Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.


George Parrot, also known as George Francis Warden, George Manuse, George Curry, and Big Nose George, is infamous not only for being hanged as an outlaw, but also for becoming a pair of shoes after his death. Known for his large nose and called “Big Nose George,” was a member in a gang of road agents and horse thieves. They were led by a man named Sim Jan and were active in the Powder River country, robbing pay wagons and stages of shipments and stealing passengers’ money and jewelry. The gang was comprised of members, Frank McKinney, Joe Manuse, Jack Campbell, John Wells, Tom Reed, Frank Tole, and Dutch “Charley” Burress.

On August 16, 1878, the road agents planned to rob a Union Pacific train near Medicine Bow by manipulating the tracks so that so that the train would derail. However, as they members hid in the brush waiting for the train to arrive, a section crew came along and found the damaged rail. Reportedly, Frank McKinney wanted to shoot them, but Big Nose George and Frank Tole objected. Meanwhile, as the crewman repaired the track, a railroad foreman rode ahead to stop the approaching train and informed the law that the rails had been tampered with. The outlaws could do nothing but silently watch as the track was repaired, then after the workers left, rode off into the sunset.
A posse was sent to capture the would-be train robbers. Two lawmen soon tracked the gang to Rattlesnake Canyon at Elk Mountain, where they were killed by the outlaws. Afterwards, the gang split up, heading in various directions. After discovering the two dead lawmen, the Union Pacific Railroad doubled their efforts in tracking the murderers and county authorities offered a $10,000 reward for their capture.
Frank Tole was killed while trying to rob the Black Hills Stage Line.
Dutch Charlie was captured in 1879 and put on a train to Rawlins for trial. It was stopped by a mob in Carbon, where Dutch Charlie was taken from the train and hung from a telegraph pole.
Later, when Big Nose George was in Miles City, Montana, he got drunk and boasted of the attempted train robbery and murders back in Wyoming. In no time, a telegraph was sent to Rawlins and in July, 1880, Sheriff Rankin of Carbon County arrived in Montana to take George. Again, as the train made its journey, it was stopped in Carbon by the same mob that had lynched Dutch Charlie. Big Nose was hauled off the train and was prepared for lynching. However, when he began to plead for his life and confessed, promising to tell all he knew about the murders if they would let him live, he was then allowed to continue the journey to Rawlins to stand trial. While was in jail, he said that Frank McKinney claimed to be Frank James, which led to the speculation that Frank McKinney and the gang’s leader, Sim Jan, were none other than Frank and Jesse James.
At George’s trial, he was found guilty on December 15, 1880 and was sentenced to hang on April 2, 1881. However, George didn't plan to go so easily and attempted to escape on March 22nd of the next year. When he attacked Jailer Robert Rankin, he fractured his skull and cut his scalp in the process. However, the day was saved when Mrs. Rankin appeared with a pistol in her hand and Big Nose George was forced back to his cell.

When the news of the attempted escape spread throughout the city, a masked mob soon formed and stormed the jail.
With lynching on their minds, they dragged Parrot from the jail to a telegraph pole on what is now Front Street. As a crowd of about 200 people gathered, the vigilantes botched the first two hanging attempts, but on the third try, Big Nose George died at the end of a rope.

The body was left hanging for several hours until the undertaker removed it. Having no family to claim the corpse, Doctors Thomas Maghee and John Osborne took possession of it, in order to study the brain to determine if there might be a reason for his criminal behavior. Also on hand was a 15 year-old Lillian Heath who was working as an assistant to Dr. Maghee. After the skull cap was crudely sawed off, the doctors examined it and found no marked differences between Parrot's brain and a “normal” one. Though Dr. Maghee and assistant, Heath, acted within the medical ethics of the time, Dr. Osborne’s activities soon began to get very bizarre.

Osborn first molded a death mask of George’s face using plaster of paris. The mask was without ears because while George struggled at the end of the rope, his ears wore torn off.

Next, Osborn removed the skin from the dead man’s thighs and chest, which the doctor sent to a tannery in Denver with a set of very strange instructions. The tannery was to use the skin, including the dead man’s nipples, to make him a pair of shoes and a medicine bag. When Dr. Osborn received the shoes, he was disappointed to find they didn’t include the nipples, but proudly began to wear them anyway. The rest of George’s dismembered body was kept in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution for about a year. Osborn continued his dissection and experiments for a time, when finally the whiskey barrel and the remains were buried in the yard behind Dr. Maghee’s office.
Somewhere along the line, the skull cap was given to the young Miss Health, who would later become the first female doctor in the State of Wyoming. Over the years, the skull cap was said to have serviced as an ashtray and a doorstop in her office.

The incident was all but forgotten until May 11, 1950, when construction workers excavating for a new building on Cedar Street, unearthed a whiskey barrel filled with bones. The location was behind the building that had served as Dr. Maghee’s office years before. Inside the barrel were numerous human bones including a skull with the top sawed off.

As a crowd gathered to look at the grisly remains, someone remembered that Dr. Lillian Heath had kept the skull cap. While well into her eighties, Heath was still alive and she was immediately contacted. When her husband brought the skull cap to the scene, it fit perfectly with the skull found in the barrel. Though locals were convinced these were the remains of Big Nose George, subsequent DNA testing verified the results. Today, the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, proudly displays Big George’s death mask, his skull, and the infamous shoes made of George’s skin. Also on display is a watch given by the County Commissioners to Rosa Rankin for having stopped Big Nose George from escaping from jail in 1881. The museum is one of the biggest attractions in the city. The shackles used on Big Nose during his hanging and the skull cap and are on display at the Union Pacific Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.

The rest of Parrot’s remains were allegedly secretly buried years ago in an unknown location. The medicine bag made of his tanned skin has never been found.

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Thanks Milt for another great documentation of another "Real West Moment". ;)

 

An ashtray, really? Oh my.

A very strange story, and different from most of the West events. Thanks Milt

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