivered another shot to Puebla. Riggs and another convict, Sprague, promptly rendered first aid to Gates and carried him to his room. Gates survived the violent attack, crediting Riggs with saving his life. He later wrote in his report of the incident that "had [Guard Hartlee] killed Riggs, Puebla would certainly have killed me." Fortunately, Hartlee was somehow able to quickly discern that Riggs was attempting to help, not to continue the assault, and withheld his fire until he had a clean shot at Puebla.

Despite living through the traumatic event, Thomas Gates suffered from the after-effects for the remainder of his life. According to the Arizona Sentinel, Gates was never the same after the attack. In the notice of his death, the Sentinel wrote, "... it is generally believed that the shock he received at the time has been the cause of his decline and ultimate death."

Almost 20 years later, on March 13, 1896, Gates shot himself in the right temple with a .41 caliber Colt revolver while at his residence at the prison. Only 62 years old, Gates had undergone surgery for piles (hemorrhoids) a few weeks prior and was said to have been "gradually sinking" thereafter and suffering internal pain. Evidently either planning his suicide or fearing death from his illness, Gates made his will a few days before taking his life and passed his private papers to a doctor named Heffernan for safekeeping.

The prison physician, Dr. Cotter, found Gates' body moments after the fatal shot. After being embalmed, Gates' body was shipped to Los Angeles, where he was to be buried beside his late wife.


A tribute to Barney K. Riggs, the prisoner who saved Supt. Gates' life, hangs on the wall of the Yuma Territorial Prison Museum. MJ Miller photo.
As for the courageous convict Barney K. Riggs, his actions earned him a pardon by Territorial Governor Zulick two months after the incident. Released from prison at the end of 1887, he moved on to Texas where he nonetheless met a violent death of his own. Riggs married a woman named Annie Frazier Johnson. Their marriage, which produced four children together in addition to the children each brought to the union, ended in 1901. On April 7 of the following year, Barney - still hot-tempered - threatened the life of Annie's son-in-law, Buck Chadborne. Chadborne shot him in response. Riggs died the following day.  Riggs had landed in prison for taking a life; was pardoned for saving a life; and had his own life taken.  

Copyright 2016 by Marcy J. Miller * All rights reserved * No part of this content may be used without express permission of the author * However, links may be freely shared * Thank you for liking, linking, sharing, tweeting, and otherwise helping grow my audience * Most of all, thank you for reading and for sharing my interest in the American west.








Sunday, March 6, 2016

Prison Bound: Day Trip to Yuma Territorial Prison Museum, Yuma, Arizona

The Guard Tower
(c) 2016 by Marcy J. Miller
 In the hottest (southwestern) corner of one of the southwest's hottest states is a well-preserved patch of ground no Arizona history enthusiast should neglect to visit: the Yuma Territorial Prison.  Built in 1875/6 above the rocky cliffs banking the Colorado River at Yuma Crossing, the prison housed 3,069 inmates during its 33 years as a correctional facility. Not only were many of the prisoners infamous, influential, and colorful, but many of the peace officers affiliated with the prison were among the territory's best-known. From gunslinger Buckskin Frank Leslie to the media darling female stagecoach robber Pearl Hart, inmates included hard men and hard-luck stories alike.


The Main Cell Block
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Despite the inclination to assume the prison was a brutal hell-hole, for its time the Yuma penitentiary was a surprisingly humane facility. Though set in a forbidding location where summer temperatures could soar to 120 degrees, the adobe- and stone-walled facility was a vast improvement over the unventilated Yuma County Jail nearby. The most severe sanctioned disciplinary actions were the ball-and-chain or - for the most incorrigible prisoners - time spent caged in "the Dark Cell," an unlit, filthy grotto carved into the rock hill on the premises. The prison required inmates to work and contribute - and it afforded them opportunity to learn a variety of skills and arts. It boasted a considerable library, differential case-by-case treatment for prisoners who were there on non-violent offenses (such as the 12 prominent Mormons committed for polygamy charges), medical care and an on-site hospital, and special consideration for prisoners who merited such treatment by their heroic contributions or by simple compassion for their plight.


Within the "Dark Cell"
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 The prison housed male and female prisoners, although initially having no special quarters for women.  Even one child was born within its walls and allowed to stay there until his mother's release. Prison staff apparently made concessions for female prisoners when practicable, shortening their stays on occasion.  Female inmates were no delicate flowers, though: one, Elena Estrada, had been incarcerated for cutting the heart out of her unfaithful lover and plopping it onto his face. Another such paragon of feminine virtue had killed her brother with a shotgun during a disagreement over her dancing. Not only did the presence of women cause special logistical issues for staff, but they caused many a fellow inmate to incur discipline for attempting to smuggle letters to them.


The Women's Prisoner Quarters
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
As in many western prisons, inmates became skilled at some of the more time-consuming arts. Anyone who, like myself, has tinkered with the practice of making braided horsehair bridles will appreciate the fact that if you're doing 20 to life, you might just have the time and patience to devote to such a craft. Below is a stunning example of such work.

Horsehair Bridle Made by Inmates
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
Not only did inmates practice traditional "western" craft, but some unexpected arts as well: the beautiful lace collar below was painstakingly made by convicted murderer C.E. Hobart, a rough man with a surprising knack for tatting. Inmates often taught each other their skills in addition to being responsible for making prison uniforms, doing facility infrastructure improvements, providing tonsorial services and even managing bookkeeping of inmate accounts (with predictable results).
C.E. Hobart's Handmade Lace
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

When authorities decided to build a large, new prison in Florence, Yuma inmates did the construction work. In 1907, Governor Joseph Kibbey appointed former Captain Thomas Rynning of the Arizona Rangers to the position of prison warden. Rynning was a firm believer in treating criminals fairly and in providing them incentive and tools for reform. He convinced Governor Kibbey to authorize two days off their sentence for every days' work spent on prison construction. Rynning ensured the prisoners were treated well but that they worked hard. According to Rynning's memoir, Gun Nothces, he was proud that the workers - ultimately numbering up to 500 men - not only remained in good spirits, but that they learned carpentry, steel work, and concrete skills. He was also proud that although they worked in the open, only one escaped from the construction crews.

Superintendent Tom Rynning, Former Captain of the Arizona Rangers.
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller
 
After the Florence facility was completed in 1909, the Yuma prison was closed. It still had many more contributions to make to the community, however. When Yuma needed a new high school and had no place to house it, the students were educated in the former prison hospital (located on the second floor of the main cell block). The school's teams were from thence forward called "The Criminals."

During the Great Depression, the old prison housed the homeless. In 1939, all "vagrants" were expelled from the prison. Many left behind graffiti scratched into the cell walls.


Graffiti Inside a Cell
(c) 2016 Marcy J. Miller

Among the other uses of the prison buildings included housing a VFW post, serving as a setting for many films, and the site of many community events (even weekly yoga classes are currently offered in the guard tower). In 1940, what remained of the old prison was preserved by the city of Yuma as a museum. It became a state park in 1960.

Visit the park's website for help planning your visit to the park: Yuma Territorial Prison Website. Pro-tip: visit during the cooler months; wear sun-smart clothing; and take a few minutes to stop at the prisoner cemetery situated outside the museum grounds, near the entry to the parking lot. Read up a bit on the prison history before you visit so you can get the most out of your visit. The area hosts many other sites of historical interest - so leave some time to check them out while you're in that neck of the desert. Enjoy!