A place to keep captured outlaws seems like a pretty important thing to have, especially given how notoriously lawless the West was. In the 19th century there wasn’t any jail in the town of Wickenburg, Arizona until 1890, so outlaws were chained to this large Mesquite tree instead; until they could be transported out of town.
The now-200-year-old mesquite tree, which is located right in the center of town, was really only a sort of holding cell for the outlaws– they stayed chained there until a sheriff from Phoenix could get to Wickenburg to transport them to an actual jail, or at least until they sobered up. According to Wickenburg’s Chamber of Commerce, this could be anywhere from two to five days – with the accused just sitting there in the heat of the Arizona desert.
According to legend, and the tree’s authoritative metal sign, the ancient mesquite served as Wickenburg’s “hoosegow” (which is Old West slang for prison) from 1863 up until 1890 when the town finally got itself a real jailhouse.
A sign near the tree explains the significance of the tree. The sign reads: “The Jail Tree. From 1863 to 1890 Outlaws were chained to this tree for lack of a Hoosegow – Escapes were unknown“ and there is a life-sized sculpture of a prisoner tethered to the tree by a heavy rusty chain.
Although as the story goes, on a day when there were so many men restrained to the tree the authorities had to chain one criminal to a nearby log. The criminal, sick of waiting around, allegedly picked up the log and carried it into the closest saloon. However, there is some controversy over whether this is true or just another of the Wild West’s tall tales. Fact or legend, it makes a good story.
Today, the Jail tree still stands as one of the city’s biggest landmarks and it is one of many tourist attraction in this historic mining town.