You are Heading for the Slammer! A colorful aspect of the Old Wests lore is the desperados who, between their stealing and pillaging, spent a good amount of time in town jails and territorial prisons. Locking up the bad guys (and gals) was a part of the frontier justice system and, as history tells, the confines of prison had a far more ominous story than what has been depicted in old-west films about jail-bird legends. Many western prisons and jails were built in the mid- and late- 1800s, long before electricity, air conditioning and inmate rights. Some of these institutions still stand and are reminders of the hardships of living and surviving the punishment meted out to lawbreakers during frontier times. Many of the buildings are now historic landmarks and visitor attractions, while others are home to museums displaying a town or region's history.
One aspect of many of these historic structures is their architectural design, which often reflects the popular building styles of the era. Yuma Arizona Territorial Prison State Historic Park This facility opened on July 1, 1876 with seven inmates who were locked into rock and adobe cells. During its 33-year history Yuma housed 3,069 inmates, including 29 women. The crimes causing this incarceration ranged from murder to polygamy, with grand larceny being the most common offense.
Despite its infamous reputation, this facility was a model institution and offered prisoners many privileges that were unheard of in other penal institutions of the time. The most severe punishment extended was sentencing to a dark cell and only those who attempted escape were bound in ball and chains. Inmates had free time during which many made hand-crafted items which were sold at a public bazaar held at the prison following Sunday church services. Inmates also received regular medical attention, had access to good hospital facilities and they learned to read and write in the prison school.
This facility housed one of the first public libraries in the territory. By 1907 the prison had exceeded its capacity and within two years all inmates had been transferred to a new facility in Florence. The Yuma Territorial Prison is one of Arizonas most visited historic parks and operates as a living history museum. Group Travelers see the cells, main gate and guard tower. Interpretive guides offer insights into the history and lore of the prison and territory. Contact: 928-783-4771, www.
desertusa.com/yuma/du_yumatp or (Yuma CVB) 800-293-0071, www.visityuma.com Museum of Colorado Prisons It is not surprising that you will find this states prison museum located in Canon City adjacent to Colorados oldest prison, which opened in 1871. It became a Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in 1874 and is still in operation as a minimum security facility.
The original prison was known as the Hell Holes and incarcerated the regions most hardened criminals of the time. It was witness to 77 executions and home to notorious inmates like Alfred Parker, the only man convicted of cannibalism in the United States; and the 11-year-old murderer, Anton Woode. The Prison Museum is housed in the first Colorado Womens Correctional Facility, which was built in 1935.
Adding to the drama of learning about prison life, past and present, museum galleries are located in 32 prison cells. Some of the more dramatic artifacts displayed include the hangmans noose used at the last execution by this method and an early version of the gas chamber. There is a collection of weapons confiscated from inmates, disciplinary p raphernalia used from 1871 to present times and many rare historic photographs depicting prison life.
The museum has a gift shop which features inmate-created arts and crafts. Contact: 719-269-3015, www.prisonmuseum.
org or (Canon City Chamber) 800-876-7922,www.canoncity.com/visitors. Old Idaho Penitentiary The Idaho Territory was less than ten years old when its territorial prison was built in 1870 east of Boise. The penitentiary grew from a single cell house into a complex of several distinctive buildings surrounded by a high sandstone wall.
Convicts quarried the stone from the nearby ridges and completed all construction as it expanded throughout its history. During its century of operation, the penitentiary received more than 13,000 convicts, including 215 women. And, it had its share of personalities, including Butch Cassidy. Life was very hard at this prison which had sparse facilities, heavy-handed authority and was void of most modern conveniences. One of the better inmate work duties was to be assigned to the 50-plus acre prison farm and nursery which produced most of the food for the institution.
These grounds were located just outside the prison walls and are now part of the Idaho Botanical Gardens. Another positive aspect, and in contrast to the stark and barren prison atmosphere, was its nursery stock rose gardens which were planted for a commercial grower who was testing new varietals. The conditions under which the inmates lived sparked a general riot in 1971 and an even more severe riot in 1973. The result of these conflicts was the closure of the old prison and the move of the entire population to a new facility located south of Boise. The Old Idaho Penitentiary is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and tours of the grounds and its rose gardens are available to the public. Various buildings are open, including some cell houses, the solitary confinement building, death row and the gallows.
There are displays on the history of the prison as well as Idaho Transportation and the History of Electricity in Idaho. Group Travel Blog .
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