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“Find Out What Prison Used To Be Like In The Wild West”

Wyoming Frontier Prison
Ranked #1 of 9 things to do in Rawlins
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours
Owner description: 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.
Woodstock, Vermont
Level 5 Contributor
46 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 24 helpful votes
“Find Out What Prison Used To Be Like In The Wild West”
Reviewed August 21, 2014

We recently visited the Wyoming Frontier Prison and were not expecting anything really exciting. However, we took the hour long tour and enjoyed every minute. It was an excellent learning experience and you could feel yourself being transported back to frontier times when this prison held many of the "outlaws" from this time period.

While on the tour, you will witness the conditions that prisoners were held in and learn what it was like to be a prisoner in times when things were quite different. You'll tour the initial detention area, cellblocks, galley and other grisly things like the actual gallows and gas chambers. You'll learn several "interesting" facts some of which are actually humorous.

The tour guide was excellent and while he kept the tour moving, was always open to questions.

As an added bonus, the Wyoming Police Museum is also in the prison and you can see what it's like to be a police officer in Wyoming over the years.

It's weird to say this, but the prison is a must see if you are in the area.

Visited July 2014
2 Thank kimikenh
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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202 reviews from our community

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English first
Level 6 Contributor
121 reviews
24 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 44 helpful votes
“Till 1981???”
Reviewed August 20, 2014 via mobile

Sarah was the best guide a group could have hands down. This penitentiary is out of bounds creepy and the history immense. Can't wait to read the diary of the inmate we purchased in the gift shop. If you are in any way interested in history or the old west, you should take this tour. It'll take a long time to get that funk out of your brain afterwards. Guaranteed.

Thank Cheryl5353
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Provo, Utah
Level 5 Contributor
57 reviews
8 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“Very Interesting”
Reviewed August 9, 2014

We visited the Frontier Prison and did their one hour tour, it was informative and interesting. If you like history, this is a must see.

Visited August 2014
Thank L_Hunter71
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Umatilla, Oregon
1 review
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 3 helpful votes
“MUCH better than the Laramie Prison, Wonderful guide”
Reviewed August 6, 2014

I visited the Laramie territorial facility before touring the WFP and I wasn't pleased. The preservation is over the top and the prison did not feel authentic. Here in Rawlings, the prison is almost exactly as is when it was decommissioned. The guided tour is a nice touch (ask to have Trevor, if at all possible) and I was surprised at how much larger the facility is than what it looks from the outside. The architecture is just beautiful, and the history is grisly. "When you think of wild west, you think of Wyoming", the guide stated at the end of tour. "This prison was in the midst of it all". It truly was. The stories are unlike anything I've ever heard. I highly recommend touring this facility. I also advise bringing a camera. You'll want to get pictures of the gas chamber, of the deer outside.

Visited August 2014
3 Thank Carol B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Level 5 Contributor
59 reviews
17 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 46 helpful votes
“So. Cool.”
Reviewed August 6, 2014

Did you know this is one of the Top Ten Most Haunted Places in America?? I didn't. But of course, as soon as someone TOLD me that, then I started 'feeling' things and freaking myself out. :) I am kicking myself because I don't know the name of the girl who lead our tour, but she was FABULOUS. (Oh, and let me say that I showed up 10 minutes late, so another very nice employee gave me a quick tour to get me caught up with the group in progress.) Very knowledgeable. She was able to answer 97% of the questions our group posed to her, and the 3% she didn't know? She was very honest in admitting that. I like that in a person. Anyway, it's just a cool tour. You either like these kinds of places or you don't.

Visited August 2014
2 Thank Bridget B
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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