October 25, 2019
Wyoming’s Wind River Country is the kind of place that draws people in and makes them want to stay. Many who spend time in the area never leave—even after death. A few of the spookiest places in Wyoming can be found in Wind River Country.
The dramatic and varied history of Wind River Country lives on in the form of tracks left behind—but not just by pioneers’ wagon wheels. It’s evident in ghost towns as well as old buildings, hauntings as well structures with a mind of their own.
BARTLETT INN, SOUTH PASS CITY
Imagine yourself an early emigrant, off on a grand adventure to the Wild West, yet unnamed and untamed. You started your journey giddy and riding high on anticipation of gold and glory. Weeks later, you’re slumped low in your saddle, lonely and desperate for some security and creature comforts. You know South Pass City, the gold boom town just off the Oregon Trail, is miles ahead of you. But then you happen upon an inn just east of your destination. The young woman and her father offer you a home-cooked meal, and you know you’ll get some “hospitality” later that night from the woman. What you don’t know is that you won’t survive the evening. You’ll be fed arsenic in your steak or whiskey, stripped of your possessions, and buried under the feet and feces of cattle.
“Wyoming’s amazing poisoner.” “Wyoming’s worst serial killer.” Polly Bartlett and her father killed at least 22 men who were making their way across the American West and fatefully stopped at the still-standing Bartlette Inn. Though ghost towns like South Pass City State Historic Site don’t typically have ghosts, this one certainly has its own horror story.
JEFFREY CITY‘S HAUNTED HIGHWAY
Highway 287 actually follows the route of the Oregon Trail over South Pass, which is the reason South Pass City ever existed (miners found gold sometime after the flood of emigrants started over the Oregon Trail, which ultimately led to the city booming to life).
This route is also part of the Mormon, California, and Pony Express trails. It has been haunted since those early days, according to Alma Law, a local ghost-story enthusiast and English teacher. He tells the tale of a woman driving home from a long day in Denver recently. It was about 11:30 at night and her friend had fallen asleep in the passenger seat. After passing through Jeffrey City, the driver spotted a dark, hunched figure walking toward the road in the sagebrush. About a half mile later, she saw the same figure, closer to the road. She noted his big coat as he became clearer. About a half mile later, still thinking about this man and his surprising re-appearance, she reached over to wake her friend and request she take a turn driving. As her friend awoke, she saw the same man at the edge of the road, just crossing the white line onto the highway next to the car. Screaming, they accelerated away and compared descriptions, it was certainly the same man.
“I’ve heard that same story of the guy in the green parka crossing the plains near Jeffrey City has been a ghost story since the times of the stagecoach,” reports Law.
Who is he, and where is he trying to get to?
Visit Jeffrey City for pottery, outdoor recreation, and the chance to spot its long-wandering ghost.
SPOOKY SKULL: LANDER PIONEER MUSEUM
At the Lander Pioneer Museum, you can learn more times of old and check out a few more creepy spectacles. As you enter the museum, you’ll be greeted with the eerie, boney smile of pioneer Harvey Morgan. But something is very, very wrong with Harvey. His skull has a massive hole in it, and the wagon spike that caused it, in the hands of Native American attackers, remains embedded in it.
Upstairs in the museum, you can gaze upon a 1900s-era hearse to keep with the morbid theme while learning a bit more about the history of the American West.
Visit the Lander Pioneer Museum to learn true tales of the rugged West, dive deeper into the Bartlett horrors, and look at the creepiest human skull you’ve ever seen.
TINNELLI’S HOUSE OF WONDER
Shoshoni was once a hopping town and now is more quiet than peaceful. At least that’s the case if you ask the latest owner of the building created as a Masonic Temple that housed a Yellowstone Drug Store, a lodge, a bookstore, a fabric store, and eventually Tinnelli’s House of Wonder. This museum of eclectic antiques and classic cartoon theatre seems to hold onto lives of its own. This has long been one of the spookiest places in Wyoming.
“When he first bought the building, he assembled rooms on the second floor to rent out for the night while he remodeled. His guests never stayed the whole night and he was able to learn that they had been spooked out by sounds of shuffling feet and doors opening and closing up and down the hall,” Law explained.
The previous owners of the book and fabric stores reported similarly unexplained shenanigans. Often, after the building had been cleaned up and locked up for the day, employees would return in the mornings to find poltergeists had “rearranged” their goods overnight.
From what part of the House of Wonder’s history did these beings originate?
Visit Tinelli’s House of Wonder for his annual Halloween party. Rumor has it you may be able to spend the night not only upstairs, but with access to the whole cartoon theater. But you’ll have to show up and ask the owner—and his unpredictable guests—for permission.
RIVERTON MASONIC TEMPLE
Shoshoni isn’t the only town in Wind River Country with a former Masonic Temple that exhibits paranormal behaviors. The temple on Main St. and Broadway Ave. in Riverton is one of the oldest buildings in town, just as the one in Shoshoni is.
In the 1910s, the main floor of this building was leased by a salesman who also made death his business. It is believed this salesman/undertaker/coffin maker used the coal chute in the back of the building as a body slide, allowing “deliveries” any time of day.
It would seem he still isn’t ready to retire, as the building’s current staff reports the elevator occasionally makes unexpected stops in the basement—perhaps someone is checking for new deliveries?
If you’ve visited the Masonic Temple building and had your hair raised on a creepy elevator ride, simply walk across the street to Studio 402. Ask for a style by Leslie Larsen, who can tell you about the salon’s transparent resident, named Ellen. You may spot Ellen from the corner of your eye or in some rather creepy photographs.
BROWN SUGAR COFFEE ROASTERY
At this point in your tour of the spookiest places in Wyoming, you may need a break for some comfort food. Fear not, Riverton has you covered. Stop in at Brown Sugar Coffee Roastery just down the road. Order a gorgeous cuppa’ and a cupcake and settle in.
But before you leave, ask about the contractor son’s who worked on the shop when it was Broker Restaurant and Bar. Or just sit and sip and imagine working late one night after everyone else has left. You hear noises above you but don’t pay them much mind—you’re trying to get your work done. Just as you slow down to figure out why you’re hearing kids running around upstairs, you realize those footsteps have started running all around you, as if they’re playing tag. You leave. Immediately.
When you return the next morning, you bring your father. What you find confirms your flight instinct: in the fresh concrete are tiny footprints, just as if a child peeked through the door, watching as you ran away.
Visit Brown Sugar Coffee Roastery for a snack and pick-up or for one of their events. If you sit quietly enough, will you hear the pitter patter of children at play?
Some of these stories, and many more are compiled in the book Fremont Haunts, which was researched and written by a class of Riverton High School sophomores in 2017. You can pick this book up to find more of the spookiest places in Wyoming at the Riverton Museum, among other places.
Visit the Riverton Museum to learn more about the stories—past and undead—of Wind River Country. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the tabby cat who has only ever been spotted fleetingly, for a very, very long time.