Island Bound Traveller Writer, Storyteller
Gary Grieco is a freelance writer, avid reader, sailor, and motorcycle enthusiast based on Texada Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Yuma's Gunfighters' Legacy
Published RV Times November - Decemb er 2012
photos and story
BY GARY GRIECO - email@example.com
Published RV Times 2012
A force of a hundred or more Wild West desperadoes and their women ride into Yuma every January to re-enact skits set in the time period 1876 to 1909 at the old Yuma Prison.
The "Gathering of the Gunfighers" event draws thousands from around the southwest, as well as Canadian snowbirds.
They come to experience colourful old west lore without
having to strap on a six-shooter, in this historic territorial prison setting - the only place tough enough to handle these wild and wooly gunfighters, outlaws, and varmints of the old west.
The very name, Old Yuma Territorial Prison, conjures
up visions of steam locomotives chugging slowly, through haunted desert plains, pursued by horse-mounted masked men; drunken, noisy gunfights and hangings in dusty streets outside sallons in windblown desert towns.
Surviving villains in these bloody times were given a free ride in a horse-drawn wagon secured with bars to the Territorial Prison in Yuma, to be locked in hot, dark, grated cells. On July 1, 1876 the first seven prisoners entered the Territorial Prison and were locked into cells they'd hacked out of the granite with their own hands on Prison Hill. This penitentiary housed many of Arizona's most dangerous criminals right up until 1909, but had only a short 33-year history. Contrary to popular belief, it was considered a model prison of its time with electricity, running water and flush toilets...no executions took place at the prison, but 111 prisoners died while serving time, and are buried on the prison grounds. I met two of the re-enactor gunslingers under a blue sky filled with gun smoke at the old Yuma Prison as they prepared to shoot-it-out for the affections of saloon-hall gal, Rambling Rose. A staggering Black Powder Larry in the dusty main street of the fake town made up of false storefronts, is calling out, "Rambling Rose, Rambling Rose, where are you?" Curly Dan, another suitor stalks him from behind. The shoot-out, while not bloody, is loud and violent including shotgun blasts,, and ends with Black Powder Larry dying in stockin' feet under a hail of gunfire. To add insult to injury, on this day, Black Powder Larry loses points for having 'modern' stitching on his boots. Curly Dan, (aka Dan Rodriquez), Black Powder Larry, (Larry Caseman), and Rambling Rose, (Linda Rodriquez) are part of a band of re-enactors from the San Diego Lions Club who tour the southwest taking part in western shows like 'Gathering of the Gunfighters' and 'Helldorado' in Tombstone, Arizona. They also
re-enact gunfights every Sunday in the mountain town of Julien, just outside of San Diego.
Old Yuma Prison Wagon.
courtesy of Bobby Zlatevski
Serious Wild West enthusiasts and families looking for fun will enjoy the authenticity of the performers' clothing and firearms that includes such things as buttons that have to be bone, leather, or mother of pearl. Some performers go to the extreme of using period cartridges with flat lead tops in their gunbelts instead of the modern pointed bullets. There are different categories in the judging that range from cowboys to gunfighters and lawmen. There were quite a few Wyatt Earps on this day. Points are given for character portrayal, verbal expression, and use of weapons, stunts, timing, and entertainment. The Judges deduct points for forgotten lines, vulgarity, just plain carelessness, and wearing that 'dern' modern apparel. An African American gunfighter was resplendent in an authentic 1817 tenth army Calvary uniform from that all black Regiment. About half of the original prison was destroyed when the railroad rerouted its main line in the 1920's, and that line is still in use today, adding a touch of realism with the sound of iron wheels screeching on steel tracks as freights cross the old green bridge into California to the sounds of gunfire echoing over the Colorado River. The re-enactors are friendly and approachable. They love to regale tourists with the history of their characters, costumes, and tales of the old west. Enthusiasm for the era of the gunfighters shines through and they really live the role, as do most of the wives who volunteer with hundreds of behind-the-scenes chores. Most are also dressed in period jewellery and long gowns - some hand sewn from old patterns, and some authentic dresses and high boots of the era. Famed in literature, television, and movies like "3:10 to Yuma", the Old Yuma Territorial Prison provides the perfect dramatic backdrop for the State Historic Park nestled at the bottom of the hill next to the Colorado River.
IF YOU GO THERE
- RV's are allowed overnight campling for a fee in the State Historic Park nestled at the bottom of Prison Hill; and day tripping is free.
- There is a nominal fee for the "Gathering of the Gunfighters" two day event, January 12 -13, 2013, which includes the prison self-tour. The newly renovated prison museum is a must see. You can put on a scowl, one-size prison pants, and use the original prison mirror to take a photo that allowed front and profile views of new prisoners.
- Yuma is a desert town of 120,000 people that swells to nearly 300,000 in the winter months when the Snowbirds arrive. It has all the amenities of a much larger city, including large shopping malls, many RV Parks, and much to see and explore, including agri-tourism, casinos, military sites, Native American culture, water fun, and many good restuarants.
- Visit or phone the Information Center at Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, 201 N. 4th Avenue, 1-800-293-0071. Request a printed Visitor Guide or browse and download the digital version from www.visityuma.com/territorial_prison.html. *