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Builder and First Inmate of the Clifton Jail

The old Clifton jail, probably taken in about 1900.

The old Clifton jail, probably taken in about 1900.

This is a photograph of the old Clifton jail, probably taken in about 1900. The identity of the nattily dressed man is unknown, as is the explanation for the rubble piled high in front of the fence. We do know some about the jail, however.

During Arizona’s boisterous youth, the town jail – if a town had one at all – was generally constructed using fat adobe bricks. The building was small, poorly ventilated, dark and often dank. The adobe, however, afforded inmates an opportunity to dig their way to freedom, and many did.

When the residents of Clifton decided to build their jail, they insisted that the structure be escape-proof. Some bright soul conjured up the notion of carving the jail out of solid rock at the base of a mountain. The town fathers then sought out a hard-rock miner named Margarito Verala and hired him for the job.

The historical record does not reflect how long it took Verala to accomplish his job, but one can safely assume that his labor was long and arduous. It was the kind of sweat-producing work that would make a man’s mouth run dry and bring on a major thirst. And therein lies our story.

When at last the task was completed, Verala pocketed his pay and headed off to the nearest saloon. There he bellied up to the bar and proposed a toast to himself and his noteworthy feat. But his fellow imbibers were unmoved by his vainglorious proposal and declined to raise their glasses.

That made Verala angry.

He had a right, after all, to be proud of his accomplishment. So he did what any red-blooded, hard-rock miner would do. He pulled out his six-shooter and shot up the ceiling.

That was a mistake. The bartender didn’t take kindly to gunplay in his establishment and called the sheriff. The sheriff took a look at the ceiling and concluded that Verala had broken the law.

Thus, it was the hard-working miner who carved the jail out of solid rock and became its first inmate.

— W. Lane Rogers. Photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society, Tucson.

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