Please, Not The Dungeon- again!

September 25, 2020

It’s been a real chore finding places we’d like to visit that have camping availability. Most of the RV parks have said that attendance now is incredible compared to what is normal for this time of year. We’ve gone to Plan to Plan B and C several of times. That’s how we wound up visiting Rapid City, Thermopolis and now Rawlins, Wyoming. They all have been interesting places to visit. They were just not on our “A” list.

From this day forward I doubt if any of the places on our “A” list will be visited by Jil and Mike, Megan and Ollie. Example: Since we are heading down to western Colorado (Plan B) we thought it would be great to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The closest place we could find was over 80 miles away and the only reason we are that close is the park had a last minute cancellation! That’s OK, we’ll visit those parks at a future date when the COVID scare is over and people feel comfortable staying home. Unless, of course, we can find a campground with a last minute cancellation.

Highway 26 takes us from Thermopolis to Shoshoni and Riverton, places we visited on our way to Casper. We pass by Lander (7500 souls), seat of Fremont County, somehow miss Sweetwater Station that has a visitors center, transition on to US 287 and stop in Jeffrey City (58 souls) to stretch.

The only place that showed any life in Jeffrey City was the Monk King Pottery studio across the street, the tiny Split Rock Cafe appeared to be open for business and one cowboy throwing up a dust cloud as he drove down a dirt road. Please click on Jeffrey City to read about it’s colorful past! From Jeffrey City we continue on to Rawlins.

As for Rawlins (9200 souls), a Plan B stop, Jil found an interesting place to visit in this small town of little notoriety except for one place- the old state prison.

Excerpt from In 1867, while in command of the troops protecting the crew surveying the route of the first trans-continental railroad, General John A. Rawlins (chief of staff of the U.S. Army) expressed a wish for a drink of good, cold water. A detachment of scouts explored the countryside as they rode west and approached the hills that stand guard over the present city, and they discovered a spring.

General Rawlins declared it was the most refreshing drink he had ever tasted and exclaimed, “If anything is ever named after me, I hope it will be a spring of water.” General Grenville Dodge, commander of the survey party, immediately named it Rawlins Springs and the community that grew around it bore the same name. Later shortened to Rawlins, the town was incorporated in 1886 and was designated the seat of Carbon County.

Carbon County’s name was derived from extensive coal deposits found in the area. Originally covering the entire width of the Wyoming Territory, Carbon County was reduced in size by the creation of Johnson County in 1875 and Natrona County in 1888. Historically, it has been traversed by the Overland Trail, Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and both the original route of the Union Pacific Railroad and the Lincoln Highway. Interstate 80 is now the trail of choice for most travelers through the county, although several scenic backroads and byways offer pleasant alternatives.

So now for the place we came to visit, The Wyoming Frontier Prison, and a few photos of downtown Rawlings……….

The old Wyoming State Penitentiary, now known as the Frontier Prison, is a historic state prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming. This was Wyomings first state prison which operated from 1901 to 1981. The cornerstone was laid in 1888 but due to budget constraints and Wyoming’s notorious weather, the doors wouldn’t open for thirteen years.

Although the original plans addressed the necessities of life most were omitted. No running water, no electricity, no sinks or toilets in each cell and the heating so inadequate that it only raised the temperature inside Cell Block A 20 degrees in -45 degree weather! That block finally received hot water in 1978. Honey buckets were supplied to do one’s business. Cell Block A’s 104 cells measured 4’x7′ with double occupancy!

Overcrowding was a huge problem so an additional 32 cells were added to Block A in 1904. Cell Block B was built in 1950 which temporarily relieved the overcrowding. The new cell block had a more efficient heating system, electricity and hot running water, sinks and toilets in each cell and the cells were quite a bit larger that Cell Block A’s. It also included solitary confinement cells, closing the dungeon in Cell Block A. Cell Block C was completed in 1966 to house serious discipline cases. It only had 36 cells.

Discipline varied. In solitary confinement if the problem prisoner wasn’t too bad he was put in a completely dark room located in the basement of Cell Block A with only a hole in the floor in which to relieve themselves. That area was known as The Dungeon. Guards may or may not remember that a prisoner was even in the cell meaning meals and liquids were most likely intermittent at best. If the inmate didn’t take the hint to straighten up he was put in the “standing” cell. It measured 4×4 feet in size and an inmate was placed in there for a week! One inmate spent a week in that cell, came out and acted up again. He was placed back in that cell for another week. When he came out he was stark raving mad and had to be institutionalized. Besides the “dungeon” another means of discipline was the “punishment pole” to which men were handcuffed and whipped with rubber hoses, the hoses leaving no mark. This was not a good place to spend a vacation folks……..

Some interesting characters were housed at the Pen.  Henry Edmundson, was pardoned by Governor John Kendrick because the prisoner’s behavior was so bad that the governor preferred he leave the state; and Bill Carlisle, the gentleman bandit who robbed trains in 1916, escaped and robbed again, was again imprisoned, and finally earned parole in 1936. Bill earned his name as he refused to rob from women and children. Carlisle went on to marry, start a business and become a model citizen.

Back when the prison was in full swing baseball was the favorite sport of inmates. Interagency games were played but only at the prison. The State team was very good and had winning season after winning season. Enthusiasm for the game waned when the starting catcher was hanged.

Two hundred fifty people died here, most died of natural causes, suicide or were victims of inmate violence. Around 30 were never claimed by clan and are buried at the prison’s cemetery. Fourteen men were executed. The first two were hanged on the traveling Julien gallows, the same contraption used to hang convicted murderer Tom Horn in Cheyenne in 1903. Seven others were also were hanged on the permanent Julien gallows that were installed in Death Row and five were executed in the gas chamber, which was added to the prison in 1936.

A joint powers board turned the abandoned building into a museum in 1988 and renamed the facility the Wyoming Frontier Prison. Visitors today can tour the cells where 13,500 inmates, including 11 women, served time. Annual events include Halloween haunted night tours, as well as other events. Weddings have been held there and one can rent a cell for $10 a week- if one so desires.

We stayed at the Red Desert Rose RV park for a couple of nights. It’s a no frills campground but served it’s purpose- giving us a launch point and a place to lay our weary heads.

Tomorrow more Plan B. We’re heading down to the State of Colorado. See you there!

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