Laramie’s top attraction is the Wyoming Territorial Prison. It was built in 1872 and served as a federal prison for 18 years. From 1890 to 1903, it was Wyoming’s state penitentiary. Many notorious convicts passed through its doors, including Butch Cassidy.
After paying our US$5 admission in the visitor center, we were given an “identity” card. The card had the name, details, and story of a famous prisoner held here. After finishing our tour, we would find out the fate of the prisoner. I got Butch Cassidy.
The first stop on the tour was the Warden’s House. It was built by convicts in 1875 and shows what life could have been like for the warden’s family.
Next, we headed to the prison, which is one of only three territorial prisons that still exist in the West. It was heavily damaged over the years but was reconstructed to near its original specifications. 1,063 prisoners were held there during its use.
The prison has a numbering system to guide visitors during their tour. At each stop, there is an interpretive panel that tells interesting stories about the rooms, certain events that occurred in them, individual prisoners, and much more. It’s very nicely done.
Entering the Prison
When we walked into the prison through the heavy iron doors, we were greeted by a panel outlining the original prison rules. Some of these rules were no talking to anyone while indoors, smoking is allowed, only writing one letter per month is permitted, and keeping the cell in perfect order. The rules were near the processing room, where photos of the prisoner were taken and they were issued their bedding and uniforms. Across the hall was the warden’s office.
Next, we got to see what the kitchen might have looked like.
From there, we finally entered the cellblock. There were three levels of cells with concrete walls and heavy iron doors. Some of the cells were open to allow visitors to see how prisoners could have lived.
A portion of the cellblock was left in the condition it was found. The original foundation is exposed to show how the prison was constructed.
A special room dedicated to Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang took up the majority of our time. It had several original artifacts, photos, and newspaper clippings about the gang and their crimes. It even covered the mysterious circumstances of their disappearance and purported reappearance leading to a shootout in Bolivia.
The tour continued into the dining hall and then to the guard’s quarters.
We were able to go into one of the cages from where the guards would watch the prisoners. One of the cages looked into the other cellblock, which had a very different construction of all metal cells.
The infirmary was next. It was decorated with several medical instruments common during the time period the prison was in operation. It was followed by a very small separate wing that housed the women’s prison. There were stories of a few interesting female prisoners who had been incarcerated there.
Bathrooms and Laundry Room
The bathrooms showed toilets and a row of wooden tubs where prisoners would bathe. It was near the laundry room, which had antique washing equipment, irons, and sewing machines on display.
Out the back door was the prison’s yard, where inmates could exercise and get some fresh air. It was surrounded by a tall wooden fence with guard towers. One of the doors opened to a nature trail that leads to the Laramie River.
The building behind the prison was a workshop where prisoners would make brooms and sometimes furniture.
Finally, a pioneer village with authentic buildings relocated to the park was in the area behind the prison complex.
The church, St. Mary’s of the Plains, was an Episcopal church built in 1920 and originally located in Rock River. All of the furnishings inside are original.
The Chimney Rock Ranch was built in the 1880s and features a few different log buildings, including a schoolhouse, farmhouse, and shed.
Science on the Range
A big blue barn was the last part of the tour. It has an exhibit called “Science on the Range” and talks about its use as a science research facility for the University of Wyoming.