Thursday, March 4, 2021

HGB Ep. 375 - Wyoming Frontier Prison

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Moment in Oddity - Potong Gigi (Tooth Filing Ceremony) Suggested by: Scott Booker

We're  not sure if Bali has an obsession with vampires or if they really think that canine teeth just look prettier when they are filed down, but they've created a pretty bizarre ceremony around this practice. The Tooth Filing Ceremony or Potong Gigi as people from Bali call it, is observed when a young person comes of age. This is considered a beautiful and sacred ritual in the country. The ceremony has taken place for hundreds of years and is considered the last duty of a parent when preparing a child for the move to adulthood. Early ones were conducted in private at home, but today are an elaborate affair. These ceremonies take place in a temple with lots of prayers, chants and incense and a priest or priestess does the filing. The canine teeth are sharp and thought to represent the animal side of humans that usually presents as aggressive or evil behavior. These could be vices that need to be controlled. Filing down the points of the canines is a symbolic gesture of removing the evil from the fangs. Now these young adults can be thought of as angels on the right path versus demons prone to following the lusts of the heart. The fact that smooth canine teeth symbolizes goodness, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - The Boston Massacre

In the month of March, on the 5th, in 1770, the Boston Massacre occurred beginning the road to the American Revolution. Tensions were running high between American colonists and the British when a group of Bostonians started protesting against a small group of British soldiers guarding the Boston Customs House. The colonists soon were hurling insults and snowballs. The soldiers were under orders not to shoot, but they fired into the crowd anyway. The first man struck was an African American sailor named Crispus Attucks. He would be considered the first hero of the American Revolution. Crispus had been working on whaling ships for 20 years after escaping slavery. Four other colonists were shot and killed, but their identities are lost to history. Paul Revere made a famous engraving depicting the event. British Captain Thomas Preston and eight of his troops were arrested and charged with murder. John Adams was a lawyer at the time and he defended the British. The Captain and six soldiers were acquitted, while two others were found guilty of manslaughter and punished with branding before being released. What started as a small event, made martyrs of the protesters and united the colonies in a desire for freedom from British tyranny.

Wyoming Frontier Prison (Suggested by Sandtrooper Mick)

Wyoming can be a beautiful state, but it can also be harsh, particularly in the winter. The Wyoming Frontier Prison was a brutal place with no heat during the savage winters and if a prisoner could manage to survive that, there were other threats to their life. Hundreds lost their lives via murder, suicide and execution. Enough men suffered and died here that a spiritual residue has built up and there are many ghost stories connected to the prison. Join us as we explore the history and haunts of the Wyoming Frontier Prison!

The city of Rawlins is where the frontier prison is located. Rawlins is located in the southern part of Wyoming and was originally part of an area that was called Carbon County that covered the entire width of the Wyoming Territory. The term carbon reflected the coal deposits found here. Every trail leading west crossed through here from the Oregon Trail to the Mormon Trail and even the Union Pacific Railroad. General John A. Rawlins was the chief of staff of the U.S. Army when he brought a group of his troops through to protect the surveyors laying out the first trans-continental route in 1867. It must have been hot because Rawlins kept wishing for a cold drink of water. A couple of scouts from his group went out and stumbled upon a natural spring with cool drinkable water. They brought some back for General Rawlins and he declared that the water was the most refreshing drink he had ever tasted. He then said, "If anything is ever named after me, I hope it will be a spring of water." And so the spring became Rawlins Springs and that is what the community that built up around it was known as until 1886, when the city was incorporated and the name was shortened to just Rawlins.

The land where the prison was built was bought from the railroad in 1888 and the cornerstone was laid that same year. The weather that we mentioned in the intro was so bad after construction on the prison started, that it took thirteen years to complete. Economic issues also factored in as funding was hard to come by from the state. Local granite stone was used as the construction material. The design was by Salt Lake City architect Warren E. Ware and is in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. There are two castle-like turrets with conical roofs on either side of the main structure that rises three and a half levels. The main building has a main entrance topped by a wide, semicircular arch with radiating voussoirs, which are tapered stones. The upper-story windows have similar decorative archways above them. Stepping inside the entrance, there is a massive iron-bar gate that shields the front door, sidelights, and transom. There is also a small, decorated, gabled dormer on the roof. This main building was the Administration Building that originally housed offices on the first floor, an infirmary and a few cells for women on the second floor, and a chapel on the third floor. There were women at this prison, but very few and only for a few years.

Annie Bruce was one of the women who did time here. Annie liked baking pies and on March 20, 1907, she baked five delicious pies. Well, maybe that one tasted a little different. And it should have because she poured a full bottle of Strychnine into that pie. Annie then put the pie in her father's lunch and after about three bites, he crumpled over in horrendous pain. His co-workers got him medical care, but it was too late and James Bruce died with enough poison in his body to kill five men. They traced it back to Annie and she was convicted of manslaughter, the first time a woman had been convicted of any degree of murder in Wyoming. Annie was also just fourteen years of age. She told the court, "While I was in the act of making the pies, a feeling or a wish came over me to kill someone and this feeling, I could not resist." She was sentenced to four years, but served only one of them at the Wyoming Frontier Prison. She was moved to the Colorado State Penitentiary by request of her family. She was the last woman to serve time at the Wyoming Frontier Prison.

Another female prisoner here was also named Annie, Annie Groves. She had worked in a nearby town as a lady of the evening and developed a bad relationship with one of her customers. His name was James Passwater and Annie blamed him for giving her a venereal disease. After a sore destroyed her lower lip, she decided to exact revenge and she got herself a gun. Annie's got a gun! She walked into the saloon where Passwater was sitting and she aimed for the back of his head. She missed, just grazing his hat and hitting another man in the shoulder. Annie was arrested and sentenced to a year hard labor at the jail. Her, uh husband...yes, Annie was married, got her a pardon after six months and the couple left the state.

The prison finally opened in December of 1901 and was originally known as the Wyoming State Penitentiary. This was Wyoming's first state prison. There was only the main Administration Building and Cell Block A that featured 104 cells at that time and there was no running water, no electricity and no heat. This jail was built to take some of the pressure off the federal prison in nearby Laramie and so the first prisoners brought in came from that facility. Work on expanding the jail started almost immediately as more room was needed. These additions would include guard quarters, water tower, boiler and pump houses, horse barn, warden's house,  storage buildings, a commissary and garages. Most continued the Romanesque style, but a view incorporated Mission style. Cell Block A didn't get running hot water until 1978. Overcrowding would always be an issue and in the eighty years that the prison was open 13,500 people would pass through its doors including eleven women. No women would be housed at the prison after 1909.

Cell Block B was added in 1950 and with this came solitary confinement cells. A plus would be that a heating system was a part of this cell block, along with hot running water. In 1966, Cell Block C was added, which included 36 cells that were set aside for inmates who were discipline issues. The roughest of the rough would be housed between these two cell blocks and this prison was not about rehabilitation. This place dished out the punishment. Solitary confinement was always full and there were various varieties of these. And there was a punishment pole. Men would be handcuffed to this and then whipped with rubber hoses. Security was not great for many years and there were many escapes. James Williams was an inmate who was killed while trying to escape. There were also suicides, mostly from men throwing themselves from upper floors. One guard that worked in Tower 9 was so stressed out that he also committed suicide. Two men died from freezing to death in cells that had no heat.

The Death House was added in 1916 for those who were sentenced to death. There were six cells and executions would take place inside as well. First there were hangings and then the gas chamber was added. The worst part of this prison probably would have to be the Julien Gallows. We've never heard of anything like this. Inmates were executed using this device from 1912 to 1933. This invention forced the inmates to kill themselves. What the inmate would do is step out onto a trap door and a stream of water was started that would eventually open the trap door, and the prisoner would drop through. The only problem with that was that the drop was not far enough to break the man's neck and they would then take several minutes to strangle. Nine men met their fate on the Julien Gallows. One has to wonder why this issue was never fixed. The gas chamber was added in 1936 when the state of Wyoming chose this as their new execution method. Hydrocyanic acid gas was used as the death agent. Five men would die in the gas chamber that had windows around it, so people could watch. In all, fourteen men were executed here. 

One of the more heinous events connected to the prison occurred in 1912. Details of inmate Frank Wigfall's biography are hard to trace. He died at the prison at either the age of 39 or 49. He was born in South Carolina and came to Wyoming when he was twenty-four. In 1901, Wigfall was arrested in Cheyenne on the charge of assault with intent to kill. He had gotten into a fight in a saloon and stabbed  Ollie Buckley who survived. Wigfall was arrested, convicted and sentenced to serve 18 months at the prison in Rawlins. When he was released, he moved to Laramie where he shared a room with a man who had a lady friend named Mrs. Kruppa. This woman had a twelve year old daughter named Helen and before long, Wigfall had been arrested for attempted rape of Helen. Wigfall plead guilty to avoid a trial and begged to be sent off to jail quickly because he feared lynching. He was sentenced to fourteen years. During his time in the jail, an older woman whom all the prisoners called Granny Higgins would bring fresh baked cookies for the prisoners. They all loved her. 

When Wigfall was released he went to Granny Higgins house and sexually assaulted her after breaking her door down with an ax. He ran away, but a posse tracked him down. Now while he had been put in jail before to protect him from lynching, this time the inmates would be the danger. John Neale was the Cell House guard and he was doing morning inspections of cells on Tier 3 when a group of forty inmates overtook him and locked him in a cell. This group then grabbed Wigfall and put a rope around his neck and marched him up the stairs to the top floor. They then threw him over the rail and hanged him. Newspapers across the nation reported, "Convicts Keep Secret Pact – Full details of Lynching May Never be Known." It was rumored that the inmates had threatened that anyone who squealed would be the next to hang.

Prisoners did have work at the Wyoming Frontier Prison. The prison produced brooms over a period of sixteen years, but this ended in 1917 when inmates burned down the broom factory during a riot. The building was rebuilt and became a shirt factory, which brought in a ton of revenue for the state. This was closed in 1934 and transformed into a woolen mill in 1935. The mill won the “Navy E” in 1942 for the superior quality blankets they produced during World War II for the military. After the war, production switched over to license plates and this would continue until the jail closed in 1981. The property was abandoned after closing until 1987, when it was used as a film location for a low budget movie titled "Prison" starring Viggo Mortensen. Since the prison had not been set aside as a historic site, it wasn't protected and the film production caused some major damage. This got preservationists involved and a joint powers board was formed. They renamed the jail "The Wyoming Frontier Prison" and reopened it as a museum. The prison got its listing on The National Registry of Historic Places, and now offers daily tours. Approximately 15,000 visitors pass through the doors annually.

One of the inmates here was Bill Carlisle, who was dubbed the gentleman bandit. He was nicknamed this because he never shot anyone and didn't take money from women, children or servicemen. He started his criminal life in 1916 by robbing his first train, a Union Pacific passenger train. Carlisle put on a white mask and pulled out a gun, ordering a sleeping porter to collect money from the male passengers. The gun he used was actually a glass gun that had been filled with candy. He escaped the train by jumping off the top of one of the cars and rolling away into the brush. A posse went out after him, but he eluded them. He then went after the Overland Limited on April 4, 1916. He got away from that train too and went on to rob another train later that month. This time, Carlisle was captured and he was sentenced to life in prison. He was a model prisoner at the Wyoming Frontier Prison until he escaped. He worked in the shirt factory and hid himself in a packing crate full of shirts. Carlisle got out of the box, boarded a train and proceeding to rob the men. A posse was already after him and knew he was on the train. When he jumped from the train, he was shot in the wrist, but still managed to make a run for it. The posse caught up with him two weeks later and he had a bad infection from his bullet wound. He was returned to prison on December 18, 1919. He was paroled on good behavior in 1936 and married the nurse who took care of his bullet wound. They opened a hotel together in Laramie and eventually moved to Pennsylvania where he died of cancer at the age of 74.

Al Biscaro entered the prison in 1920 on charges of grand larceny. He went by several names. Charles Nichols and William Morgan were a couple of his other names. He was a lifelong criminal who had already served three prison terms and was considered a really violent guy. He did, however; prove to be a model prisoner...until he decided to escape and he did this in a huge way. Four months after he was put in the prison, he developed appendicitis. The doctor in the prison was Dr. Barber and he did an emergency appendectomy on Biscaro who stayed in the infirmary for nearly a month. Biscaro asked for a meeting with the Warden who was named Hadsell or with the Deputy Warden named Kiefer. Both said they were too busy and this seemed to set Biscaro off. 

A man named Rich Magor came into the prison to do some handyman work. Dr. Barber had told him that he would give him a ride back to ton and so when he was finished, he went to the infirmary to wait for the doctor to get off work. Neither Dr. Barber or Magor knew that Biscaro's wife had somehow gotten a gun to him. He pulled out this revolver and everyone in the infirmary at gunpoint. This included Magor, Dr. Barber, a guard and seven other convicts. He told the guard to take his demands to the Warden. He wanted a car brought to the infirmary door with four women inside and for all the guards to be removed. If these demands were not met, he said he would kill the doctor - who had saved his life - and Magor. Dr. Barber and Magor offered themselves in place of the women, so Biscaro agreed to take them hostage instead. The doctor also offered his own car, which was near the infirmary. The Warden agreed to have the guards stand down until Biscaro was two blocks away. Biscaro loaded up his hostages and held a gun to Dr. Barber's head as he ordered him to drive. 

A posse set off almost immediately and Biscaro told Magor to tell the Warden if they continued their pursuit, he would kill the doctor and then he kicked Magor out of the car while it was traveling at 45 mph. Magor managed to survive the tumble without much injury and relaid the message, but the Warden wouldn't have to worry about the doctor for long. Dr. Barber knew he was a dead man and so he did a brave thing throwing his weight behind the wheel and wrecking his car on purpose. The doctor made his way out of the wreckage and ran, nearly being shot as Biscaro opened fire. Biscaro ran into a nearby ravine to hide. The posse began searching for him and heard three shots. When they followed the direction of the shots, they found Biscaro dead with self-inflicted wounds to his heart and head. The third bullet was never found. Biscaro’s wife, Grace Nichols, later confessed to providing the gun for her husband saying, "I’d do it again." When she was allowed to see Biscaro's body she said to him, "Well, Old Scout, guess I will finish your sentence."

There are many ghosts stories connected to this site. Many visitors and staff have seen the spirit of a black cat roaming about the cells and there is a good reason for that. The staff needed to test the mixer for the gas chamber and most times they would use a pig, but on this occasion they found a stray black cat and put it in the gas chamber. A tour guide named Erin was in A Block and she came out of a cell when a black cat darted out in front of her. He went around the corner and another tour guide named Molly was standing there and she saw the cat and then it just disappeared. Solitary Confinement or the Dungeon House or the Black Hole - names used by all the inmates - has a lot of activity. A malevolent spirit resides here and threatens anyone who ventures here. 

There are those who call the whole prison a death house. More than 200 prisoners died here. Some of their spirits remain. Ted Ford was a former tour guide at the museum and he claimed to see the figure of a man one day. He was standing in a doorway, so Ted approached him and he disappeared. Another tour guide named Kaitlyn saw a similar figure. She too saw him in a doorway after turning around and she was shocked to see him there. She thought somebody had broken in, so she shouted "hello" to let him know that she saw him. She walked towards him shouting "hey!" and he backed away in a room and when she got to the doorway, he was nowhere in the room. The interesting backstory is that both of these guides saw this man in the same doorway and this was near where a guard was beaten and stabbed to death by two inmates. They were drunk on some prison hooch. They dragged him down some stairs that lead into the room where the ghost disappeared. Was this shadow man the murdered guard?

A full-bodied apparition of a man wearing a brimmed hat has been seen in the Death House where inmates were hanged. Most apparitions are seen out of the corner of the eye. And back to the story about Wigfall, when conditions are right his lynching is played over as if on a loop. The Destination Mystery Team investigated the jail in July of 2020 and they believe they captured an apparition in the upstairs area of the chapel. It's an interesting capture. We'll share a still photo an Instagram and you can see what you think. Tina Hill was Museum Director back in 2001. She claimed to hear booted footsteps outside the public bathroom. When she walked over to the area, no one was there. This had once been the guards' kitchen. Another former tour guide named Becky Munsinger once saw a dark-haired man wearing a gray shirt and gray pants while walking a cell block one day.

(Warning) Andrew Pixley was one of the most notorious prisoners. A family from Chicago was in Jackson Hole on a ski vacation and he raped and killed the two young daughters, 11 and 12. The beating was horrible and there was evidence of cannibalism. While he was in his cell, he carved the faces of his female victims on the walls of the cell and referred to them as his guardian angels. Those carvings are still visible in the cell. He was killed in the gas chamber in 1965 and he took longer to die than any other man in the Death House. Most inmates took 3 minutes to die in the chamber. Pixley took a full six minutes. A tour guide named Mike calls this cell the scariest one in the Death House and he liked to tell guests on his tours that it took longer to kill Pixley because it is harder to kill evil. He had a chilling experience one day. He was recording the dates all the executions in the prison and he went up to the hanging room to verify some dates because they have them posted on the wall up there. It was dark and he needed a flashlight. The minute the beam fell upon the black eyes of Pixley in his mug shots, Mike heard the sobbing of little girls. The sound was coming from the gas chamber. He was scared to death. Especially when he realized the date. It was the same day that Pixley had been executed. They light a candle in there during tours and it flares brighter all the time. Another tour guide named Susie says the hair on the back of her neck always stands up when she is in that cell and talking about this prisoner.

Ghost Adventures investigated the prison in 2013. They captured a lot of unexplained noises on their audio recorder. To us it sounded like banging on the cell bars. They had a camera spin out in a shower room and fall down by itself and they all heard a male voice audibly. They checked the prison to make sure nobody was in there with them and they were the only ones. Billy was sitting in a cell block by himself and saw a light. He described it being as if a guard was walking the block with a flashlight, but he was alone in that area. The guys felt like they got some good evidence. It was definitely interesting.

The Wyoming Frontier Prison was a harsh and cruel place that became the final home for some 200 inmates who would not leave this location alive. Is it possible that some of their spirits are still here, trapped or otherwise? Is the Wyoming Frontier Prison haunted? That is for you to decide!

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