Sunday, August 16, 2015

Two Weeks Notice

Day One : Here We Go Again
Day Four : Venturing Fourth
Days 5-6 : Pleading the Fifth
Days 7-8 : Lucky Seven
Days 9-10 : Niner Niner
Day 11 : These Go To Eleven
Days 12-13 : Twelve Monkeys

Having seen at least one billboard plus the ubiquitous brown information sign for the Wyoming Frontier Prison had us curious, and considering it was only about a mile away from our overnight digs, we decided to check it out. It didn't open until 8AM, and we timed it so that we rolled in at exactly that time.

It was closed.

Hrm. We wandered back towards the RV, then saw someone drive up hastily, walk-jog to the office, then back to the front door of the prison proper.
Closed in 1981
Yeah, someone overslept.

We wander around the gift shop, then inquire about the tours. We end up being the only two on the 8:30AM tour, and our guide spoke a little too fast and a little too softly for mom to make out most of what he was saying. I tried to relay the best of the information and stories.

Cell block A
Judging from the stories told by our guide and from what I read in the museum/gift shop area, a lot of people escaped from here, especially before they added Johnson bars to the cells.
A room like this would make me never want to go to prison
Some of those locked up would do pretty much anything to escape. I guess they were allowed to decorate their cells, as our guide indicated that those in a particularly dark area of cell block A intentionally chose to paint their cells very dark colors. They weren't allowed black paint, but dark brown, dark red and dark green were certainly done.
A self portrait of  an inmate

Cell blocks B and C were added later on to alleviate overcrowding and, in the case of C, to give a separate area for seriously recalcitrant prisoners. The problem with cell block C was that it had decent heating and plumbing, so inmates would misbehave to try to get moved into the maximum security area. Sure, they'd be in solitary confinement, but at least it would be warm.
Cell block C
The commissary
The commissary story we were told was funny. An inmate just a few cells away from the commissary used a combination of the gritty prison-issue toothpaste and the prison-issue dental floss to file away at the Johnson bar locking him in. Then he used a painted piece of soap to hide his handiwork. At night, he'd leave his cell and steal things out of the commissary. He'd sell those things to his fellow inmates for less than they could buy them at the prison store. It took a while for the guards to figure out what was up.

An inmate's painting in the cafeteria
Kitchen in the cafeteria. This was a highly desired job
Exercise yard
Several executions took place at this prison, and a special death row with six cells was above cell block C. The first executions were done via Julien gallows, up through 1932. The last execution, via gas chamber, in the 1960s.
Gallows room
Gas chamber
Death row
The museum held some interesting items, too, including some old crime scene investigation tools.
Part of a large kit

From the prison, we went north towards Casper and the fort that gave the city its name. Turns out that the fort, Fort Caspar, is named for Caspar Collins. They couldn't call it Fort Collins, because that Fort -- named for Caspar's father -- already existed.

The museum at Fort Caspar was primarily about Caspar Collins and the rise of the city of Casper, which involved a lot of sheep herding versus the predominant cattle herding.
A sheep herder's tool

The stables
Officer's quarters
Enlisted man's quarters

Telegraph room
It was interesting to know that the fort had been ransacked and materials used to build Fort Fetterman, but due to Caspar Collins' meticulous drawings, the fort could be recreated fairly accurately.
Platte River bridge crossing for the Oregon Trail
Fort Laramie -- another Pony Express/Oregon Trail/historical fort -- was next on the list, though I saw something about Oregon Trail ruts in limestone while we were at Fort Caspar. Curious, I found that the site referenced, in Guernsey, Wyoming, was on the way.

In Fort Laramie, we discovered that they were prepping for a moonlight tour that night. I was disappointed, as if I'd known, maybe we could have participated. There were a ton of re-enactors on site for the event.

It was pretty hot outside, so I had empathy for those wearing heavy clothing in the sweltering weather. It was enough that even I was feeling the effects, and I am usually fairly heat resistant.

Fort Laramie started as a fur trading post, and maintained fairly good relations with surrounding native tribes for most of its existence through 1890.

A broken down hospital on the hill overlooking the main site was originally composed of lime-grout, which works great in southwestern climes, but not so well in areas that have serious freeze-thaw cycles.

A hospital seemed to be an appropriate place. While at the gift shop, purchasing my post cards, I saw bins behind the register with various labels. The gift shop/visitor center had originally been the fort's commissary, so I wasn't sure if they were just for show, but I asked, "Is that really hardtack?" When the clerk said, "yes," I had her add a piece to my purchases.

The hardtack became part of the deposit.

A photo posted by Karen (@kiirenza) on
We spent more time at the prison and the two forts than I anticipated, so we weren't getting as deep into Nebraska as I thought we would. I had Chimney Rock and Scottsbluff next on the docket, and mom said that the Chimney Rock visitor center was open late. So we struck off to that monument.

Natives called this "Elk Penis"
Turns out that it's the Scotts Bluff National Monument visitor center that's open late, and we arrived at Chimney Rock too late to get our passport stamps. We were still able to get some great photos of one of the Oregon Trail navigational points.

We went back towards the town of Scottsbluff to call it a night. Mom had her heart set on Agate National Fossil Beds, even though they weren't as close as she thought, and we were also going to check out Scotts Bluff proper before heading to central Nebraska and I-80.

A photo posted by Karen (@kiirenza) on
Three more days before we'd be home. 

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