What Became of the Yuma Territorial Prison After its Closure in 1909?

yuma high school criminals true west magazine
Yuma High School Criminals.

The Yuma Territorial Prison opened its doors and closed in 1909 it didn’t lie fallow for long. Before becoming one of Arizona favorite state parks in 1961, the County hospital used the prison from 1914 until 1923. A year later the Southern Pacific RR demolished the
eastern third of Prison Hill in order to construct new tracks. The Veterans of Foreign Wars leased the guard’s quarters, using it as a clubhouse from 1931 until 1960.

During the post WWI years and the Great Depression the cells became a shelter for hobos riding the rails and homeless families. But it’s most colorful and unique chapter occurred right after closure in 1909. A year after the last inmate was transferred to the new prison in Florence, Yuma High School burned so from 1910-1914 students attended classes in the old prison. The team name at the time was Horned Frogs but that would soon change in 1913 as a result some inhospitable football fans of Phoenix Union High School. The Horned Frogs traveled to Phoenix made the mistake of upsetting the heavily-favored Phoenix Union Coyotes.

After the game the rabid fans taunted them with shocking epithets, “Criminals.” At first the Yumans took umbrage at affront but as time went by and the old school was rebuilt with materials from the former prison the students began to look fondly upon “Criminals” as a badge of pride and in 1917 they changed their name to the Criminals. The school symbol is the face of a hardened criminal and the student merchandise shop is called the cell block.

The Yuma High School Criminals have a proud sports history and no, their school colors aren’t black and white even though they look that way in the old B/W photos. The school colors are Navy Blue and white.

But the referees in their black and white striped shirts pay homage to the old territorial prison at Yuma High School’s home games.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu.

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