Western US

Eight Hours in Laramie, Wyoming

While we were camped at Vedauwoo (if you missed last week’s post, you can read all about Vedauwoo here), we took a few hours out of our day to visit nearby Laramie, Wyoming. Laramie is the third largest city in Wyoming and home to some interesting museums and quite a lot of frontier history.

We began our day with visits to two (free!) museums on the University of Wyoming campus: the Anthropology Museum and the Geology Museum. We parked in Lot A, paid about $6 for 4 hours using the ParkMobile app (the other option was to visit the parking office to receive a permit… the app was much easier), and then walked across campus to the museums. It’s a nice campus, and we didn’t mind the walk at all.

We visited the Anthropology Museum first. The main exhibit is located in a small room on the first floor of the Anthropology building, but there are also exhibits and items in display cases along the hallways on all three floors. We were the only ones here; I got the impression that not many people visit this museum. As a former anthropology major, I personally found it to be neat but fairly basic. As a non-anthropology major, Pat found it very interesting.

The Geology Museum, on the other hand, is far more popular. There were quite a few people here, although most came and went fairly quickly. We opted to take the time to view all the exhibits, ranging from rocks and minerals to fossils and ancient oceans.

University of Wyoming Geology Museum

After, we ate a picnic lunch at some outdoor tables on campus and then headed to downtown Laramie for some post-lunch beers at Bond’s Brewing Company.

Left-right: Scottish ale, red ale, rhuberry, wheat

Our final stop of the day was the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site. We saved it for last because, according to the website, it would be open until 7pm. The website also said admission was $7/person. Neither were true. It was $9/person and only open until 4pm. Had I known, we would have shown up sooner; we definitely could have spent more time here. (It appears that the website has now been updated for the 2022 season.)

The Wyoming Territorial Prison was built in 1872 and operated until 1902. It is the most intact of the old federal penitentiaries that still exist today. During its 30 years of operation, it housed many inmates, including some women, for a variety of crimes. Quite a few inmates managed to escape and only about 25% of them were ever recaptured. This was attributed to lack of vigilance on the part of the guards as well as the rugged terrain in which the prisoners could hide upon their escape.

Prison complex

Upon entry, each visitor to the site is given a card with information on one person who was incarcerated here. It was interesting to compare the people and their crimes and sentences. I was given a Black woman who was sentenced to one year in prison for theft of diamond jewelry to fund her drug addiction. We chatted with a gentleman whose person was sentenced to three years for forgery of a $25 check. Everyone agreed that his sentence seemed severe as compared to mine.

By far, the most famous inmate ever housed here was Butch Cassidy. It was the one and only time he was ever caught and prosecuted for his crimes. Because of his brief tenure here, there was an entire room dedicated to him and his crew of outlaws. I imagine many of you have heard the name Butch Cassidy before. I had too, but I didn’t really know anything about him. Well… now I do. Here are some fun facts:

  • His real name was Robert LeRoy Parker and he was born in Utah to a Mormon family
  • He began his “career” as a cattle and horse rustler (aka a thief)
  • The only time he was ever caught and convicted was when he purchased a horse he knew had been stolen; he was sentenced to two years but only served eight months, as it was believed he would not represent a threat if released early. Clearly that was a serious miscalculation
  • Because he was housed by locals during his exploits and often provided them with assistance, financial or otherwise, many people saw him as a sort of Robin Hood of the west. This image – and people’s willingness to help him because of it – is part of what allowed him to remain outside the reach of the law for so many years
  • He and his crew of outlaw cowboys, which varied in membership over the years, were called the Wild Bunch. They were suspected in dozens of robberies throughout Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada, but were never caught or convicted
  • As authorities began to close in around 1901, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ultimately fled to Argentina. Some say they died in a shootout with authorities in Bolivia a few years later while fleeing from a robbery. Others say he eventually returned to Utah. Neither story can be irrefutably corroborated, thus the mystery remains
This partially deconstructed cell block allowed us to see how the cells were built
Prison infirmary

Back in the day, the idea behind penitentiaries was penance: a time to reflect upon one’s sins prior to being released back into society. In order to accomplish this, prisoners were not allowed to speak to each other at all unless it was related to the labor they were performing. Violation of this rule resulted in harsh penalties, such as solitary confinement and lack of food.

Speaking of labor, over the years the prisoners were put to work doing many different jobs. The longest-lasting endeavor on the prison grounds was the Laramie Broom Company. I’d never really given any thought to the manufacture of brooms. It’s one of those things I didn’t know I didn’t know until I walked into the re-created broom factory and saw all the materials and machinery used in broom making.  

Inside the broom factory

Working in an assembly line the prisoners could make about 720 brooms per day. Pieces of broom straw were separated by size and then a bundle was tied to the broom handle using a foot pedal-operated machine (left/center of the photo above). The next machine (center, greenish color) was used to flatten the straw and then wrap it with two rows of twine. Lastly, a machine (right) cut the bristles to a uniform size. The broom was then complete!

And I’ve now said the word broom so much that it’s lost its meaning, so let’s move on.

The tour of the prison and grounds is self-guided, using a brochure provided upon admission. This includes the prison building, the broom factory, the warden’s house, and some additional structures that were either moved from elsewhere or reconstructed to mimic the times. Between the brochure and the signs, there was a lot to read, and it took us about three hours to make our way through the entire site. My only complaint is that parts of the prison building had a bad odor. I couldn’t decide if it smelled more like old broccoli or a dead animal. Either way, it wasn’t pleasant.

Warden’s house
Inside the warden’s house
Reconstructed frontier village
St. Mary’s of the Plains church, relocated from Rock River, Wyoming
1880s structures and machinery relocated from Chimney Rock Ranch
Old wagons outside the visitor center/store

And on that note, we’ve reached the end of our day in Laramie. We felt as though one day here was adequate to see everything we wanted to see, and it was a good addition to our weekend in the area. The Territorial Prison was the highlight, in my opinion, and I would say it was worth the price of admission. We learned a lot more than we expected!

The Important Stuff:

  • Things to do
    • UWyo Anthropology Museum: open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, free (website)
    • UWyo Geology Museum: open Mon-Sat 10am-4pm, free (website)
    • Wyoming Territorial Prison: hours vary throughout the year (website); admission is $9/person for either guided or self-guided tours
  • Getting around: Laramie is pretty small, however, the places we visited were not close enough to walk between. The university is on the east side of town, downtown is a little more central, and the Territorial Prison is on the west edge of town, so you’ll probably want a car to get around.
  • Parking: parking costs $1.50 per hour on the UWyo campus Lot A, but was free downtown and at the prison complex
  • Where to stay: for hotels, rentals, etc., there are many options in Laramie. For camping, consider Vedauwoo, Curt Gowdy State Park, and the surrounding Medicine Bow National Forest. Laramie can also easily be visited as a day trip from Cheyenne.

31 thoughts on “Eight Hours in Laramie, Wyoming”

  1. It is strange how prisons attract people, even though they represent the worst of our society. We don’t visit hospitals where doctors save lives, but prisons made for murderers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like such a fun trip! I love photographing at like historic museums. All the antiques and artifacts in your interior shots are really interesting. There is lots to look at and shoot there. You did a great job! Wait … no cartwheel? 🙂


  3. Wow, the prison and the factory look like super interesting stops! We have failed 2 years in a row to travel through Laramie on our route through Wyoming but I’m hoping we can visit there soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That prison museum looks so interesting! I love that they gave you cars with info on real prisoners. Also, I enjoyed the fun fact that so many prisoners (relatively speaking) escaped. Let’s hope there are no prisons today with stats like that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was really interesting! I toured an old prison in Montana last summer, and it’s amazing how different they were. I enjoyed both, just learned very different things from them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rhuberry beer … hmm, that sounds like something I would like to taste! I can see why the prison was such an interesting place to visit … I have certainly learned more about Butch Cassidy and the making of a broom 😊. Thanks for the tour and great pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds like a fascinating place to visit. I’ve toured Alcatraz and enjoyed that tour immensely. Now I want to visit this prison as well. We don’t have anything to compare with American prisons in Canada at least not that I’m aware of. A great blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Never would’ve thought that Laramie (let alone Wyoming) would have such a fascinating history, especially with Butch Cassidy! I only know of Wyoming as having Yellowstone, but any of the cities (including Laramie) have been unknown to me…your eight hours in town, however brief it was, really helped shed light on the history of the area, and I’m sure you came out of it knowing a lot more!

    Liked by 1 person

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