Rawlins, like much of Carbon County owes a substantial part of its early history to the Union Pacific Railroad.
The railroad gave names to unnamed places as it laid tracks westward over the Rocky Mountains that would eventually become the Trans-Continental Railroad.
Well ahead of those tracks were Army surveyors laying out the route and marking the waterholes the great steam-locomotives would need to fill their empty tanks.
When General Grenville Dodge’s crew discovered a clear alkali-free spring, General John A. Rawlins made the comment, “If anything is ever named after me, I hope it will be a spring of water.” Shortly after that Dodge named this tiny oasis Rawlins Springs.
In time, that oasis became a division point for the railroad, and the division point eventually became a town. Somewhere along the way, the town of Rawlins Springs became simply Rawlins.
In 1886, while Wyoming was still a territory, the legislature voted to construct a Territorial Prison and chose a site outside of Rawlins. Poor funding slowed construction, and the prison did not accept its first prisoner until thirteen years later. By that time, not only had Rawlins grown to completely surround the prison, Wyoming had also become a state.
The town of Rawlins owes it's history to a confluence of events surrounding Westward Expansion. You can learn more about the history of the area at museums and historic sites. The Wyoming Frontier Prison is a great place to start with engaging and unique tours.