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Wyoming Frontier Prison

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Address: 500 W. Walnut St, Rawlins, WY 82301
Phone Number: +1 307-324-4422
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8:00 am - 5:00 pm
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Sun - Sat 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

The eighty year history of Wyoming’s first state penitentiary, now known as...

The eighty year history of Wyoming’s first state penitentiary, now known as the Wyoming Frontier Prison, is as colorful and elaborate as the plot of a classic western movie. The cornerstone of the prison was laid in 1888, but due to funding issues and Wyoming’s notorious weather, the doors wouldn’t open for thirteen years. In December of 1901, the prison opened and consisted of 104 cells (Cell Block A), no electricity or running water, and very inadequate heating.

Throughout the prison’s operation, approximately 13,500 people were incarcerated, including eleven women. Overcrowding was an almost constant concern, and the first of several additions to the penitentiary was completed in 1904, adding 32 cells to the west end of the original cell block (Cell Block A). Women were housed in the prison until 1909, until the last woman was transferred to Colorado. The addition of the second cell block (Cell Block B) in 1950 temporarily relieved the overcrowding, and also included solitary confinement cells, a much more efficient heating system, and hot running water which wouldn’t be installed in the original cell block for another twenty-eight years. A maximum security addition (Cell Block C) was completed in 1966, but the addition only included thirty-six cells and was reserved for serious discipline cases.

The prison was equipped with several different means of disciplining inmates throughout its operation, including a dungeon, several variations of solitary confinement and a “punishment pole” to which men were handcuffed and whipped with rubber hoses.

The prison also used different execution methods.. The first two executions were carried out using the “traveling” Julien Gallows which were used to hang Tom Horn in Cheyenne in 1903. In 1916, the penitentiary completed the addition of a “death house” which consisted of six cells to house inmates on death row, and a unique indoor version of the Julien Gallows. The building also housed the gas chamber when it was chosen to replace hanging as Wyoming’s execution method of choice in 1936. Ultimately 14 death sentences were carried out; nine men were hanged, and five were executed in the gas chamber by the use of hydrocyanic acid gas.

The Wyoming Frontier Prison is a remnant of the grizzly past of the old west, but not every aspect of prison life was so off-putting. Over the 80-year operation, the prison produced goods to meet demands of four major industries. From 1901 through 1917 the prison had a broom factory, but inmates burned it down during a riot. The factory was rebuilt and operated as a shirt factory which brought in twice the revenue to the state. In 1934, a federal law was passed to prohibit the sale and transportation of prison manufactured goods from one state to another, which resulted in the loss of significant revenue when the factory closed. In 1935, the factory began operating as a woolen mill which won the “Navy E” in 1942 for the superior quality blankets produced by the prison for the military during World War II. In 1949 the prison changed production one last time, producing license plates until the penitentiary closed in 1981.

After serving the state for eighty years, the prison closed its doors, and sat abandoned until 1987 when a low budget movie titled “Prison” was filmed on location. The movie was one of Viggo Mortensen’s first and featured several other well known actors. Significant damage was done to the prison grounds during filming because it had yet to be considered a historic site. In 1988, a joint powers board assumed ownership of the penitentiary, dubbed it The Wyoming Frontier Prison, and established it as a museum. The Wyoming Frontier Prison has since been listed on The National Registry of Historic Places, and offers tours to approximately 15,000 visitors annually.

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TripAdvisor Reviewer Highlights

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Visitor rating
  • 81
  • 43
    Very good
  • 8
  • 0
  • 0
Interesting tourist site

The young man conducting the tour of the old prison was very knowledgeable. Sitting in the old gas chamber definitely was a weird feeling. Worth seeing.

4 of 5 starsReviewed 2 days ago
Rawlins, Wyoming
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132 Reviews from our TripAdvisor Community

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English first
Rawlins, Wyoming
Level Contributor
4 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed 2 days ago NEW

The young man conducting the tour of the old prison was very knowledgeable. Sitting in the old gas chamber definitely was a weird feeling. Worth seeing.

Thank wysped
Coalville, Utah
Level Contributor
1 review
5 of 5 stars Reviewed December 3, 2015

This is a great place to see what life is like in a prison. The death house is very interesting, and the tour guides do an excellent job.

Thank russ19602015
Medina, Ohio
Level Contributor
3 reviews
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 25, 2015 via mobile

We where driving through and needed some reason to get out of the car for awhile. My kids are not young, nor teens. My son was not excited about it once we were in and didn't go into some of the rooms. The rest of us really enjoyed the tour. The guide give alot of information about the inmates that... More 

Thank Jasotter
Johnstown, Colorado
Level Contributor
159 reviews
98 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 37 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed November 2, 2015

This is fun tour to see old prison in Wyoming and see where they used to do hangings in back of prison. Interesting side note, my uncle told story of working for electrical supply company and met with some admin people and prisoners that helped with maintenance and met a former high school classmate who was in prison here yrs... More 

Thank William O
Caldwell Idaho
Level Contributor
116 reviews
39 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 58 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 28, 2015

We came early so there was a smaller tour group which was very pleasant. The little gal spoke as though it has been rehearsed over and over, which I am sure it has. Very nicely done and lots good information was available.

Thank ibbarb
Level Contributor
18 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 20, 2015

If being locked up in this place wasn't a deterrent than I don't know what was. (although the Wyoming landscape wasn't exactly a welcoming place either) Great tour guide and tour. Lots of information. Maybe too scary for kids under 10. Had the chance to sit in the gas chamber (no I did not).

Thank Karen F
Humboldt, Arizona
Level Contributor
37 reviews
15 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 8, 2015 via mobile

I brought 4 of my kids with me to tour the prison. Wow it was really interesting. Loved getting to see all the sights and hearing stories. I got to be a guard and close the cellblock and later sat in the chair in the gas chamber. It would have been a horrible place to be imprisoned. Glad the tour... More 

Thank Kidzoomom
Alpharetta, Georgia
Level Contributor
91 reviews
42 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 44 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 6, 2015

This prison is as creepy if not creepier than Alcatraz. The tour guide was fantastic. Much information and history was provided. It was a very dangerous place to be incarcerated. Lots of dark spaces for inmates to hide and use it to their advantage. You can experience sitting in a gas chamber as well as seeing gallows. Very interesting place.... More 

Thank KeelyMc
United States
Level Contributor
151 reviews
14 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 66 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed October 4, 2015

I wasn't sure if it'd be worth the time to take the tour while passing through Rawlins, but I'm glad I did. It was like 8 dollars for the tour and took about an hour or so. I'm telling you it's an experience you won't soon forget, and will leave you with a chilling feeling for a while when you... More 

1 Thank whitelobster
Bridgend, Wales, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
730 reviews
410 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 281 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed September 25, 2015

This prison in Rawlins opened in 1901 and is in remarkable condition, run by 'The friends of the Old Pen '. Our guide, Sarah, was incredibly passionate about ' her ' prison and our 90+ minute tour gave us the history of the establishment in fascinating detail. A great way to spend a couple of hours. Highly recommended - go... More 

Thank Richard T

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