History of Rock Springs

Railroads, Coal, Outlaws and Airmail

Rock Springs in Sweetwater County, Wyoming is brimming with historical places and must-sees. From its deep roots in the coal mining and railroad industries to its brushes with legendary outlaws, experience the excitement of the Old West with these local sightseeing destinations.

Railroad & Coal Mining Industries

The Backstory: During the 1800s, small towns began dotting the vast open space of Wyoming as the thriving railroad and mining industries spread like wildfire across the Wild West. Attracting workers from across the nation—and the globe—to these burgeoning towns, the Union Pacific Coal Company transformed what was once empty wilderness into bustling, multicultural hubs as immigrant coal miners brought their distinctive foods, languages and cultures with them. An estimated 56 nationalities pioneered Rock Springs, and today, this ethnic diversity remains.

Experience History Today: Rock Springs is just one of the many small towns brought to life by the 19th century mining and railroad booms. Learn more about the city’s history at the Rock Springs Historical Museum. Or, about three miles north of Rock Springs, take a self-guided tour of historic Reliance Tipple, where you’ll find interpretive signs about the town’s tipple: a 1930s steel and iron structure once used for sorting mined coal.

Old West Outlaws

The Backstory: You may have never heard of Robert Leroy Parker, but we’re certain you’ve heard of his alias: Butch Cassidy. This notorious robber and gunslinger spent some time in and around Rock Springs, briefly working as a butcher (which is reportedly where he got the name “Butch”) and frequenting local downtown establishments. Later in his outlaw career (after a series of shootouts, horse thefts and train robberies), Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch hid out at Fort Bridger, just outside of Rock Springs. 

Another Old West legend, Martha Jane Cannary (famously known as sharpshooter Calamity Jane), also spent some time in Rock Springs. Although few facts about her life have been verified, rumor has it that she had a dugout on what is now M Street.

Experience History Today: Experience Wild West history when you follow in the footsteps of Butch Cassidy on the Outlaw Trail, and be sure to check out the old hideout, Minnies Gap, on the way.

Early U.S. Airmail & Aviation History

The Backstory: Once the Wright brothers took to the skies in their amazing flying machine, modern aviation began transforming the landscape of correspondence, which, at that time, consisted largely of the Pony Express and railroad. In 1920, an official transcontinental airmail route was established in North America. The only problem was that pilots relied on visual cues—looking at the ground and nearby landmarks—to find their way around, which could be very difficult at night and during inclement weather. As a solution, a network of light beacons and brightly painted yellow concrete arrows were created so pilots could navigate across the country and know where exactly to drop mail. As technology improved during the 1930s (and funds grew tight during the Great Depression), pilots no longer used the light beacon or arrow system to deliver mail, and many of the light towers were disassembled for their steel. Throughout the country, however, visitors can still see the concrete arrows, remnants of this historical epoch in postal service and aviation history.

Experience History Today: Several mail drop locations are located just outside of Rock Springs. Use the interactive map to visit one nearby.