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Wyoming's Frontier Prison

Tour the 'Old Pen' for a taste of crime and punishment—Old West style.

exterior of the Frontier Prison, image
Photo caption
Wyoming’s first prison opened in 1901.


Motorists passing the sandstone building in Rawlins, Wyo., might imagine students reading on the lawns. In reality, about 13,500 inmates did hard time at Wyoming’s Frontier Prison, from train robber Bill Carlisle to little Annie Bruce, who baked her father a rat-poison pie.

Built back when desperadoes roamed the West, the penitentiary housed prisoners for 80 years. Today, guides describe daily life during hour-long tours of the cellblocks, showers, and mess hall, as well as the eerie gas chamber, gallows, and “punishment pole.” In the prison’s small museum, visitors view hangman’s ropes and handmade shanks and shivs.

A path leads to the nearby cemetery, but you also might feel haunted inside the prison, where 14 men were executed. Buck up at the separate, onsite Wyoming Peace Officers Museum, which celebrates law and order. Daily tours run Memorial Day through Labor Day; hours are reduced during the offseason. (307) 324-4422,

Photography by Ron Niebrugge/Wild Nature Images

This article was first published in July 2015. Some facts my have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.