In the small(ish) town of Wickenburg, Arizona (population 7,695), sits an historic tree that was once used as the town’s jail – yes, really. In fact, “jail trees” were not uncommon during the Wild West days, especially in Arizona, as they cared little for the detainees’ comfort or wants. Instead of taking the time and effort to build a physical jail, it was much easier to simply chain the arrestee to a tree and call it a day! Located at 45 N Tegner Street, the jail tree is one of the town’s main attractions. It’s free to visit and sits in the heart of downtown, right behind the Circle K gas station. It’s very easy to find.
The idea of a jail tree is a bizarre concept today; however, it wasn’t an uncommon practice “back in the day”. There are multiple other jail trees, many located within Arizona, in the cities of Tombstone, Paradise, and Ruby. There is also a well-known jail tree in Wyndham, Australia. The jail tree in Wickenburg is a 200-year-old mesquite tree, which was used for 27 years, between 1863 and 1890. It was decommissioned when the town’s jail was finally built in 1890.
Given that this was during the Wild West days, as mentioned, prisoners were not exactly treated kindly or humanly. Townsfolk had no issue chaining criminals to the jail and leaving them there for days without food or water, waiting for the sheriff to come up from Phoenix to collect. Per the sign at the tree, “From 1863 to 1890 outlaws were chained to this tree for lack of a Hoosegow – Escapes were unknown”. A hoosegow is another name for prison/jail.
Not only is the actual spot a historical marker, but the tree itself is historic and is included on the list of historic trees via The Historical Marker Database.
Overall, lovers of Wild West history (or history in general) will enjoy a visit to this historic spot and tree. Wickenburg sits approximately 1 hour northwest of Phoenix and is a very doable day trip if you’re ever in the area. It’s a fun, little town that holds on tight to its Western roots, making it a wonderful place to spend an afternoon!