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Wickenburg's Jail Tree

If you head, as the brochures pithily recommend, "Out Wickenburg Way," you'll find a nice photo opportunity in the town's much-advertised Jail Tree. It's a 200-year-old mesquite, tucked absentmindedly behind a Circle K near the corner of Tegner Street and Wickenburg Way.

According to legend, and the tree's authoritative metal sign, the ancient mesquite served as Wickenburg's "hoosegow" from 1863 up until 1890 when the town finally got itself a real jailhouse. As the sign attests in its characteristic Western font, there were no escapes. The same as any town's oddball jail attraction.

Myth has it that convicts were sentenced to the tree and chained there until they either died from exposure or, if lucky, they completed their stretch. But, in truth, the tree was simply a holding facility. Offenders were shackled or tied to the tree only until a Phoenix lawman could make it up that way to retrieve them. Still, according to Wickenburg's Chamber of Commerce, this could be anywhere from two to five days. At least they had some shade.


An e-mail from a woman who claims to have been a resident of Wickenburg in the early 1930s, however, insists that it's all just a tall tale. It was nothing more than a fable told to the kids. (Likely followed by "…and if you don't start doing what you're told, we'll walk right over to that tree…") She added that the shackles were introduced in more recent years to legitimize it as a tourist attraction.

Yet, the history books would suggest that the legend is true and that whatever shackles were added later were probably new ones to replace the long-gone originals. Either way, the new set appears to be gone, too, replaced by an antique strongbox, placed there for mystifying reasons after it was donated to the city.

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