When the Northern Pacific Railroad announced plans to build a branch line to Yellowstone National Park in the early 1880s, the small town of Gardiner quickly emerged as a “wild west” town. Early accounts labeled it “a veritable Shantyville . . . an ideal squatter town, with the rudest houses.” Though the branch line didn’t arrive until 1902, coal mines to the north, gold mines to the south, poachers in the park, and troops at nearby Fort Yellowstone brought a steady stream of men to drink, gamble, and visit prostitutes. General lawlessness ruled until Park County was created in 1887 and county officials hired a constable and built the first Gardiner jail. The jail burned down in 1898 and again Gardiner was without a place to lock up unruly drunks and criminals. The first trains of tourists arrived in Gardiner in summer 1902 to lewd displays. The local newspaper proclaimed, “Monday night there was almost continuous yelling and shooting from midnight to daylight. Women of ill-fame live in the central part of town and exhibit themselves daily on the streets in bedroom wrappers and make a show of themselves in doors and windows on arrival of the train.” Much to some residents’ relief, Gardiner’s sturdy sandstone jail was ready for its first inmates by mid-September 1903. Unchanged today, the interior still holds its original three-cell block and the walls, floor, and ceiling—inscribed with five decades of graffiti—offer the only record of its many short-term occupants.

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2nd Street, Gardiner, Montana ~ Public