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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
Closed now
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Sun - Sat 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Activities: Group tours/walking tour
Description: The eighty year history of Wyoming’s first state penitentiary, now known...
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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  • 65
  • 37
    Very good
  • 8
  • 0
  • 0
A gem - but a very real experience...

Small and unfussy... a truly fascinating place with some amazingly vivid stories provided by the young tour guide who had clearly made the effort to research his subject matter in... read more

4 of 5 starsReviewed August 27, 2015
London, United Kingdom
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110 Reviews from our TripAdvisor Community

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English first
London, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
7 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
4 of 5 stars Reviewed August 27, 2015 NEW

Small and unfussy... a truly fascinating place with some amazingly vivid stories provided by the young tour guide who had clearly made the effort to research his subject matter in anticipation of numerous questions. Rawlins was a stop en route to Yellowstone and after a refreshing night's sleep... this little gem was a great start to the day prior to... More 

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Phoenix, Arizona
Level Contributor
66 reviews
18 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 22 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 21, 2015

This was quite an enlightening tour. Taylor was an excellent tour guide. A great place to learn an important piece of history.

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Level Contributor
49 reviews
10 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed August 21, 2015

We toured the museum and found the information and displays very interesting . The displays are well presented and a tour of the prison is available time did not permit us to wait for it. Check it out if you like history

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Warsaw, Missouri
Level Contributor
18 reviews
7 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed August 15, 2015

Building is in great shape and very interesting especially if your interested in the old west, or just a history buff

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Vancouver, Washington, United States
Level Contributor
8 reviews
5 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 12, 2015

This is absolutely worth it. The tour is over an hour, and the script the guides use is hilarious. The real gas chamber and gallows are things you're not going to find many places.

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Level Contributor
54 reviews
8 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 30 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed August 12, 2015

Wasn't crazy about the tour guide, but it was the last tour of the day so maybe she was tired of repeating herself. The prison itself was something to see. I can't imagine how some of them survived in cells that small. Also had great pictures of alot of the inmates (male and female) and why they were in there.... More 

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Apache Junction, Arizona
Level Contributor
179 reviews
98 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 78 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 10, 2015

What a great tour! Sarah the Director of the Prison was absolutely awesome! The hour tour flew by. You can visit the grounds and some displays for free, but take the tour and you will the entire prison hear great stories. The tour is flow is perfect with just amount of creep! This stop is a must. Take advantage of... More 

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Clifton, New Jersey
Level Contributor
24 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
3 of 5 stars Reviewed July 29, 2015

Last summer, I photographed the Northeast State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. This time, As I was near the Wyoming Frontier Prison, I figured I would shoot it as well. The difference between the 2 prisons as far as photography is concerned, in the Philadelphia prison, you are given a unit like an iPod to wear and listen & watch each part... More 

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Bremerton, Washington
Level Contributor
6 reviews
5 of 5 stars Reviewed July 29, 2015

We took the tour at 8:30am and our tour guide was informative, knowledgeable and kept to the tour time of 1 hour (as we needed to get back on the road). Fascinating history and we were allowed to ask questions which she promptly answered. Highly recommend.

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Dallas, Texas
Level Contributor
3 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
5 of 5 stars Reviewed July 24, 2015

Went here based upon other TripAdvisor reviews and was not disappointed. This prison was the real deal, creepy and thought-provoking. If you are a history buff, don't miss this place.

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