193. The Skin of Big Nose George

18 Nov

In August 1878 a Union Pacific train was making its rounds through rural Wyoming, America. The day was warm and the steam train pulled along through the uneventful landscape. Meanwhile George Parrott or Big Nose George as he was also known, was with an outlaw gang, lying in wait by the straight tracks. They were ready to make mischief on a whole new scale. The plan was simple, derail and rob the train.

As a group they loosened a few sections of track and moved them enough to destabilise the train, then they lay in wait. Then some section hands came along, found the damage and repaired it immediately. The train was safe; this was the cause of some disappointment for the gang, and they aborted the robbery.

The section hands immediately reported the tampered track to the authorities and two men set out to investigate the track tampering and lay down the law. These men were Sheriff Robert Widdowfield and Special Railroad Detective, Harry ‘Tip’ Vincent. The gang fled to a temporary camp in the nearby ‘Rattlesnake Canyon’ but the investigators were hot on their tracks and discovered them within days. Upon entering the camp they found recently extinguished embers, they were still hot. The gang was there still laying in wait. Up to twenty shots rang out through the canyon and the two investigators lay dead. Shot by Parrot’s cruel collective.

With two bodies on their hands the group partially buried the bodies and then dispersed. Then the long arm of the law began to extend its grasp. Surveyors near the canyon reported hearing the sounds of gunshots rebounding off the rock faces. Some twenty men were assembled to deal with the case. They rode out and eventually found the canyon encampment but no sign of the gang. What they did find were the bodies of the two men, shot to pieces. Widdowfield’s corpse had 7 bullet holes in the skull alone. The two rapidly decomposing bodies had been loosely covered in dust and gravel the week before. The hunt for the gang was on. A prize of $10,000 was offered for the capture of the group. Very quickly Union Pacific doubled that offer.

The first of the group to die was ‘Dutch Charlie.’ He had been caught and was taking a westbound train to Rawlins for his trial, then the whole thing went off track. When the train passed through Carbon County a lynch mob was waiting. They stopped the train and proceeded to storm it, pulling Dutch Charlie off and heading for a telegraph pole. A noose was placed around his neck then tossed over the cross arm of a nearby telegraph pole. He was stood upon a barrel and the rope was secured. Then, legend has it, Mrs Elizabeth Widdowfield kicked away the barrel, shouting:

“This will teach you to kill my brother inlaw!”

In 1880, Big Nose George was found. Drunk and boasting about an attempted train robbery back in Wyoming. He was captured in July of that same year and was sent by train to Rawlins for trial. In court he was told that he would be sentenced to death if found guilty. Three days into the trial he pleaded guilty in a bid for his life and described the murders and the other gang members in full detail. His plea was accepted and his life was spared.

The disected skull of George Parrott

Imprisoned George was a restrained George and he needed to break free, so he did just that. March 22nd 1881 he made a break for freedom, assaulting a warden, only to be stopped by the warden’s wife, and also the pistol she was brandishing.

That night George was back in his cell and under the careful eye of deputy Jailer Simms. That night the door was tapped briskly and politely while much muttering could be heard outside. “Who’s there?” Simms asked. “Friends,” came the reply. Simms politely told these ‘friends’ that they could not enter. they then proved him wrong.

The gang of vigilantes broke through a pointed guns at Simms, he helplessly watched as Big Nose was wrenched out of his cells and dragged into the night. Here the path of history ended its circular line. The very same lynch mob of 200 people who had dealt with Dutch Charlie gathered once more for Big Nose George. The same method was employed, barrel, noose and a telegraph pole adjacent to the rail-road track. The first rope broke and George collapsed to the ground, begging to be shot while fervently trying to loosen the knots tying his hands together. A heavier rope was selected and tied around his neck. He was then forced to climb a 12 foot ladder and stand atop a barrel.

He was verbally abused, spat at and then the barrel removed from beneath his feet. His hands, now loose of the knots, snapped forwards and held onto the noose and supported his head. He was therein mid-air, squirming and screaming with his head in a noose. As time and gravity bore upon him his strength waned and he collapsed, now slowly choked to death by the rope.

By no means was that the end. When his body was later cut down it was also cut up. Local Physician T.G. Magee took his head and performed a crude autopsy to get an insight into the workings of the criminal brain.

Then came Dr John Osborne with his slightly less scientific hopes. Here George Parrott added to his list of notable achievements. Banditry, murder and being made into a pair of shoes.

Dr John Osborne had George Parrott’s skin removed, tanned and made into a special pair of shoes just for him. He was never punished for this, and in fact was even elected as territorial governor for Carbon County in 1893. At his inauguration he wore a suit and those shoes made from the tanned skin of Big Nose George.

Further Reading

1 Comment

Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Articles


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One response to “193. The Skin of Big Nose George


    March 10, 2014 at 04:32

    . So you had been just given a technical writing assignment and you need some thoughts.


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