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A Beautiful 90 Minute Drive, Then a day Exploring the Town

sunny 85 °F

Again, Howdy (in Cowboy speak);

My campground check-out time was 11:00 am so I had a few hours to manipulate my sore muscles from yesterday's adventure. Check-in in the Laramie KOA is 3:00 pm so a stop at Wal-mart in Laramie seemed reasonable.

Reflecting on what I learned at the various museums in Cheyenne the trip west to Laramie brought more meaning. These rolling Plains surrounding Cheyenne gradually climbed toward Laramie. About half-way the Wahsatch hills/mountains began to jut out of the prairie. The incline in elevation caused the MH to downshift from 6th gear to 5th to 4th where it stayed the all the way to Laramie. The scenery is spectacular for its beauty is difficult to describe. This incline leads to the Continental Divide just west of Laramie. The 'Big Boy' locomotive, that I previously talked about, was designed & built to conquer this very grade. A behemoth, it produced 6,000 h.p. and could pull a 3,600 ton train unassisted at 60 m.p.h. (top speed 80 mph) over Sherman Hill (Wahsatch Mts.).

Laramie was named for a French-Canadian fur trapper whose name was Jacques LaRamie. European settlers named a river, mountain range, peak, US Army fort, county, and city for him. The city was founded in the 1860's as a tent city near the Overland Stage Line route, the Union Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad. As construction crews worked their way through town a few passengers arrived the next day. Primitive mercantile stores were erected and commerce began. Among the earliest families to arrive were Edward & Jane Ivinson, people of inherited wealth (sugar plantations). Sensing ripe business opportunities in the west they opened a large dry goods store in Laramie. Their success led to other ventures including the founding of a bank. Over the years he amassed a fortune in banking. As local philanthropists they assisted in founding the University of Wyoming in 1886 as a Federal Land Grant college. He ran for governor of Wyoming in 1892 but lost, and during that period he and his wife built a Victorian mansion across the street from the University campus. Fully restored, it now offers docent-led tours of the building and is billed as 'The Iverson Mansion & Laramie Plains Museum. The hour-long tour seemed like two for every artifact was explained in too much detail. Interesting but definitely 'overload'!

One of the most interesting places visited so far is the former Wyoming Territorial Prison, listed on the National Register. It was built in 1872 for the purpose of relieving the US Army forts of holding civilian prisoners in captivity for extended periods of time. Statehood occurred in 1890. I took a two-hour self-guided tour through the restored facility. A gentleman historial volunteer talked to us of prison life there. It was not a place to 'call home'!! For 30 years it held violent & desperate outlaws during the dramatic time of Wyoming's territorial days and early Statehood. Probably the most notorius prisoner was 'Butch Cassidy'.
Early on, there were but 6 guards plus the Worden working the prison. The guards worked 12 hr. shifts, 7 days a week. Living quarters for 3 off-duty guards were in the adjacent Worden's home (along with his wife & children). The prison was enlarged in 1886 to include new expanded guards' quarters, and to accommodate over 1,000 inmates. Life was extremely harsh. Prisoners were required to work 10 hr. days, 6 days a week in prison shops. Severe penalties were levied against those who broke the rules. Penalties like; near starvation for a week (bread & water only), leg irons with 15#ball attached, wearing of one shoe with a 25#donut-shaped steel device secured on the ankle 24/7 during the period of penalty, etc. The prison policy was 'shoot to kill' if disturbances occurred or if escape attempts were made.
The largest industry in the prison was broom-making. By 1900, 20-25 convicts were producing 720 brooms daily. That particular shop was open on the tour, along with a video explaining how they did it. The stop was well-worth the time spent. More on Laramie tomorrow.

Posted by dixter 17:08 Archived in USA Tagged adventure new a laramie

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