March 22, 1881
On this day, highway bandit and rustler George “Big Nose” Parrott was lynched in Rawlins, Wyoming, touching off one of the most macabre incidents in Western history.
Rawlings, Wyoming, early 1880s
“Big Nose,” a.k.a. George Manuse or George Warden, also had a big mouth. After he and his cohorts gunned down Wyoming deputy Robert Widdowfield and railroad detective Tip Vincent, he couldn’t stop talking about it in a Montana saloon.
Following the hold-up of a Union Pacific train that cost the two lawmen their lives, the gang managed to slip in to Montana and strike again, robbing a prosperous Miles City merchant. That’s where Parrott and his partner, “Dutch Charley” Burris began bragging about the murders in a local saloon.
Miles City, 1881, when Parrots and company showed up here.
“Dutch Charley” was nabbed first in Green River, Wyoming, and sent back by train to Rawlins to stand trial. But at its regular stop in Carbon City, a party of masked vigilantes hauled him off the train, stringing him up with a makeshift noose. It resulted in what turned out to be a slow motion execution.
Parrott and company continued to stick up stages and “Big Nose” continued to talk until the sheriff from Rawlins heard about it and showed up to arrest him. He did make it back to Rawlins, was tried for the murder of detective Tip Vincent and given an April date with the hangman.
But after a botched jailbreak that seriously injured jailor Robert Rankin, a crowd of surly citizens snatched him out of his cell and threw a noose around his neck. They demanded that he confess or face hanging on the spot. Satisfied with the litany of his misdeeds, his would-be executioners returned him to his cell.
Big Nose was apparently not a lesson learner, however. After a second escape attempt the Rawlins citizenry had lost patience. Marching him out to the same pole, this time they made good on their threat.
Parrott’s lynching didn’t differ from what often served as frontier justice. What followed, however, proved unique in the annals of Wyoming history. The body was eventually claimed by two Rawlins physicians, John E. Osborn (above) and Thomas Maghee. (Left)
Attempting to autopsy his brain for abnormalities, the pair removed the top of Parrott’s skull. Judged a horrifying act of medical malfeasance today, Osborne removed portions of Parrott’s chest and sent it to a Denver tannery with an order for a pair of two-tone shoes and a medical bag.
The top of Parrott’s skull was given to Dr. Maghee’s 15-year old assistant, Lillian Heath, (left) destined to become Wyoming’s first female doctor.
Osborne and Maghee apparently put what was left of Parrott in a whiskey barrel, added salt water and buried it. Then in the 1950s workers unearthed the barrel during the construction of a bank on the site of Maghee’s office. DNA testing later confirmed the bones in the barrel were those of George Parrott. Dr. Heath, then in her eighties, still had the skull cap which her husband had reportedly used as an ash tray.
Dr. Maghee’s office
Even though the details of the Parrott case were widely known, it didn’t seem to hamper Dr. Osborne’s later political career. He was elected to the Territorial Legislature, served as the third governor of Wyoming, was a member of Congress and eventually an Assistant Secretary of State in Woodrow Wilson’s administration.
Some arm chair psychologists theorize that Osborne’s fascination with the tanning trade might be explained by his childhood as the son of a harness maker. Like much of Old West history based purely on speculation, there are generally alternate endings, as well. The saga of George Parrott and the two-tone shoes has at least two. One version claims they were found in the barrel with “Big Nose” George’s bones. Yet another says the good doctor wore the shoes to his inaugural ball in 1893.*
Retiring from politics, Osborne returned to Rawlins, where he was chairman of the board of the Rawlins National Bank, living there until his death in 1943 at age 84. Both Drs. Maghee and Heath practiced medicine for a time in Rawlins. Maghee, a respected physician for decades, made history with one of the nation’s first facial reconstructions. He died in 1927 and is buried in Landers, Wyoming. Dr. Heath (right) living to the ripe old age of 96, was buried in Rawlins in 1963.
It is unclear where George “Big Nose” Parrott was finally laid to rest but the infamous two-tone shoes, according to the latest information, are still on display at the Rawlins Carbon County Museum.
*Photos of the shoes and other grisly images can be found at hannabasinmuseum. This website has elected not to post them.
Carbon County Museum, 904 West Walnut Street, Rawlins, Wyoming, is home to a collection of more than 30,000 artifacts. Open year round, the museum is made up of separate galleries with local, military history and the “garage,” an adjacent space for larger items including a sheep wagon, sleigh and unique frontier paraphernalia like snowshoes for horses.
Permanent collections highlight, the area’s diverse past of early Native Americans, mountain men, railroaders, ranching and mining. In addition, the “Discovery Zone, opened in 2012 is especially for the facility’s younger visitors.
Admission is free. Summer hours are April 1 through October 31, 10 to 6, Tuesday through Saturday. In winter, November 1 through March 31, 10 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday. For more information and schedule of any temporary closures, go to carboncountymuseum.org, e-mail email@example.com, call (307) 328-2740 or write Carbon County Museum, 904 West Walnut Street, Rawlins, WY 82301.
© Text Only – 2020 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.
*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable. When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.