The Legend of Benton: Wyoming’s Wildest Town
After the railroad first arrived in Cheyenne, it quickly developed a reputation as one of the wildest outposts on the western frontier. While stories of the "Hell on Wheels" era are well documented, there was one short-lived Wyoming town that was even rowdier than Cheyenne or Laramie.
Benton, Wyoming, was located eleven miles east of present-day Rawlins. In the summer of 1868, the population grew to 3,000 nearly overnight. Inhabited by workers living in shanty tents, the settlement was one of several temporary towns that sprung up as the railroad slowly moved west.
During its three month hay day, Benton featured 25 saloons and five dance halls, including the "Big Tent" which housed a brothel and a physician who treated patrons for any diseases they may have contracted from the local ladies of the evening.
Several miles away from the nearest river, whiskey was cheaper than water in the town. The most popular local swill was "forty rod", which sold for five cents a glass. According to legend, the moonshine was strong enough to kill a man from forty roads away.
Author Zane Grey wrote of his visit to Benton in the book, "The U.P. Trail".
"Life indoors that night in Benton was monstrous, wonderful, and hideous. Every saloon was packed, and every dive and room filled with a hoarse, violent mob of furious men: furious with mirth, furious with drink, furious with wildness--insane and lecherous, spilling gold and blood. The gold that did not flow over the bars went into the greedy hands of the cold, swift gamblers or into the clutching fingers of wild- eyed women."
Grey wasn't the only famous figure who visited the town. Future President and renowned Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant passed through Benton while traveling across the state.
It is said that over 100 men died in the streets of Benton during that wild, Wyoming summer. Another visitor described the town as "nearer a repetition of Sodom and Gomorrah than any other place in America".
By September of 1868, just over three months after the railroad arrived, Benton was deserted. Today, it is considered among the original ghost towns from Wyoming's territorial days.