Wyoming Territorial Prison
The Wyoming Territorial Prison is located in Laramie, WY, which is about an hour back toward the west from where we were staying in Cheyenne. Because we were unable to find a campground we liked in the Laramie area, we opted to make it a day trip from Cheyenne.
The Wyoming Territorial Prison was built in 1872. It became the Wyoming State Penitentiary when Wyoming became a state in 1890, and it operated until the summer of 1903 when inmates were transferred to a new facility in Rawlins, WY. Throughout its 30 years, the facility held over 1,000 men and at least 12 women prisoners.
After the prison closed, the University of Wyoming took over the land and operated it as an experimental stock farm until 1987. In 1989, a group of citizens began restoration of the old prison. It was opened as a historic site in 1991, and is operated under Wyoming State Parks.
The self-guided tour starts with the restored warden's house, which was built in 1875 using prison labor and stone quarried in the surrounding area.
The warden originally shared his house with the prison guards, who lived in the section of the house to the right. Notice the separate door on the right. In 1889, the prison was expanded, and the guards were moved to new quarters inside the prison building. The warden's house is restored and furnished to reflect the period of 1890 after the guards moved out.
The original prison is the section to the far right in the photo below. The center section with the gable roof and the section to the left were added in 1889.
Outside the main entrance, Paul couldn't resist trying out the prison wagon.
Inside the main entrance are the warden's office and the processing room where the new prisoners had their heads shaved, their pictures taken, and they received their prison uniforms.
The next photo shows the new prison kitchen in the center section of the building. Trustees did all the cooking for their fellow inmates and for the guards. The food was transported to the dining hall on the second floor by a dumbwaiter.
Each wing of the prison has 42 cells on three levels. The photo below shows the north (old) cell block from one of the third floor watchtowers. There was a watchtower on each side, and from the watchtowers the guards could keep their eye on the entire cell block.
The cells are 6' x 6' x 8' and were sparsely furnished. A bathroom cell with a toilet, washbasin and bathtub was located on each level.
The cells in the south (new) cell block were only 5' x 5' x 8'. They were smaller to make room in this wing for the prison laundry on the first floor and the infirmary on the second floor.
The main "claim to fame" of the Wyoming Territorial Prison is Butch Cassidy was once incarcerated there. Butch Cassidy was born Robert Leroy Parker to a Mormon family in Utah. As a teenager, he fell in with a cattle rustler by the name of Mike Cassidy. Parker eventually changed his name to George Cassidy to avoid bringing shame to his family. He earned the nickname "Butch" while working in a butcher shop in Lander, WY. Butch Cassidy is shown in the photo below.
Butch was an inmate at the Wyoming Territorial Prison for 18 months from 1894 to 1896. Although he lived a life of crime as a cattle rustler, bank robber and train robber, it was the only time he spent in jail.
Butch Cassidy's story was romanticized by the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid starring Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as his partner Harry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid). Butch and Sundance's gang was the Wild Bunch. Some of the gang members are shown in the 1901 photo below. Shown are (seated) Harry Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid), Ben Kilpatrick (The Tall Texan), Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy), (standing) Will Carver and Harry Logan (Kid Curry).
Prisoners were employed in various tasks as part of their rehabilitation. Among other things, they did leather work, baking, candle making, shoe repair and taxidermy. In 1892, inmates began construction of the broom factory behind the prison building. Today, volunteers continue to demonstrate how the equipment was used to make brooms. The brooms are sold in the gift shop.
Behind the broom factory are several historic buildings that have been relocated from other places in Wyoming including a church, a school house and a cabin. The next photo shows Margery in front of the cabin.
There is also a reconstructed frontier town that is staffed by volunteers. The buildings were all closed when we were there, and they are probably only open on weekends and for special school field trips.
The 1910 horse barn that was built for the University of Wyoming experimental stock farm that occupied the grounds after the prison was closed has been remodeled and is used for various rotating exhibits. They were featuring a printing exhibit. They were also playing a CD of the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
As we left the prison, the motorcycle with the cool little trailer we saw in the parking when we arrived was still there. The trunk of the car opens so it can be used as a utility trailer.
On our way back to the motor home, we stopped at Tree Rock. It is located in the median of I-80, and there are pull-offs from both directions where you can stop. The tree, which is a limber pine, is growing out of a crack in the pink granite. Although the age of the tree is unknown, we know it was there when the transcontinental railroad was built because track crews diverted the track slightly to pass by the tree. Early trains used to stop so crews could give the tree drink from their water buckets.
In 1901, the railroad was relocated to the south, and the abandoned roadbed became a wagon road. Later, Lincoln Highway was built along the wagon road, and I-80 was built in the 1960s. Just think, the Lincoln Highway (Route 30) that we often traveled when we lived in Pittsburgh extends all the way out here.
We enjoyed our week in Cheyenne; but with with Cheyenne Frontier Days approaching, we knew it was time for us to be on our way. The campground was booked up so we couldn't have extended our stay even if we had wanted to. From Cheyenne, we headed northeast.