Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum
Located on West Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek, Colorado, lies the Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum. Previously known as the Teller County Jail for nearly ninety years, this historic museum shows visitors the shadier side of life in the World’s Greatest Gold Camp, as well as a glimpse into the lives of the men charged with keeping the peace in such wild times.
In October of 1890, roaming cowboy, Robert Miller Womack discovered abundant gold in the low-flowing waters of the stream known as Cripple Creek. People didn’t believe him at first, so no rush occurred until a sample was gathered in Colorado Springs that proved Womack right. The Cripple Creek Mining District sprang up in April of 1891, just a year after Womack’s discovery. Real estate moguls soon moved to the area, creating a town called Cripple Creek. The district was so affluent that promoters called it ‘The Greatest Gold Camp on Earth.’ A hefty claim that ended up proving correct. The growth drew not only miners and investors but also thieves and other outlaws. Authorities began to house miscreants in a small, temporary jail. The need for a larger and more secure jail grew with the town itself. In 1901, Teller County Jail was constructed, a state-of-the-art jail of its time. With six inmates to a cell and one chamber pot in each, it was somehow named one of the most sanitary facilities in the mining district.
Teller County Jail History
By 1901, Cripple Creek was a booming mining town, which played a perfect backdrop for gold-hunters to misbehave. Human passions often got in the way of self-control and common sense in the town, leading to bad decisions, financial arguments, and temper tantrums. The need for a jail became more and more evident as people began to act out against one another. In 1901, the new County Courthouse was built on the town’s main street, Bennett Avenue. The jail was used to house folks on trial at the nearby county courthouse, which was just a street away. Convicted felons were taken to the notorious Wyoming Prisons, while lesser criminals served their time in this local county jail. The jail operated from 1901 to 1991 and closed down only due to its missing an exercise yard, which was a modern requirement set forth by the state of Colorado.
The two-story, sturdy building was built to last, and last it did. Its gorgeous brick detailing still remains today to house the museum that tells the story of all that happened here. The front of the building was the receiving area and office for the jail, done up in wood. There is a staircase leading up to the second floor to the left of the entry, where the bedroom of the female guard was. She was in charge of keeping control of the female prisoners on the second-floor jail block. Walking through the jail, one travels through beautiful wood to a stark and colorless steel world of 14 jail cells. The two levels of steel cells are stacked upon one another and have a stairwell that is situated as far as possible from the windows and security door. Due to its design, the jail only ever had a handful of jailbreaks. Each cell had a bed, a heater, and that was pretty much all. In the beginning, four to six men were assigned to each cell. As the years passed and regulations outlawed such treatment of prisoners, only one person was assigned to each small steel cell. A slight improvement in comfort and hospitality, but still a jail cell.
The one flaw in the steel cell design is the catwalk which is located at the top of the steel stairway on the second level. The one and only death in the jail happened when a prisoner jumped over the railing (or was pushed). The problem is that the only thing to keep people from falling over the railing is a single horizontal bar. This would usually be enough, but one must keep in mind that this was basically a holding pen for people accused of heinous crimes at the courthouse and also a stop for the criminally insane on their way to the State Hospital in Canon City. People who were facing the stress of a trial, or those who were on their way to suffer the consequences of their terrible decisions at the Wyoming Frontier Prison may believe that it would be best for them to just end it all, right there, instead of facing what was to come on the other side.
The jail itself was not equipped to handle the desperation of the people who passed through here, and many fights and close-calls with the dangerous railing were reported.
For most of the jail’s history, more than one inmate was held inside each tiny cell. This on its own caused territorial issues, arguments, and injuries. People who were later executed at the Wyoming Prison are said to have returned to this jail for various reasons; fear of the next world, guilt for their actions, trapped energies… it’s hard to say for sure, but visitors to the museum and staff alike have reported bizarre phenomena inside and around the prison museum.
A History of Paranormal Manifestations
The jailers here who were responsible for the prisoners truly took their jobs seriously. Today, some visitors to the museum even state that the guards never left their posts and still roam the ‘jail’ to this day. Visitors have heard the footsteps of an unseen presence walking up and down the wooden staircase continuously, in a cycle. The steps will go up, some time will pass, and the steps come down. This cycle happens over and over again, day after day. It’s almost as if the jailer is reliving their work, just going through the motions even after death. Some believe that this entity is Rosie, the past female jailer. Her presence is felt and even sometimes seen in her sleeping area up on the second floor. She has even communicated to the living that she is ‘taking care of her prisoners.’
Another jailer that is said to wander the museum still is that of the male guard. One evening, the museum’s caretaker was closing up for the day when she saw a man’s face looking through the window at her. She opened the door to let this unknown visitor inside to let him know that the museum was closed for the day, but as soon as she pulled the door open, the man vanished. She reported the incident to other former law enforcement officers who worked at the jail, and using her description, they said that the apparition was that of one of the night-time guards who used to work in the jail. Could he have just been trying to show up for his graveyard shift?
Not only are guards witnessed at the jail, but prisoners are reported often as well. Very dark shadow masses have been seen moving about the last two cells of the first-floor cell block in the men’s section of the jail. Even more disturbing, near the spot of the catwalk where the male prisoner had fallen to his death, heavy breathing and cold spots have been reported. The main security door that separates the jail from the gift shop has been known to fly open with force, perhaps pushed by an entity trying to escape.
The Museum’s Present
Today, visitors can walk in the cell blocks to catch a vibe of what life was like on the inside. Much of the graffiti left by the prisoners remain. The jail booking room contains its original 1902 furniture, and the height markers on the walls allow for unique photo ops for visitors. Displays tell of various mining crimes, murders, and other historical events. Police logs of the 1890s open the floodgates of history, and visitors to the museum leave with more questions than answers. Have you ever visited the Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum? Did you witness a guard still making their rounds, or perhaps a prisoner attempting to flee?