#Lookback: Three Female Prisoners from Fremont County at the Wyoming State Penitentiary

A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we take a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

At the beginning, the state of Wyoming was a part of the Wild West. The Wild West was a place where disorderly behavior prevailed. As a result of this lawlessness, Wyoming Territory opened the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary on July 15, 1872, in Laramie City. 

The first female to be held in the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary was Nettie Stewart-Wright. She was suspected of stealing arms and ammunition from Fort McKinney, along with Leonard Starr and Louis Blackwood. She was imprisoned from the last week of July 1880, until August 6, 1880, when authorities dropped the charges against Nettie due to insufficient facts. 

The second woman to spend time at the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary was Florence W. Hughes who was arrested in June 1883, for selling liquor without a license. Florence left the prison after paying bail and was never convicted due to a lack of evidence. 

The third woman to spend time in the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary was Jennie Berry. She was the first woman in the prison that was convicted of the crime that she was accused of on June 18th, 1887. Berry was a member of a group called the Fort Laramie Quartette by the local newspapers. The Quartette consisted of Jennie Berry, her lover Aderan Everett, her friend Robert Sanderson, and David Lewis. The court convicted Everett and Sanderson for the murder of Berry’s former lover, Richard Rice. David Lewis was tried and released for his role in the murder. Jennie Berry was convicted as an accessory to the murder and sentenced to two years in the Laramie County Jail. 

After Wyoming became the 44th state in the United States on July 10th, 1890, the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary was renamed the Wyoming State Penitentiary. The book named “Petticoat Prisoners of Old Wyoming” by Larry K. Brown outlines the stories of some of the female prisoners that spent time at the Wyoming State Penitentiary. This is the story of three female prisoners from this book that were convicted of a crime in Fremont County.

Stella F. Gatlin

In 1893, the once-booming gold mine camp of Miner’s Delight was home to only a few old miners. The arrival of the Rawlins and Northwestern Stagecoach once every three weeks was the only thing that broke up the monotony of the small town. Postmaster James Kime would meet the stagecoach to sort and distribute the mail to all the small communities in this remote part of Wyoming. Kime took great pride in the security of the registered mail that was sent would arrive at its destination. Based on this belief, Postmaster Kime put eight registered letters into a pouch on its way to Rawlins to be received by Postmaster Perry J. Smith. When the pouch arrived in Rawlins, Postmaster Smith discovered that the pouch had been cut and the mail had been stolen. Postmaster Smith immediately wrote Postmaster Kime that the eight pieces of registered mail had not arrived. 

After the mail went missing, an investigation was launched by United States Postal Inspector C.M. Waters.Inspector Waters started his investigation by writing letters to the addresses on the mail.After writing, he discovered that six of the people had received their mail from the regular, unregistered, mail service.These letters contained non-negotiable checks, post office orders, or drafts.The two envelopes containing cash never resurfaced.Thankfully, the envelope sent to Jenette Zimmerman from her brother George in Atlantic City, Wyoming, had not been thrown away.Waters examined the handwriting on the envelope and investigated other similar incidents that had been happening over the past two years.The incidents over the past two years all had one mail station in common, the station in Myersville, Wyoming.The handwriting on the envelope led Inspector Waters to Postmaster John C. Gatlin’s wife Stella.

Stella F. Gatlin explained to Inspector C.M. Waters that a stranger on horseback had come to the Myersville station with the letters and asked her to address and send the letters.The inspector was very charmed by Mrs. Gatlin and decided to believe her tale.However, the incidents continued for the next two months and each incident led them to the small station in Myersville.So, Inspector Waters decided to set a trap.He recruited William Brown from Brownsville to send registered mail containing cash to a man in Rawlins.He also recruited the stagecoach driver who dropped off the mail at the Myersville station.The stagecoach driver reported that he saw the Gatlins take the registered mail pouch into a private room after he had dropped it off at the post office.After the man in Rawlins reported his mail missing, detectives filed a complaint with the Commissioner of the United States Circuit Court, Edmund J. Churchill, on April 4th, 1893, asking for the Gatlins’ arrest.On the same day, United States Marshal J.P. Rankin and his Deputy Charles Yund arrested the Gatlins at their home.After searching their home, they found several valuable items that had been reported missing in the mail.On May 10th, the couple was charged with eighteen counts of mail theft.

On November 24th, 1893, Stella Gatlin was found guilty of mail theft and John Gatlin was found not guilty.Two days later, Stella was transported by train to the Wyoming State Penitentiary.She registered as Prisoner #150 and became the first woman imprisoned at the Wyoming State Penitentiary who had been convicted of a federal crime in Wyoming.On December 9, 1894, Stella Gatlin’s sentence expired after serving seventy-five days in jail.After she served her sentence, Stella returned to her home in Myersville and to her husband John.

To be continued…

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

November: “Native Americans of Wyoming’s Wind River Country: The Art of Joe Scheuerlie”

              Opening of the art exhibition at the Pioneer Museum in Lander

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.  

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