Outlaw Becomes a Pair of Shoes
George Parrot, also known as Big Nose George, was a cattle rustler and highwayman in the American Wild West in the late 19th century who became a raucous outlaw with a penchant for horse thievery. His gang enjoyed a successful run of robbing pay wagons and stagecoaches stagecoaches in the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana; but a yearning for bigger profits led to an attempted Union Pacific train robbery in 1878.
The robbery attempt was bungled, but law enforcement officers — Wyoming deputy sheriff Robert Widdowfield and Union Pacific detective Tip Vincent – tracked down Parrot’s gang in Rattlesnake Canyon. The officers were spotted by a gang lookout and were ambushed when they investigated the gang’s campsite. The gang took each man's weapons and valuables before covering up the bodies and fleeing the area.
In 1880, Parrot and another cohort were arrested in Miles City by two local deputies. The outlaws had gotten drunk and bragged about their recent successful exploits, including the Wyoming Territory murders.. Parrott was sentenced to hang on April 2, 1881, but tried to escape while being held at a Rawlins, Wyoming jail by attacking the sheriff with his shackles. However, news of the escape attempt began to spread through the town and a mob of people wearing masks made their way to the jail, holding a sheriff at gunpoint, and dragged Parrot out of his cell.
Parrot’s hands were tied behind his back, and a noose secured around his neck. The mob made him stand on an empty kerosene barrel, and tossed a rope over the crossbar of a telegraph pole on what is now Front Street, but the rope broke. The bandit fell, begging to be shot. Instead, the lynch mob replaced the noose and made him climb a 12-foot ladder. With the leg irons weighing him down, climbing was difficult. Finally, he was hung and choked to death. One report estimated a crowd of as many as 200 people gathered to watch.
The body was left hanging for several hours until the undertaker removed it. After no one came forward to claim him, doctors Thomas Maghee and John Eugene Osborne, took possession of Parrott’s body after his death in order to study the outlaw’s brain for clues to his criminality. The top of Parrott's skull was crudely sawed off, and the cap was presented to Maghee’s medical assistant, 15-year-old Lillian Heath. Heath became the first female doctor in Wyoming and is said to have used the cap as an ash tray, a pen holder and a doorstop.
A death mask was also created of Parrott's face, using plaster of paris. The mask was without ears because while George struggled at the end of the rope, his ears were torn off. The skin from his thighs and chest were then removed and were sent to a tannery in Denver. The tannery was instructed to use the skin, including the nipples, to make a pair of shoes and a medical bag. These items were kept by Osborne, who wore the shoes to his inaugural ball after being elected as the first Democratic Governor of the State of Wyoming. It was also rumored that Osborne had the testicles made into a tobacco pouch. Parrott's dismembered body was stored in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution for about a year, while the experiments continued, until he was buried in the yard behind Maghee's office.
In 1950, construction workers unearthed a whiskey barrel filled with bones while working on the Rawlins National. Inside the barrel was a skull with the top sawed off, a bottle of vegetable compound, and the shoes said to have been made from Parrott's thigh flesh. Dr. Heath, now in her eighties, was contacted and her skull cap was sent to the scene, fitting the skull in the barrel perfectly. Today the shoes made from the skin of Big Nose George are on permanent display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, together with the bottom part of the outlaw's skull and Big Nose George's ear-less death mask. The medicine bag made from his skin has never been found.