pixel

Baja Fever
By Greg Niemann

The Prison With Open Doors

By Greg Niemann

Mulege Prison Baja

Baja’s languid picturesque village of Mulegé has endured an interesting life. The lush valley town straddles a fresh water river that empties into a beautiful estuary on its way to the Sea of Cortez. Tropical Mulegé has long attracted visitors, from Indians to padres, to Americans who were repelled, and to Americans who were welcomed.

The name Mulegé is derived from the Cochimi language meaning "Large ravine of the white mouth." In 1705 the popular Padre Juan de Ugarte brought Padre Juan Maria Basaldua to the area to establish a mission they called Santa Rosalia de Mulegé. The beautiful stone building that replaced the original mission is still standing on a rocky promontory overlooking the river.

Fourteen years later, Ugarte built the first boat ever constructed in the Californias in the Mulegé estuary. That ship, named Triunfo de la Cruz, was the finest sailing ship in California at the time and was used many times crossing the Sea of Cortez.

The settlement was flooded in 1770 but the town was rebuilt and restored to normal shortly thereafter. Over two centuries later storms and hurricanes continue to cause problems. For example, Hurricane Jimena in September 2009 destroyed much of the town, especially the low-lying areas along the river. And just like the previous tragedies, the residents regrouped and rebuilt.

A lot of gringos are unaware that the official name of the town is "Heroica Mulegé," honoring the residents of Mulegẻ for their part in the Mexican-American War’s 1847 Battle of Mulegé. The locals from Mulegé and surrounding settlements rallied behind Captain Manuel Pineda to repel the American naval advance.

It was an important battle that galvanized the Mexicans and taught them that the American military was not invincible, and Mulegé was not occupied by the invaders. Even today, on official papers and letters of the Government of Baja California Sur you will find the title "Heroica Mulegé."

Mulege Prison Baja

Most interesting chapter

But perhaps the most interesting chapter in Mulegé history was the territorial prison that was erected on the hill above town in 1907. This prison was different. The inmates were allowed to leave each morning to work in town as long as they returned when the horn was sounded each afternoon.

While locally it had many nicknames, including "The University," officially it was the Territorial Prison of Baja California del Sur. Some visitors remember up to 30 and 40 prisoners.

The doors were open during the day. The prisoners would go out to earn minimum local wages either pruning palms or fishing, or other work. For a while during the 1950s, some worked on the construction of a hospital. At 6 p.m. the caretaker would blast a loud conch shell horn. The prisoners and guards would then drift in from all directions. Roll was called, the prisoners marched into prison and doors were closed. It was said that they were not allowed to dance or drink, but they could go to a dance if they stood on the sidelines to watch.

Mulege Prison Baja

Author O. W. Timberman (Mexico’s Diamond in the Rough, Westernlore Press, 1959) noted:

"On top of this hill was the prison, surrounded by a high wall with sentry boxes placed at the corners. We were allowed to go as far as the high iron doors, where we passed out cigarettes and candy to the inmates, totaling four, who were locked inside. I bought, from one of them, a hat band he had made of braided horse hair. From the looks of the interior that we could see from this gate, the quarters could not be called luxurious. The prisoners' blankets, which were all the bed they had, were rolled on the bare ground, and the place was far from sanitary.

"Any other prisoners they might have had were probably off in the town at some form of work, for it was our understanding that the honor system was used here, and those who were in good grace were allowed to work in the date groves and vegetable gardens close by—the only restrictions being that they could not enter places where intoxicating liquors were sold, and they had to be back at the prison at a specified time each evening to answer roll call. I could not help but wonder how an escaped prisoner could go very far in this wasteland and survive. Considering the great distances between habitations and the frugal water supply."

From all indications, the townspeople treated the prisoners well, as if they were just like anyone else. Only a few ever betrayed the trust. In the 1960s one prisoner stole some clothes from a store in town. For this, all of the prisoners had their rights rescinded for a while. The peer pressure not to abuse the system must have been enormous.

Then the Territory of Baja California Sur became the State of BCS in 1974 and a new prison was later built to the north of town. The new one looks more like a prison too. And the old one, well, the distinctive large, white rococo Spanish-styled structure which dominated the town began to suffer from inattention and abuse. So a local group got the old whitewashed adobe building with four foot thick walls transformed into a museum, and it’s well worth a visit.

Mulege Prison Baja

This group was led by Americans, by the way, who have been welcomed to Mulegé in droves. The distant 1847 Battle of Mulegẻ has been relegated to history books, and today most gringos are not aware that the statue at the entrance to town is that of Captain Pineda. Today homes along the river and south of town along the Bahía de Concepción are primarily owned by Americans who find the tropical village a paradise.

Prisoners no longer roam the streets but their presence for decades helped add to the character of a once-heroic village. The transformed iconic and legendary old prison on the hill now serves as a reminder to a more laid back system of jurisprudence, and a more laid back Baja of an earlier era.


About Greg

Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit Greg's website.

4.7 93 Reviews
  • user logo
    Benjamin Driebe
    From logo

    Absolutely fantastic, I already forgot her name because I have a terrible memory but the woman that helped me on the phone was wonderful,...

  • user logo
    richard carr
    From logo

    fast replies and great price!

  • user logo
    Juan Zuniga
    From logo

    I just would like to know if you guys are going to update the fastpass direction any soon, during the month of January the lane changed to...

  • user logo
    Richard Schweiger
    From logo

    Very professional, very helpful, great policy, I couldn't be happier with Baja Mexican Insurance, the friendly smiles and ease of it all in...

  • user logo
    Ryan Frisby
    From logo

    We use them every time we travel to Mexico. Luckily we have not needed their services yet but getting insurance through them is quick and...

  • user logo
    Jan Muhammad
    From logo

    I need a tourist visa for maxico I'm from pakistan help me sir

  • user logo
    Tracy Moore
    From logo

    Very easy, quick, and professional

  • user logo
    robert kepper
    From logo

    They are very good . There website doesn't show you need a title to bring a vehicle across the border.I was stopped and told I had to...

  • user logo
    Edilver Martinez
    From logo

    Our go to Baja car insurance, everytime we take a visit down south . Usually it's for a day trip either for a quick getaway with the family...

  • user logo
    Daniel Markofsky
    From logo

    Third time working with Baja Bound and they made it easy! Thanks!

  • user logo
    Steve Bender
    From logo

    Have never needed to use the insurance fortunately but the website always works great. Can buy a policy in about a minute.

  • user logo
    Jose Paez
    From logo

    Had a great experience getting insurance at Baja Bound, before I always stoped at the border to purchase my insurance, not anymore. By the...

  • user logo
    JUSTINE SERRANO
    From logo

    I purchased insurance through them & CHUBB for our trip to San Felipe. Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to our vehicle having an oil...

  • user logo
    Christian Minor
    From logo

    Team were on point, provided inside information, prices were great and they had my proposal already in the system when I called back....

  • user logo
    Joey Digiovanni
    From logo

    Easy to work with 😉. Always courteous and helpful

  • user logo
    George
    From logo

    Excellent customer service

  • user logo
    Kellye Pummill
    From logo

    Fast and easy!

  • user logo
    Jennifer Toups
    From logo

    Baja Bound is and has been my go to Mexico insurance company. The website is extremely easy to use, keeps all your info for a quick...

  • user logo
    Cesar Lopez
    From logo

    Very convenient, great price !!

  • user logo
    Louis Schneidman
    From logo

    I had an awesome experience with Baja Bound. Family owned and highly personal, top notch customer service. I have total peace of mind...

  • user logo
    Phil Noble
    From logo

    If you’re looking for Mexican Insurance that you can trust and feel good about while traveling in Mexico, you’ve found the right place....

  • user logo
    Jeff Bunker
    From logo

    Great coverage options . Price buy and print policy , very quick and easy , highly recommend them when driving in Mexico

  • user logo
    Burrell DeVine
    From logo

    Easy to navigate and very competitively priced! I had to call in and add an additional day, they couldn't have been any more pleasant to...

  • user logo
    Nereyda Torres
    From logo

    Me gusta la asuguranza porque la puedes comprar por un dia y te asegura en Mexico por el tiempo que vas ya sea hasta por mes (Translated...

  • user logo
    james whitmer
    From logo

    Best insurance I've had so far

  • user logo
    Rail1riders
    From logo

    Quick, easy, well designed website and not just for Baja. Good rates for temporal residente gringos. We’re not living in Jalisco. Printed...

  • user logo
    Matt B
    From logo

    I always use Baja Bound to source my insurance while traveling to Mexico. Fortunately, I have not had to file any claims. I do appreciate...

  • user logo
    Refugio I. Rochin
    From logo

    Excellent online and by direct phone. Spanish and English with proven response to questions. Website is very informative about driving in...

  • user logo
    Kelly Carney
    From logo

    Yara is very helpful and explains everything. Love working with companies like this.

  • user logo
    Slumdog Gump
    From logo

    Changed some money. Good rate and friendly people.

  • user logo
    Jeff G
    From logo

    Went down to TJ June 11 2020 No problems going into TJ but the way back was a ordeal 6 hours in line to get back into the USA but no...

  • user logo
    don letson
    From logo

    Great renewal process, if only south Dakota would do the same for car registration.

  • user logo
    len buckholtz
    From logo

    SIMPLE, STRAIGHTFORWARD. OLD GUYS LIKE THAT. WILL DEFINITELY USE IN 6 MONTHS IF STILL RUNNING AROUND THE WILDS OF BAJA.

  • user logo
    Susana Judd
    From logo

    Easy, quick and fair prices. Easy to deal with if needed.

  • user logo
    Seismic Waterfinder
    From logo

    Very excellent service, needed insurance for Mexico, price was fair. The custumer service rep was Yara

  • user logo
    Nicolas Dervé
    From logo

    Very good ans very fast. We hope all will ben good if we need it.

  • user logo
    Blake Glassco
    From logo

    I will never drive south of the border without Baja Bound in my center console. I was in an accident a couple hours south of Ensenada and...

  • user logo
    JohnPaul Gemelli
    From logo

    Baja Bound could not have made it an easier ... also, I made a mistake and called them having to leave a message ... but, they called back...

  • user logo
    Jeff Brandt
    From logo

    so far so good, however I have read good things about them

  • user logo
    Sengoz N
    From logo

    SERIOUS.

  • user logo
    Kenneth Trass
    From logo

    Getting a policy was simple, Provided more than provider for price comparison.

  • user logo
    Esther Valencia
    From logo

    Super easy to purchase just the coverage you need when crossing the border in your own car. I especially appreciate the fact that I was...

  • user logo
    Larry Cottingham
    From logo

    Great service, very helpful people there.

  • user logo
    Luis Cortes
    From logo

    Easiest way to purchase insurance when traveling to Mexico. I have used their service for the last 7 years and it only gets easier and...

  • user logo
    j dougher ty
    From logo

    EZ Peasy insurance purchase. Great service every time I've used them. Had to cancel one time when my travel plans went away - no problem....

  • user logo
    Paul Niehouse
    From logo

    Extremely easy to acquire a policy. Many options available. Reasonable rates.

  • user logo
    Colin
    From logo

    Super-easy and instant. Very happy with initial purchase.

  • user logo
    Howard M Elster
    From logo

    2nd year with Chubb. No problems

  • user logo
    Cyndee Congrove
    From logo

    Great customer service, quick, friendly staff helpfully answered all questions, very patient with my learning curve on a new product. Would...

  • user logo
    Art Eugenio
    From logo

    I've had Baja Bound insurance for more that ten years now with thousands of miles logged in Baja. Fortunately, I've only had one fender...

  • user logo
    Gabe Matthews
    From logo

    Where do i start..... you dont know you have good insurance until you have to actually use it. I have had Baja Bound INS for over 5 years...

  • user logo
    keith berkley
    From logo

    Been going to baja for 45 years. This is best insurance company i have come accross.

  • user logo
    Ryan Perkio
    From logo

    I have been using BajaBound Insurance for 15 years - multiple trips per year. Their website is easy, their coverage is great, and the...

  • user logo
    RaMon McBride
    From logo

    I have not had any claims thus far so rating is based on ease of purchase.

  • user logo
    Larry French
    From logo

    By far the best service for Mex insurance in Baja. They are personally there for you if you have problems south of the border.

  • user logo
    Tudor Thomas
    From logo

    Baja Bound makes buying insurance for going south of the border as easy as it gets. The website is the easiest I have used and the staff...