Yuma Territorial Prison: Country Club on the Colorado

The Yuma Territorial Prison was known as the Country Club on the Colorado. I’ve wanted to visit this prison ever since I wrote A Cowboy’s Redemption (2015, Cowboys of the Rio Grande series).I wasn’t sure how readers would react to a “contemporary” western with an ex-con hero but I soon learned romance fans love a good redemption story. A Cowboy‘s Redemption  won the 2015 RT Book Reviewers’ Choice Award for best Harlequin American Romance.



Cruz Rivera is on his last second chance. He can’t afford to blow it by falling for the beautiful blonde widow who just hired him to fix up her family’s New Mexico property. If he’s going to get back on the rodeo circuit, Cruz needs to focus. Besides, a sweet single mom like Sara Mendez can do better than someone with Cruz’s troubled history.

Sara isn’t making it easy for Cruz to keep his distance. He’s a man of many secrets, but Sarah sees only good in his warm brown eyes. Though Cruz knows he should move on before Sara discovers the truth about his past, he can’t leave the closest thing to a home he’s ever known. Cruz is the only man Sara wants—can he become the one she deserves?




The Yuma Territorial Prison is located along the Colorado River on the way from Phoenix to San Diego. Last summer my husband and I toured the historical site. You’ve probably heard of the prison—it’s been the focus of several western movies—maybe the most famous being the original “3:10 to Yuma”, starring Glenn Ford and the 2007 remake, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Below is a photo of the “country club” from yumaprison.org

Yuma Historical Prison

A total of 3069 prisoners called the Yuma territorial Prison home, including 29 women during the 33 years of operation. $25,000 was budgeted for the construction in 1876 and the first handful of inmates moved in on July 1, 1876.

Yuma Territorial Prison cell Block door  Yuma Territorial Prison

In its hay day the Territorial Yuma Prison had more modern amenities than most homes in town: electricity, forced ventilation, sanitation—two bathtubs and three showers, a library with 2,000 books, the most in the Territory at the time, and an “enlightened, progressive” administration and a Prison Band.

  Hell Hole

Prisoners feared and loathed the Yuma Territorial Prison….because of its “Insufferable heat… that made the place an “inferno,” surrounded by rivers, quick sand and desert in all directions, an inhuman “Snake Den” and Ball and Chain as standard punishment, Tuberculosis was #1 Killer. But of the 112 prisoners who died while at the Yuma Territorial Prison, very few died violently.

Eight were shot while trying to escape. Six commited suicide. Five died in work accidents, only 2 were killed by another prisoner and one was executed by Yuma County.



Prison Timeline

Yuma Territorial Prison opened in 1876. The guard tower and water reservoir were built in 1882 and electricity hooked up in 1884.


Yuma Territorial Prison Tower and Prison water storage tank


Women’s cells built 1891

The women didn’t have to sleep in steel bunkbeds like the men. The steel bunkbeds were used to cut down on infestations and there were 6 steel bunkbeds to each cell.

Yuma Territorial Prison cell  Yuma Territorial Prison bunkbeds in cell

1899 legendary stagecoach robber Pearl Hart, known as the bandit queen, was sentence to 5 years for robbing the Globe to Florence stagecoach. She became a media sensation and flirted with both prisoners and guards, leading to her early departure when pardoned after 2 years.

Yuma Territorial Prison Hart






Library 1893 South Wall

This was the location of the library–the image on the wall is what it looked like back in the day.

Yuma Territorial Prison library


Dark Cell 1894 South Wall

Yuma Territorial Prison Dark Cell exterior  Yuma Territorial Prison cell interior

1909 due to overcrowding the prison closes and prisoners are moved to Florence.

Yuma Union High School occupied the buildings from 1910 to 1914. When the school’s football team played against Phoenix and unexpectedly won, the Phoenix team called the Yuma team “criminals”. Yuma High adopted the nickname with pride, sometimes shortened to the “Crims”. The school’s symbol is the face of a hardened criminal, and the student merchandise shop is called the Cell Block.

1916 famous Yuma flood and prison materials used to rebuild Yuma, destroying remains of prison

1932 depression era victims use prison for shelter.

1939 squatters evicted and 1940 museum built on site with New Deal funds.

1942 guard tower used for WWII spotting.

I hope you enjoyed touring the Yuma Territorial Prison with me and if you get the chance to see it, there’s a wonderful visitor’s center with fabulous historical photos and stories of the old prison. Just a tidbit of advice–don’t visit the prison when it’s 109 degrees out like we did~fall and winter would be the best months to walk around outside.


For a chance to win this coffee mug from the Yuma Territorial Prison gift shop tell me if you’ve ever toured a famous prison before or if there’s one you would like to see some day. I’ll announce the winner in the comment section of this blog post Sunday January 14th!

ceramic mug with prison logo


Until Next Time…Happy Trails!









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50 thoughts on “Yuma Territorial Prison: Country Club on the Colorado”

  1. This is an interesting post! Thanks for sharing what you learned about the prison. I’ve never visited one, but this post makes me want to. It’s fascinating they put a high school in a building that used to be a prison.

    • Hi Sally! I’m glad you enjoyed learning about the Yuma Territorial Prison. I took a boat tour around Alcatraz years ago and really wish I would have taken the tour that got off on the island. That’s on my bucket list now 🙂

  2. I have never had the chance to tour any prison, but this one sounds very interesting. If I ever get out that way, I would definitely have it on my must see list. Thanks for sharing this post and your knowledge of the prison.

  3. Have never toured a prison. I visited someone in jail once and that cured me of ever wanting to see another one—-historic or not.

  4. No I have never really toured a prison but was real close to one once. My sister used to work for the Federal prison system. She retired a few years ago.

  5. I totally enjoyed reading this! We love to visit old places like that. While we were in Scotland we visited the Peterhead Prison and learned so much about that place and the riots. Sometimes it is a little sad thinking of those who were put in there. Great history, though!

  6. Toured the old State prison in Jefferson city Missouri. They had a old gas chamber. Most was torn down in 2012 except for the buildings built in the 1860. Was interesting to see how tough life was then. Most of the buildings had to be closed because the state did not have the funds to make them safe. The 3 remaining building are a historic landmarked due to the fact they are the original building built around 1860.

  7. I’ve toured Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island in Delaware. It was mostly used as a Civil War prison by the Union. I have only had daytime trips to the island, but since it’s supposed to be haunted, there have been night time trips. Because of it’s location on the Delaware River, it was an important military defense location till the end of WWII.

    My friend went to the famous one in Philadelphia: Eastern State Penitentiary. I’m too chicken for that one.

  8. One of hubby’s many favorite movies is 3:10 to Yuma — the original with Glenn Ford. We just watched it again in the last week or so.

    I don’t rememer having toured any prisons.
    I vaguely rememer visiting one when I was a very, very young child. What I remember is women below ground, like all together in a living room, sewing or embroidering, and visiting. My grandmother was a Matron (guard).

  9. Interesting blog with great pictures. Thank you! I don’t recall going to any prisons. If I were in an area sightseeing, I’d visit a historic site of one, I think. I did, however, visit the Fort Smith National Historic Site to see the remains of two frontier forts, plus the Federal courtroom for the Western District of Arkansas — Hanging Judge Parker’s court and jail, where my great-grandfather once testified in a trial of Sam and Belle Starr for horse theft. Does that count?

    • LOL, Tina, the trick is to tell your husband to keep back up until he’s fifty yards away and then take the picture –and always wear sunglasses. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  10. What a fascinating post. I’ve never visited a real prison but I’ve watched the tour of Alcatraz on tv. That’s as far ass I could get. 🙂
    Carol Luciano

  11. Thank you for sharing your very interesting post. I have visited Alcatraz and it was quite an experience. While there I kept thinking that the prisoners could see freedom just across the bay.

    • I’m jealous, Melanie, I wish I had taken the Island tour of Alcatraz and had gotten off the boat years ago instead of just going around the island-I bet it was eery on the island and in those buildings.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I toured the historc Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Saw the cell where Geronimo was held.

  13. In the 1960’s I toured the Dannemora State Prison in Northern New York. I don’t think they have done tours there for a long time. It is still an active prison housing high profile prisoners like Son of Sam. A year and a half ago it hit the news when 2 prisoners escaped, the first escape from the prison. We happened to be up there visiting at the time, there were road locks everywhere and the staff at the prison put in a lot of overtime. We have many relatives that have worked there over the years.
    We visited the Old Montana Prison in Deer Lodge, MT. several years ago when we took our grandson on a tour of the West. The prison is part of a museum complex and all the museums are well worth the visit. There are some interesting exhibits within the prison. The combination of rock exterior walls and brick interior buildings is striking.

  14. Positively FASCINATING, Marin. So many stories have included this prison in them, and to actually be able to see it is amazing. I would love to see it in person, but this is the next best thing. Wonderful post!

  15. No, I have never been to a prison but I have toured a local jail. I have seen and heard so much about Alcatraz so that would be an interesting visit for me. Thanks Marin for sharing all of the pictures.

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