The Farm Chronicles: The ghost town jailhouse

Growing up on the farm with horses and cattle, I naturally gravitated toward being a cowboy. Everything cowboy. I don’t think I wore anything but cowboy boots until I was in school, and only then to change up with those old Converse canvass tennis shoes for gym and playing basketball. All things cowboy. All the cowboy movies and going outside playing cowboy. I remember one time at my cousin Steve’s house, we watched a cowboy movie where they lynched a bad guy. Steve and I went outside put on our cowboy hats, strapped on our guns and holsters and found a  cat. We threw a rope around the clothesline and strung him up. Aunt Dory came to the cat’s rescue and we got quite a scolding over that one.

On our trips West to visit Grandma and Grandpa Humble, who lived in Phoenix, AZ., my uncle Junior often took my cousins Bob and Nancy and us to ghost towns. He took us to Apache Junction where there was a ghost town they turned into a movie set. Apache Junction sat at the foot of Superstition Mountain. The junction, a stagecoach stop, is part of the old Apache Trail that winds in and around the mountain and also is home to the ghost town of Goldfield. My imagination would run wild watching the staged gunfights and brawls of these old Western days. It was like reliving some of the old days when men were men and the bad guys were always defeated.

One of the most interesting places we went was Jerome, Az. Jerome was the site of a copper mine that began in 1876, fizzled out in 1884 and rejuvenated in 1890. Between 1876 and 1953 when the mine gave out, it produced some 33 million tons of copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc ore. By the time we visited in 1965, it was a true ghost town. There was one particular feature that was unique. The jail. The jail, sitting on a steep hill was home to the lawbreakers of what became known as the “Wickedest Town in America.” It was in high demand during Jerome’s heyday as brawlers, boozers and gunfighters were locked up and were always trying to make a jailbreak. But all that changed in 1938.

The old concrete cellblock made a break of its own. Underground blasting shifted the ground beneath the jail. It broke away and slid down the hill coming to a stop some 200 feet later. We drove past the jail and got out of the car. I made my way down the steep hill to take a look. The cell bars and iron doors were rusted and the floor was cracked from the slide. My imagination of old ghosts and superstitions got the best of me. I thought I felt the jail starting to rock and slide again, so I took off running up the hill toward the car, my cowboy boots slipping on the rocky Arizona terrain. In Isaiah 59:14, the Lord speaks of how “justice stands afar off and truth is fallen in the street.” In this case, the jail representing justice in Jerome slid afar down the hill, and I was slipping and sliding up the hill to get away from the ghost town jailhouse.

Posted in

Bill Wilson