Post Civil War Wyoming was one of the wildest of the wild west states. Its endless canyons were an asylum for outlaws, its untouched plains a playground for the law averse.
Anxiously awaiting statehood, Wyoming chose Rawlins as the prime location for its fancy, newfangled prison. Wyoming, or “The Cowboy State” as it was to become known, no longer intended to act as a haven for criminals. The Wyoming Frontier Prison was going to enforce the territories intention to be a law-abiding member of the union.
Opening in 1901, the “modern” prison consisted of 104 cell blocks, and in the beginning was absent of running water or electricity. In the 80 years that the prison operated, general advancements were made on the facilities, and due to the apparent popularity of the institution, many expansions were made to accommodate visitors.
Playing host to some of the rowdiest of the old west’s undesirables, Frontier Prison was the setting of countless film-worthy escapades; prison riots, daring escapes and hangings. Train robbers, horse thieves, murderers and 11 femme fatales made up the bulk of the population over the years—when it closed its doors in 1981, it had caged at least 13,500 of Wyoming’s fiercest criminals, executing 14.
Reopened as a museum in 1988, the Wyoming Frontier Prison now offers three hour tours, guiding you through the cafeteria, the grounds, three of the former cell blocks, and of course the Death House, where 14 men were executed for their transgressions, 5 of whom met their maker in the still-present gas chamber. Historical artifacts (shivs!) from prison life, fascinating inmate profiles, and an exhibit dedicated to the prison’s film debut in the 1987 Viggo Mortensen film Prison are some of the most standout attractions, and the spooky, misery-soaked grounds are an obvious favorite for ghost hunters hoping to spot a tortured soul forever trapped within the prison walls. Weather in these parts can be unforgiving—make sure to call ahead even on scheduled operating days as the museum closes when roads get too treacherous to receive visitors responsibly.
Know Before You Go
I-80 East: First exit into Rawlins which will put you on Cedar Street. Stay on Cedar until you get to 5th Street and turn Right. You will see us on the top of 5th Street. I-80 West: First exit into Rawlins which will put you on Spruce Street. Stay on Spruce until you get to 5th Street and turn Left. You will see us on the top of 5th Street. 287 North: Go straight into Rawlins on 287 (which will turn into 3rd St.). Turn right onto Walnut St.