If you’ve been following this blog lately, you won’t be surprised that I love touring places related to the history of law and criminal justice. Last month, my older daughter and I did a 10-state, 4500-mile road trip. And as we were zooming through Wyoming (at a gloriously legal 80 mph) I was delighted to see a sign advertising the Wyoming Frontier Prison. We exited the freeway in Rawlins so we could take a tour, and I’m so glad we did.
From 1901 until 1981, this was the Wyoming State Penitentiary (a new state pen eventually opened in the same town; that’s where Wyoming’s felons are now incarcerated). It must have been a miserable place to do time. In the early years, there was no electricity or running water, and our guide said the temperature inside was never more than 20 degrees warmer than the outside temp. Picture that during a Wyoming winter, when the thermometer regularly drops below 0F. Two or even three men would share a single 5 by 7 cell—which at least might have added a bit of body heat.
The state also executed people here. At first they hung them using an interesting—and pretty horrifying—contraption called the Julian gallows. Later they switched to the gas chamber. Which I got to sit in. Yes, some of us have weird vacation thrills.
As you might suspect, many of the prison’s inmates had colorful histories. Train robbers, gunslingers, outlaws of all stripes, the desperate and the downtrodden. Women were housed here too. Some inmates escaped or were released, only to end up back behind these walls. Others were murdered by their fellows.
Nowadays it makes for a fascinating tour. As a bonus, we even got to see a couple of the marmots that live in the exercise yard.
Here are some more photos. If you’re ever in Rawlins, Wyoming, I recommend a stop.