Gleeson Jail


There were actually three jails in Gleeson. The first jail was a large oak tree that still stands today, behind the Bono Store across the road. A thick steel cable was secured around the trunk of the tree, and prisoners were chained to the cable by their right arms with just enough length to reach the wash when nature called.


The second jail stood just in front of where the current Gleeson jail is today. It was a wood shack with a tin roof. This worked for most prisoners, but a few who thought they didn't belong there could easily push the tin roof up, and make their escape.


When construction of the current jail was completed, the wood shack was moved to another property in Gleeson, and became a storage room.


The Gleeson jail that we have today was constructed in 1910, by the same folks who built the Courtland jail, and is an exact duplicate.


During the 1960s, a family moved into the jail and did a little "remodeling." Wanting a front patio, they took out the solid entryway, turned one of the cell doors into a window (and added a couple more), and broke through the solid interior wall to create a two-room house.


The Gleeson jail was used until around 1938. And just like the jail in Courtland, most of the window bars, cell doors and iron shutters were removed for the new jail in Benson.


During the prohibition in 1917, confiscated whiskey was stored in one of the cells at the jail.


In February of 1917, when Sheriff Wheeler and the Gleeson constable, Lafe Gibson, captured a car load of whiskey being smuggled through the area just south of Gleeson. Under cover of darkness, the bootlegger tried speeding his Buick north towards Gleeson, but was confronted by Wheeler and Gibson. The unknown bootlegger jumped out of the car while it was still moving, and darted out into the darkness, leaving behind the whiskey as the Buick rolled into a ditch.


Wheeler and Gibson pulled the car out of the ditch and Gibson drove it back into Gleeson. For several days, both whiskey and Buick remained at the Gleeson jail while Gibson searched for the bootlegger. When it became obvious that the perpetrator was not to be found, Sheriff Wheeler drove the car back to Tombstone. The whiskey was poured out into the ground next to the jail.


This was not the first time that the ground near the jail was soaked with alcohol. One month previously, Constable Lafe Gibson captured four barrels of whiskey bound for sale in the dry state. The two-hundred gallon haul was loaded into the freight lockup room of the Gleeson train station, just up the hill from the jail.


It was not long before one of the thirstier citizens of the area tried to liberate the liquid by allowing gravity to have its way. Having spied the barrels in the freight room, an attempt was made to crawl under the floorboards of the station. The perpetrator dragged with him a hand drill and a bucket. Boring a hole up through the floor of the station, his intent was to drill right into one of the barrels and allow physics to play bartender. Apparently his thirst affected his judgment of distance, for he missed the intended barrel and left a hole in the floor. The station agent, Mrs. Katherine Moore, noticed the hole in the floorboard and, discerning the attempt at liquid liberation, called Constable Gibson. The lawman decided to transfer the four barrels to the Gleeson jail for safekeeping. Being constructed of reinforced concrete with steel doors, solid steel shutters, and a concrete floor, he judged it the safest place to keep the illegal substance.


It appeared he underestimated the thirst of the local denizens, however, because during the night, the only known attempt to break IN to the Gleeson jail occurred. The solid construction of the building and its location in the center of town, however, doomed the breakin attempt with only minor damage, and the next day Constable Gibson and his assistants rolled the four barrels outside the jail, knocked in the stopper heads, and let the whiskey soak into the ground. There was, no doubt, much groaning, gnashing of teeth, and licking of lips among the many onlookers. Arizona voters chose to repeal the statewide ban on liquor in 1933, and the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, making liquor legal again nationally, was ratified in December of that same year.


Today, the Gleeson Jail is open to the public on the first Saturday of each month, or by special arrangement. Owner Joe Bono grew up in Gleeson, and has the jail filled with newspaper articles, artifacts, and memorabilia from Gleeson's hey days. You can check out the Gleeson Jail Facebook page by clicking or tapping here.


Photos above: First photo is the large oak tree that served as the first Gleeson Jail. Second photo shows the wooden jail. Third photo is the Gleeson Jail as it looks today.



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