Yuma Teritorial Prison 1875 - 1910 by “Sid” Hagel

The Yuma Territorial Prison was commissioned in 1875 and operated until 1910, when the

 prisoner built facility at Florence AZ was completed.  Yuma Territorial Prison was dubbed “The Hell Hole”. This nickname was not as well deserved as many desperados would care to have us believe. It was a well operated facility that housed a capacity population of around 200. Throughout the entire operating period Yuma Territorial Prison was at 120 to 130 percent over populated.

The overcrowded conditions lead to both the “Hell Hole” moniker and the high percentage of pardons. Most prisoners incarcerated in Yuma did not spend the entire sentence behind the infamous walls.  

The prison wagon struck out from Yuma Territorial Prison to the far reaches of Arizona Territory to collect convicted prisoners and take them to the walled confines of the infamous prison, presumably for the duration of their sentences. At each stop more convicts were added. The journey was long and hard. There was little or no room to sit, therefore, the ride to Yuma was the start of a miserable period in the lives of Arizona desperados. The prison Wagon consisted of a standard freight wagon with an iron cage bolted to the bed. The entrance was at the rear. Heavily armed guards shoved the new prisoners into the cage forcing those already inside toward the front. There was no protection from the elements, such as the fiercely blown sand, or the driving rain. Worst of all was the continuous sun. The only relief was when the wagon turned and the other prisoners provided a brief period of shade.

 

 Some died of various diseases of the period, some were hanged, and others died trying to escape. Only a few escapes were accomplished. AA Stewart was one of those escapees.  

A few infamous outlaws of the West were incarcerated in Yuma. One of those was inmate number 632 “Buckskin” Frank Leslie. He defended himself by killing “Billy” Claiborne, over his self proclamation as “Billy the Kid”.   

All photos were taken at the Yuma Territorial Prison by “Sid” Hagel


 

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