Arizona Wild West History Museums


If you want to learn more about what Arizona was like in Territorial times, these state museums are here for you.

Western Museum of Desert Caballeros

The museum’s extensive photo collection, which dates back to the 1880s, offers a rare perspective on everyday life in the Old West.

You can also walk through an exhibit that includes scenes of a Western-style ranch and a Victorian-era house, taking you back to the turn of the 20th century.

If that wasn’t enough, the museum’s collection of Western art is unmatched. You will be very familiar with the cowboy way by the time you leave.

Details: 21 N. Frontier St., Wickenburg. 928-684-2272,

– Scott Craven, The Republic

Western Spirit: The Museum of Western Scottsdale

Visitors view the exhibits at Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West

What better place to find a museum dedicated to Western life than in the westernmost city in the West?

The exhibits explore cowboy and Native American culture, offering an understanding of frontier life decades before the land was tamed by cars and air conditioning. Visitors will find Western memorabilia in addition to art.

The museum also houses an extensive research library devoted to Western Studies. Appointments are compulsory.

Details: 3830 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale. 480-686-9539,

– Scott Craven, The Republic

Following:10 Native American museums and festivals in Arizona

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

The entrance gate to Yuma Territorial Prison State Park.

The first thing visitors see when they enter the museum here are flint eyes. No, it’s not the museum staff who are having a bad day.

A row of photo ID murderers includes “Buckskin” Frank Leslie, who Wyatt Earp has compared to Doc Holliday for his skill with guns; Pearl Hart, who committed the last stagecoach theft in Arizona; and frightening-eyed Elena Estrada, who stabbed her unfaithful lover and then slit open his chest, ripped out his heart, and threw the bloody mass in his face. This is an exhibition!

Yuma Territorial Prison opened in 1876, and by the time it closed 33 years later, it had carved out a formidable reputation. No one was executed but 111 prisoners died during their incarceration and 104 still rest in the prison cemetery.

Visitors can climb into the guard tower, tour the infamous “Snake Den” punishment cell, and have their ID photos taken in front of the original mirror used by prisoners to create profile views. Some historic sites are boring for children, but a place where they can lock their siblings in a cell and wear prison stripes is not one of them.

Details: 1 way to prison hill, Yuma. 928-783-4771,

– Roger Naylor, Special for The Republic

Jerome State Historic Park

Douglas Mansion is the centerpiece of Jerome State Historic Park and is one of the historic buildings that dot the small town.  Credit: Tom Hood / The Daily Courier.

This museum has a spectacular setting. The park preserves the Douglas Mansion, built on a hill overlooking the Verde Valley with views spanning the San Francisco Peaks. The 8,700 square foot mansion has been a landmark – part of Jerome’s vertical topography but separate from it – since its construction in 1916.

James S. Douglas built the opulent adobe structure right above his booming Little Daisy Mine. The house also served as accommodation for itinerant mining officials and investors. It had a wine cellar, a billiard room, steam heating and a central vacuum system. It was at a time when thousands of miners lived in huts, tents and boarding houses.

The mines played and Jérôme emptied himself. The Douglas family sold the property to the state for $ 10 in 1960. The mansion joined the park system in 1964.

It’s a stunning museum filled with photographs, artifacts, mining equipment, minerals, and detailed models of the intricate network of shafts and tunnels dug through the mountains. Although most of the exhibits are indoors, take the time to stroll through the gardens and soak up the panoramic views.

Details: 100 Douglas Road, Jérôme. 928-634-5381,

– Roger Naylor, Special for The Republic

Gravestone courthouse

A new collection of Wyatt Earp memorabilia is now on display at Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park.

Tombstone seems in conflict at times – eager to preserve its designation as a National Historic Landmark, but eager to head to a fully-fledged theme park. Visitors often experience a version of the Wild West filtered through a Hollywood lens. For more information, stop by the Tombstone Courthouse.

Built in 1882 in the shape of a Roman cross, the Cochise County Courthouse has become an important symbol in the wild and woolly town. The death toll was so high during those violent days that it was said that “Tombstone had a man for breakfast every morning”.

The two-story, red-brick Victorian structure housed the offices of the sheriff, secretary, and treasurer, as well as courtrooms and a prison. A parade of colorful figures from both sides of the law paraded through these doors. Yet all booming cities have their bust. The Tombstone silver mines were flooded before the turn of the century and the inhabitants fled. In 1929 Bisbee became the county seat and the county offices were moved there.

The Tombstone courthouse sat empty for decades. Plans to turn it into a luxury hotel in the 1940s fizzled out and it was allowed to deteriorate. A local group bought the building in 1955 and started a long rehabilitation project. The courthouse opened as a state park in 1959, featuring exhibits and artifacts that capture one of Arizona’s most notorious chapters. A replica of the gallows in the courtyard represents the place where seven men were hanged.

Details: 223, rue Toughnut, tombstone. 520-457-3311,

– Roger Naylor, Special for The Republic

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McFarland State Historic Park

The Pinal County Courthouse in Florence was built in 1881.

While not as famous as its Tombstone counterpart, the Pinal County Courthouse in Florence has seen its fair share of violence and more. In 1888, vigilantes stormed the sheriff’s office, dragged two prisoners out of their cells, and hanged them in the prison hallway. The men had been accused of stealing the scene and killing the guard. Members of the mob were never brought to justice.

The adobe courthouse was built in 1878. Timber for the roof and floors was carted from the forests of northern Arizona. The courtroom, judge’s office, sheriff’s office, and jail occupied the first floor. The second floor served as a jury room and quarters for visiting lawyers. In less awkward times, the courthouse was the place for dances and social gatherings.

When a larger courthouse was built in 1891, the adobe building became the county hospital. It then served as a museum. In 1974, former Arizona Governor Ernest McFarland purchased the building and donated it to Arizona State Parks.

The park closed in late 2008 so the old structure could be stabilized, and state budget cuts kept it closed until early 2011. Arizona State Parks partnered with Florence and the Main Street program , which now manages the installation. It serves as Florence visitor center.

McFarland takes a walking tour of the historic downtown Florence district. Founded in 1866, Florence is one of Arizona’s oldest cities and one of the best preserved. Adobe houses are interspersed with elegant Victorian homes and early 20th century commercial structures. Pick up a map for a 1.4-mile walk that winds through Florence’s colorful past.

Details: 24 W. Ruggles Street, Florence. 520-868-5216,

– Roger Naylor, Special for The Republic

Sharlot Hall Museum

Writer and poet Sharlot Hall was appointed Territorial Historian in 1909, becoming Arizona's first woman to hold a Territorial office.

Sharlot Hall was a frontier poet who was appointed Territorial Historian in 1909, making her the Arizona Territory’s first female public servant. She founded the museum in 1928.

The museum is a pioneer village centered on the original Governor’s Mansion, built in 1864. Buildings open to visitors also include the Fremont House, the relocated home of Fifth Territorial Governor John Charles Fremont, and the Ranch House and School House, replicas that give tourists a feel for the tight quarters shared by Arizona pioneers.

The Sharlot Hall building houses exhibits on mining, ranching and firefighting during Territorial Days, as well as a cultural history of the Yavapai Prescott Indian tribe.

Details: 415 W. Gurley Street, Prescott. 928-445-3122,

– Roger Naylor, Special for The Republic

Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum

Visitors to the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum can learn about the men who blasted, drilled and mined over 2,000 miles of tunnels in the surrounding mountains.

You’ll see what life was like in Bisbee when it was a busy mining camp in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The museum, affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute, takes you inside a mine (via a realistic display) that gives visitors a little taste of the narrow limits miners face every day.

You’ll also see parts of the massive machinery that dug the nearby Lavender Pit, a 900-foot-deep crater from which 600,000 tons of copper was mined.

Be sure to ask the docents for the massive wall-sized photo of a turn-of-the-century parade in downtown Bisbee. They will highlight some otherwise unnoticed details of how people lived and dressed in the heyday of the city.

Details: No.5 Copper Queen Plaza, Bisbee. 520-432-7071,

– Scott Craven, The Republic

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