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Big Nose George Becomes a Pair
also known as George Francis Warden, George Manuse, George Curry, and Big
Nose George, is infamous not only for being hanged as an
but also for being the only man in American history who became a pair of
shoes after his death.
known for his large nose and thusly most often called "Big
Nose George,” was a member in a gang of road agents and horse thieves.
Led by a man named Sim Jan, the
outlaws were active in the Powder River country, robbing pay wagons
and stages of cash shipments and relieving passengers of their money and
jewelry. The gang was also 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
seven of the
outlaw members hid in the brush waiting for the train to arrive, a
section crew came along and discovered the tampered rail.
Reportedly, Frank McKinney wanted to shoot them, but Big
Nose George and Frank Tole objected, saying they hadn't come to kill
section men. 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. Their plan thwarted, the
outlaws could do nothing but silently watch as the track was
repaired, then after the workers left, rode off.
In no time, a posse
was sent to apprehend the would-be train robbers. Two lawmen
soon tracked the gang to Rattlesnake Canyon at Elk Mountain, where the
outlaws shot and killed them. 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
Frank Tole was killed the next month while trying to
rob the Black Hills Stage Line.
Dutch Charlie was the
first to be apprehended in 1879, but when the westbound train was
outlaw to Rawlins for trial, it was stopped by a mob in Carbon. Dutch Charlie was then forcibly taken from the train and hanged from a
Later, when Big
Nose George was in Miles City,
he got drunk and boasted of the attempted train robbery and murders in
Wyoming. In no time, a telegraph was sent to Rawlins and in July, 1880, Sheriff
Rankin of Carbon County went to
to take George back to
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,
outlaw began to plead for his life and confessed, promising to
tell all he knew about the murders if they would let him live, the
vigilantes cut him down. Big Nose
was then allowed to continue the journey to Rawlins to stand trial.
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
Jesse James. McKinney, Jan, and the rest of the gang
disappeared and were not apprehended.
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 severely botched the first two hanging attempts, but on the
third try, Big
Nose George died at the end of a rope.
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
outlaw's 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
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
Rawlins, Wyoming in 1891, courtesy
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
outlaw's remains were buried in the yard behind Dr. Maghee’s office.
Despite the doctor’s odd
behavior in the desecration of George Parrot’s body, he soon became
prominent in local politics. In 1892, the doctor was elected as the
first Democratic Governor of the State of
and was said to have worn the shoes at his inaugural ball in 1893. Later Osborn would become the assistant Secretary of State under President
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.
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.
no time, 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 the
outlaw'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.
Remains of Big Nose George Parrot found in
Carbon County Museum.
Big Nose George's Death Mask and Shoes,
Carbon County Museum.
The shackles used on Big
Nose during his hanging and the skull cap and are on display at the Union
Pacific Museum in Omaha,
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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