Yuma, Arizona is a fun place located in southwest Arizona. It is overlooking the Colorado River where you can go boating, canoeing, and tubing. The city also offers a lot of outdoor adventures at the Imperial Sand Dunes, the Sonoran Desert, and many national wildlife refuges where you can go off-roading, biking, hiking, and do more outdoor activities.
Downtown Yuma, Arizona. (Link: https://www.visityuma.com/about-yuma/arizonas-best-historic-main-street-community/)
One of the places that people often visit at Yuma, Arizona is not all about outdoor fun. It is the Yuma Territorial Prison and it is reportedly haunted.
The entrance to the Yuma Territorial Prison. (Link: https://www.desertusa.com/yuma/du_yumatp.html)
History of Yuma Territorial Prison
The Yuma Territorial Prison is a former prison that opened in July 1, 1876 then shut down on September 15, 1909. A total of 3,069 prisoners spent their time behind bars here, 29 of which were women. The people who got sentenced in the Yuma Territorial Prison had crimes ranging from murder to polygamy. The last prisoners left in 1909 after they were transferred to the newly-constructed Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, Arizona.
An old photo showing an aerial shot of the Yuma Territorial Prison. (Link: http://westernamericana2.blogspot.com/2010/06/yuma-territorial-prison-1875-1909-by.html)
The Yuma Territorial Prison was feared by criminals. It was hot there and a massive watchtower was set to get a good look over the prison. Accordingly, many attempted to escape and there were a lot of prison riots. Those who could not take being there chose to commit suicide. Many of the prisoners also did hard labor as the Yuma Territorial Prison was mostly built by the prisoners.
The watch tower at the Yuma Territorial Prison. (Link: https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g31418-d109585-i62217873-Yuma_Territorial_Prison_State_Historic_Park-Yuma_Arizona.html)
Not everything was bad about Yuma Territorial Prison because in 1882, when F.S. Ingalls took over as the warden, he changed the system. He provided electricity for the prison, his wife Madora came up with educational opportunities for the inmates and also set up a library, and many more. However, after Ingalls’ tenure was done, Thomas Gates took over and had a policy of firm but fair punishments.
A sign inside the Yuma Territorial Prison. (Link: http://txwaywardwind.blogspot.com/2015/01/yuma-territorial-prison-state-historic.html)
In 1886, a prison riot broke out after seven inmates tried to escape. These inmates took the firearms from the guards and they took Gates as a hostage. As the inmates tried to get out and used Gates as a human shield, Gates told his guards to go ahead and shoot and not to worry if he might get hit. The guards started shooting and one inmate took the opportunity to stab Gates in the back. A trustee, named Barney K. Riggs, later stole Gates’ handgun and shot the inmate who stabbed him. Riggs was an inmate as he was imprisoned for killing a man involved with his wife. Because of his heroics when he saved Gates, he was pardoned the next year.
A photo of Barney K. Riggs at the Yuma Territorial Prison. (Link: http://justwestofmyheart.blogspot.com/2016/03/march-13-1896-on-this-day-in-arizona.html)
More on the riot, four of the seven inmates were shot dead and one was wounded. The riot was named after Gates later.
One of the famous punishments at the Yuma Territorial Prison is being thrown into the Dark Room with nothing but your underwear. Accordingly, it was a 10 square foot room and had a tiny vent for daylight. The prisoners staying there were given only one bread and water as their meal for the day. If the prisoner being punished was an escapee, the prisoner will also get a ball and a chain locked to each ankle. The Dark Room was also given the name of Snake Den because snakes and scorpions would find their way in the dark room.
The Dark Room at the Yuma Territorial Prison (Link: http://reflectionsfromthefence.blogspot.com/2011/03/trip-yuma-territorial-prison-state_06.html)
In the 1900, the prison became overcrowded thus the plans to make a new prison, which was the Arizona State Prison Complex. Come 1909 after the new prison’s completion, inmates were moved there.
After it was vacated, the buildings of the Yuma Territorial Prison were converted into classrooms to be Yuma Union High School. The school, however, lasted only from 1910 to 1914. During one football game, where Yuma Union High School’s team went against Phoenix, the former won. Accordingly, it was an unexpected win and the Yuma Union High School’s team might have been fueled by the fact that the Phoenix team called them criminals.
A corner at the Yuma Territorial Prison showing when it became the home of Yuma Union High School. (Link: https://www.yumaprison.org/yuma-high-school.html)
Since then, the Yuma Union High School carried the nickname with pride. Sometimes, they even shortened it to “Crims.” The school’s football team symbol is the face of a hardened criminal.
In the 1940s, the Yuma Territorial Prison became the home of vagrants and their families. Then during the World War II, the watch tower was used for spotting.
Later, it became a museum and operated as such until the 1960s. By 1961, the Yuma Territorial became the third state park in Arizona and remains a popular attraction in the area to this day.
The Ghosts Of Yuma Territorial Prison
A total of 111 prisoners at the Yuma Territorial Prison died. Some of them were because of tuberculosis, while the cause of death for the others is unknown.
Because of the many deaths that happened inside the prison wall, visitors have reported paranormal activities like hearing blood-curling screams, pleas for help, rattling of chains, and music from the Yuma Prison band. Visitors and staff also said that they feel a sense of dread and uneasiness upon entering the jail cells.
The most paranormal activities reportedly take place at the Dark Room and the main cell block. It is open for visitors to enter that is why they have seen, heard, and felt things they could not explain in the area. Accordingly, most of the people who entered the Dark Room had a feeling of being watched. Also, the ghost of a small girl reportedly haunts the Dark Room. She allegedly pokes, prods, and pinches visitors and staff with her ice-cold hands. It is unclear if she was one of the children of the homeless families who used the Yuma Territorial Prison as their home during the Great Depression or if she is the girl in the story that goes around to this day.
Inside the Dark Room at Yuma Territorial Prison. (Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/charles25001/37133098945)
Per the story, a little girl in a red dress was reportedly trying to get her doll that fell into the Colorado River. She drowned because of what she did and from then on, she haunted the Yuma Territorial Prison. Accordingly, she does not like anyone wearing red and will usually pinch that person.
One staff writer with the Arizona Highways magazine actually tried to get the full experience of the prisoners by staying in the Dark Room for 48 hours. The writer was shackled and only had a jug of water and loaf with her. She asked to be released from the room after just 37 hours because she swore she was not the only person in the room.
Other ghosts in the area is said to be that of John Ryan. He was incarcerated for a sexual offense and it is believed it was rape. He was in Cell 14 and because the guards and the prisoners hated him, he committed suicide. Whenever the staff or visitors pass by Cell 14, they said they felt cold spots, chills, and shivering.
A photo showing the inside of the cells at Yuma Territorial Prison. (Link: https://www.desertusa.com/yuma/du_yumatp.html)
Another ghost is that of a female inmate who sings in the visitors’ area during morning. A ghost named Johnny also reportedly like rearranging the coins in the cash drawer of the gift shop.