Wyoming Frontier Prison

Wyoming Frontier Prison, Rawlins

Wyoming Frontier Prison
4.5
Speciality Museums • Historic Sites
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Monday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Tuesday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Wednesday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Thursday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Friday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Sunday
9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
About
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.
Suggested duration
1-2 hours
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4.5
274 reviews
Excellent
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Mindbuster73
Tucson210 contributions
Great informative tour!
Jul 2021
Very interesting! The tour guides were wonderful and told some very interesting stories. Well worth the price of the tour.
Written August 9, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Brodie G
42 contributions
entertaining and informative.
Jul 2021
Learn what it was like to be in prison from the late 1800 over the next 100 years. Very good tour not too long and guide was well informed and entertaining. It is a little depressing, but the then these were hard times and hard people especially a couple who made a couple of return visits.
Written August 7, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Laura
Parkville, MD26 contributions
Hidden gem.
Jul 2021 • Family
Amazing tour. Highly recommend. Well worth the time and fee. This prison tour was better than the tour we took of Alcatraz. The gas chamber was especially spooky.
Written July 23, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

sandraleed
219 contributions
interesting tour
Jul 2021
good tour one hour, depressing though unless you like prisons and crime...Something to do though, as not much in the town
Written July 3, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

barscoinc
Mount Airy, NC167 contributions
Well organized tour, tough truths
Jun 2021
Very depressing but the guide was knowledgable and there was a lot to learn about how prisoners used to be treated. Death row, the gallows and gas chamber were especially chilling sights. Tour was very well organized, right on time beginning and ending. Recommended for thoughtful adults.
Written June 23, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Laura S
2 contributions
Fun tour with (or without) kids
Jun 2021 • Family
Kelia was our tour guide today and she was great. I wasn’t sure about taking 4 kids (ages 6-14) on the tour. They all loved it. She kept everyone engaged and entertained. Definitely worth the stop to break up a day of driving along I80. They had a family rate of $40 for our family if 6. The tour lasts 1 hour.
Written June 18, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

bdalton08
American Fork, UT56 contributions
Worth A Visit
Sep 2020
This is such a neat place to visit. There are so many historical elements here. The building, the history and stories of the people who both worked and were incarcerated here, the cemetery, and much more. Definitely worth a stop if you're in or near Rawlins.
Written October 23, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Jessica B
Huntsville, AL73 contributions
Very cool
Sep 2020 • Family
Didn’t have time to do the tour but wish we could have! Great little free museum inside and lots of interesting stuff. Still can’t believe this place was open until 1981! Some of the exhibits were eye opening for our young children but maybe it will keep them on the right side of the law. Great stop and worthwhile.
Written September 21, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

Kip F
Sacramento, CA1,271 contributions
Interesting anecdotes, reasonable tour price,
Aug 2020 • Couples
We stopped by for the 9:30 tour, one each hour until 4:30. Paid 10 bucks each, got there early enough to look at photos and artifacts, all of which helped to make the tour more interesting bc we knew a bit about it and inmates. We also walked around the outside grounds the day before reading signs, which is also a good idea. The guide had the tour well memorized, she had been leading them for a year, and her grandmother had worked there before it closed, so she may have used some of her stories in her Spiel. Fascinating stories and sights, but if you are offended by executions etc, this is not for you. It's history, and not current, so go with that in mind. We thought it was great, and would take another tour with a different guide, as she said all of them have their own take on it, with different stories.
Written August 13, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

MursemanDan
Lee's Summit, MO122 contributions
Wonderful tour the whole family enjoyed
Aug 2020 • Family
Family took a tour while stopping in Rawlins for a night. The tour was great and entertaining. There were lots to see and wonderful stories told. Our guide was great. Was cool going through a place with so much history. The kids thought it was cool going through a place that Ghost Adventures had investigated. Ask your tour guide if they have had any experiences and you will get more stories. Would go through again.
Written August 8, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Wyoming Frontier Prison

Wyoming Frontier Prison is open:
  • Sun - Sat 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM