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Wyoming Frontier Prison

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Address: 500 W Walnut St, Rawlins, WY 82301-4768
Phone Number: +1 307-324-4422
Website
Today
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Closed now
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Hours:
Sun - Sat 8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Description:

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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Very Interesting Bit of History

Throughly enjoyed the tour. Think our guide was Jez and she did an excellent job on the history as well as extra tales along the way. Definitely worth the time and the stopover... read more

5 of 5 starsReviewed yesterday
Mike P
via mobile
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151 Reviews from our TripAdvisor Community

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Showing 148: English reviews
Level Contributor
7 reviews
3 attraction reviews
5 of 5 stars Reviewed yesterday NEW via mobile

Throughly enjoyed the tour. Think our guide was Jez and she did an excellent job on the history as well as extra tales along the way. Definitely worth the time and the stopover in Rawlins.

Helpful?
Thank Mike P
North Newton, Kansas
Level Contributor
4 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 4 days ago NEW

great tour guide and admission was well worth the price. highly recommend this museum to anyone traveling through Rawlins,

Helpful?
Thank olafzastrow
Miami
Level Contributor
8 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed 5 days ago NEW via mobile

This was a quick visit while on the road to Jackson Hole WY. The only way to view the jails and gas chamber is by participating in a tour. I heard them say the tour takes 1 hour. We did not have the hour so we visited the the only areas that are available. The Peace Officer Museum (also located... More 

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Thank Jogsfotrip
Lapeer, Michigan
Level Contributor
23 reviews
14 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 6 days ago NEW

We arrived with almost a full hour before the tour and we pleasantly surprised to find we needed more time to view the displays in the museum area. It is a bit creepy (think gallows with a gas chamber) but it was one of the highlights of our trip, and with teenagers that says a lot. Informative tour guide!

Helpful?
Thank kateclark2015
Lincoln City, Oregon, United States
Level Contributor
54 reviews
10 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 17 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago via mobile

What a great tour. The young lady tour guide made it really interesting. All the original cells as they were and you can still smell how it was when the prisoners were there. Some say it's haunted and it may well be! We saw the gas chamber and the gallows and how it all worked. It's a place where the... More 

Helpful?
Thank Laura B
Idaho Falls, Idaho
Level Contributor
106 reviews
34 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 36 helpful votes
3 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago

had a guided tour through the prison,lots of great info.would prefer to tour by myself ,but couldn't see it only with a tour guide..

Helpful?
Thank yruhere2
Fellowsville, West Virginia, United States
Level Contributor
36 reviews
14 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 23 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago

Our tour guide was a young lady that knows her Prison History! We had the most educational and fun experience walking through the prison. There are tons of picture opportunities, to include the cells, the gas chamber, and a unique demonstration of how prisoners were hung!! Some of the story lines are fascinating! If you find your self near this... More 

Helpful?
Thank LikeuhBoss
Menifee
Level Contributor
10 reviews
3 attraction reviews
5 of 5 stars Reviewed 1 week ago

Most fascinating vacation experiences we ever stumbled on. Surprising how original it still is. You can really sense what it was like for the prisoners. No reproductions here. Great background stories are also shared.

Helpful?
Thank Donna N
Lully, Switzerland
Level Contributor
14 reviews
7 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 4 helpful votes
2 of 5 stars Reviewed 3 weeks ago via mobile

We didn't take the tour but just walked around the free part. It was a little sketchy for my family's taste. There were some pictures that shocked us a little bit. It also needs to be renovated a bit.

Helpful?
Thank Sgrosclaude
Rawlins, Wyoming
Level Contributor
4 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
4 of 5 stars Reviewed 3 weeks ago

I live in Rawlins and can walk to the prison. Nevertheless it took me a year to go on the tour. It was well presented. I got a good idea of what the old prison life was like and it is clearly a place that is good for a visit but no long term stays. The guide was knowledgeable and... More 

Helpful?
Thank djdaroff

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