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Strange Fate of "Big Nose George"

Updated on August 11, 2015

George Parrot, AKA “Big Nose George,” wasn’t the meanest or even the worst outlaw in the Old West. But, what made him famous is what occurred after he was lynched on March 22,1881. Big Nose George is the only person in American history having the distinction of being made into a pair of shoes.

Big Nose George also went by the aliases George Manuse and George Warden, but it was his large nose which gave him his moniker. George was a cattle rustler and train robber in Wyoming who worked with three other gang members, Frank McKinney,Sim Jan and Charlie Burris, aka “Dutch Charley.” Frank and Sim were suspected of passing themselves off as the infamous James brothers on several occasions.

It seems there is little known about George prior to his appearance in Wyoming around 1878. No one knows where or when he was born. His recorded history apparently begins when he and his gang murdered two lawmen during a botched Union Pacific train robbery near Medicine Bow River on August 19, 1878.

Wyoming Deputy Sheriff, Robert Widdowfield and Union Pacific Detective, Tip Vincent, had followed the gang to their camp at Rattlesnake Canyon, near Elk River. A gunfight ensued and both lawmen were killed. The incident was soon discovered and a reward was posted for the outlaws.

The gang next surfaced in present day Miles City, Montana in February, 1879. There, they devised a plan to rob prosperous local merchant Morris Cahn after learning he would soon be heading east to buy stock with a large sum of cash…despite the fact he would be escorted by 15 soldiers from Fort Keogh. Depending on the source, the gang was reported to have made off with between $3,600 and $14,000.

In 1880 George and Charlie were arrested in Miles City by local deputies, Lem Wilson and Fred Schmalsle. The lawmen had gotten wind of their whereabouts after the two desperadoes’s got roaring drunk and boasted of killing the two Wyoming lawmen.

Parott was returned to a Rawlins, Wyoming jail where he was tried for murder. He was sentenced to hang on April 2, 1881, but in the interim attempted an escape which was foiled by jailer Robert Rankin. Parrott struck Rankin over the head with the shackles he had managed to escape from. Rankin suffered a fractured skull but managed to alert his wife who, with a pistol, convinced George to return to his cell. News of the escape attempt quickly spread and an irate mob of Rawlins citizenry, numbering about 200, burst into the jail brandishing pistols and wearing masks.

George was hauled kicking and screaming to a telegraph pole in front of Fred Wolfe's Saloon where he was unceremoniously lynched. Charlie Burris later suffered a similar fate.

Since No one claimed George’s body, two local physicians,Doctors Thomas Maghee and John E. Osborne took possession of it to use in medical research. The top of Parrott's skull was sawn off to examine the brain. It was later presented to Maghee’s medical assistant, 15-year-old Lilian Heath. Heath later became Wyoming’s first female doctor. Some say over the years she used it as an ash tray, a pen holder and even a doorstop.

Osborne next skinned George’s body and sent the skin to a tannery in Denver, Colorado and made into a pair of shoes and a medical bag. Osborne was later elected as the first Democratic Governor of the State of Wyoming. Reportedly, Osborne was said to have worn the shoes to his inaugural ball. The rest of George’s body was stored in a whiskey barrel of salt and later buried behind Maghee's office.

The barrel was rediscovered on May 11, 1950, when construction workers working on the Rawlins National Bank unearthed it. Dr. Osborne's shoes and George's skull are currently on display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins.

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    • profile image

      Ellen K. Compton (Mrs.) 

      7 years ago

      My relative, William Frederick Schmalsle, was one of the men who brought Big Nose George Parrott in to the jail.

    • profile image

      historyperson 

      7 years ago

      vey helpful thanks

    • WesternHistory profile image

      WesternHistory 

      8 years ago from California

      very strange and interesting story. No doubt that an outlaw would be lynched in short order for killing lawmen. The cattlemen also made sure that rustlers often received the same fate in Wyoming.

    • Daffy Duck profile image

      Daffy Duck 

      8 years ago from Cornelius, Oregon

      That's great! I absolutely enjoy your stories about people in the past and the unique facts you uncover make them really interesting.

      Great hub!

    • jblais1122@aol profile image

      jblais1122@aol 

      8 years ago from Kansas City, Missouri, USA

      Great story, thanks.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for another interesting tale of the Old West. What if Big Nose Kate had married Big Nose George? Oh My!

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      8 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      RNMSN, thanks. Don't know how I missed that.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 

      8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      cool tale but you may want to edit it once again...the lat part is just like the first part :) thats a song lyric I believe!

      hubby and I lived in Mt and this tale is well known and told many ways in many places! good story too

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