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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
08:00 - 17:00
Open now
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Sun - Sat 08:00 - 17:00
Recommended length of visit: 1-2 hours

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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Visitor rating
  • 110
  • 58
    Very good
  • 8
  • 1
  • 0
Interesting place, glad we stopped.

Very interesting stop and I'm glad we went. The host was great, he kept us interested which I know is sometimes hard when you're telling the same stories and giving the same... read more

4 of 5 bubblesReviewed 14 January 2017
Elko, Nevada
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180 Reviews from our TripAdvisor Community

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Showing 177: English reviews
Elko, Nevada
Level Contributor
72 reviews
13 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 24 helpful votes
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 14 January 2017

Very interesting stop and I'm glad we went. The host was great, he kept us interested which I know is sometimes hard when you're telling the same stories and giving the same information day after day. I would recommend dressing warmly if you go during the colder months, is was REALLY cold in there.

Thank Lala1275
Colbert, Oklahoma
Level Contributor
29 reviews
22 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 6 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 4 November 2016

We loved this. We have a 13 and 16 year old boy. We loved the tour. This place is amazing. We enjoyed seeing the prison cells. There were over 375 cells + other holding areas including a dungeon. Lots of history since it was built in 1901 and closed in1981. It took us about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Thank Jeanette B
San Francisco, California
Level Contributor
62 reviews
20 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 35 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 24 October 2016

There is a walking trail on the west side if the prision. Cool entry level urban exploring. The prision cemetery is located at the end of the trail, and is very interesting. I went off trail and explored the prision wall, it was very cool. Be careful there is a lot of old rubbish in the high grass. I also... More 

Thank capttml
Level Contributor
14 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 23 October 2016

Very interesting to see all of the displays, cells and prison kitchen and eating area for the prisoners. Amazing how small the cells and beds were in that time era.

Thank Cruiser8
Surprise, Arizona
Level Contributor
363 reviews
80 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 126 helpful votes
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 30 September 2016 via mobile

We had a very knowledgable tour guide. Tour includes cell blocks, gallows, gas chamber, etc. Also stories about the prisoners. $14 for two seniors. Well worth it.

Thank Mary W
Fredericksburg, Virginia
2 reviews
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 27 September 2016

We took the tour of the prison with no expectations. First of all, our tour guide was extremely knowledgable and fun. Second, the tour was amazing! The prison is creepy, even during the day, and hearing the stories made it even more so. It is worth the tour; there are quite a few interesting things to see and hear about.... More 

Thank eeg3k
Stillwater, Minnesota
Level Contributor
252 reviews
113 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 149 helpful votes
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 26 September 2016

My husband and I had no idea this tour would take us into most of the nooks and crannies of Wyoming's historic frontier prison, and we found it very educational, unsettling and at times, scary. Our prison tour guide was excellent in sharing historic facts about the prison and in just one hour, we went through 3 cell blocks, the... More 

1 Thank MNDoodles
Denver, Colorado
Level Contributor
24 reviews
5 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 24 September 2016

We were passing through Rawlins on the way to Steamboat Springs and on a rainy day we decided to check this place out, as we both love history. It was fascinating to see how prisoners were treated for the first 90 years of the the twentieth century. Conditions were pretty inhumane, but as I understand it typical of the period.... More 

Thank Steverino57201
England, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
25 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 7 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 23 September 2016 via mobile

Oh wow, you've really got to visit this place! We really enjoyed the hour long tour which was brilliantly run by Dawn. Dawn had lots of tales about the inmates - some sad, some funny, some just gobsmacking! The tour took us practically all around the prison, including the cell blocks and the death room which is where the gas... More 

1 Thank Susan F
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 1 helpful vote
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed 22 September 2016 via mobile

The tour was very interesting and worth driving to Rawlins. You walk through almost all rooms of the prison and the tour guide has a lot of details to tell. We can definitely recommend this place!

Thank 2sunflower

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