The End of the Line for George Parrott

George Francis Warden, aka “George Parrott” and “Big Nose George,” was an outlaw in Wyoming and Montana in the late 1800s. Although he wasn’t a very successful bandit, he became famous in Wild West history due to how his outlaw ways ended.

He began his career by robbing stagecoaches between Deadwood and Cheyenne. Following a few failures there, he took up with a group of outlaws and plotted in August 1878 to rob a Union Pacific train carrying payroll as it traveled through southeastern Wyoming. Near Medicine Bow, Wyoming, the gang sabotaged the track and laid in wait for the train to be derailed.

Portrait of George Parrott.
Box 2, Tom Bohnsack papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

However, the track was repaired before the train came along and Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Widdowfield and Union Pacific detective Henry “Tip” Vincent rode out from Rawlins to investigate the situation. They picked up the bandits’ trail and set out after them. In less than a day, the two men had caught up to the outlaws, who had seen the men coming and hid. As the two men were investigating the outlaws’ recently abandoned camp, the outlaws fired on the men, killing both. The bandits looted their supplies, hid the bodies, and split up to leave the area.

A search party was sent out after the two men whey they didn’t return to Rawlins. The bodies were found, and the identities of the killers were discovered. In June of 1880, George Parrott was located in Miles City, Montana. Carbon County’s new sheriff, Joseph Rankin, traveled to Montana, apprehended Parrott, and began the journey back to Rawlins so Parrot could face trial. The only reason that Parrott was caught was due to his bad habits of drinking too much and talking even more.

Poem about George Parrot attributed to Jean Curtis Osborne, the only child of Gov. John Osborne and his wife Selena Smith.
Photo File: Parrott, George, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

On the train ride to Rawlins, the train stopped in Carbon County to resupply. An angry group of coal miners boarded the train, restrained Sheriff Rankin, and dragged George Parrott from the train with the intention of lynching him for the murder of the two men. They carried him to the same telegraph pole where another of Parrott’s outlaw group, “Dutch” Charley Burris, had been hanged a year ago for the same crime.

As the mob prepared to lynch Parrott, he caved and confessed to every crime he had committed. With a full confession from Parrott, the mob decided it would be best to let the court in Rawlins handle his punishment. The miners returned Parrott to the train and Sheriff Rankin departed again for Rawlins with his prisoner. Parrott was soon safely in a Rawlins jail cell. Parrott was convicted of the murder and sentenced to hang.

He sat in his jail cell for a few months before attempting to break out. His breakout attempt was unsuccessful due to the brave actions of the jailer’s wife, and a crowd of people arrived at the jail soon after the attempt with Parrott’s name on their lips.

The mob attempted to lynch him from a telegraph pole, but the rope broke. Shortly, they returned with a new rope and strung him up again as he begged to be shot instead. This time, when someone kicked the ladder from beneath him, Parrott managed to grab hold of the telegraph pole and forestall his death for a couple minutes. But it was futile because death reached him at the end of his rope regardless.

Artist Thomas Rooney’s interpretation of the lynching of George Parrott drawn in 1929.
Box 2, Tom Bohnsack papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Parrott’s story doesn’t end there, however. Parrott’s body was eventually given to Union Pacific surgeon John Osborne and Rawlins physician Thomas Maghee. Dr. Osborne made a death mask of Parrott’s head and preserved his body in a salt solution to be used for scientific study. Osborne did more than just use Parrott’s body for anatomical study, though. He removed skin from the thighs of the outlaw, tanned it, and made a pair of two-tone dress shoes from the leather. He also made a medical bag of leather from Parrott’s chest.

These two photos show the plaster death mask and dress shoes.
Box 2, Tom Bohnsack papers and Photo File: Parrott, George, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Dr. Osborne wore the shoes for many years, including, allegedly, at his inauguration as Wyoming’s third governor. The shoes are now housed in the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, Wyoming, along with the plaster death mask. The medicine bag was never found. Dr. Maghee gave the top half of Parrott’s skull to his protégé Lillian Heath, who later became Wyoming’s first woman physician. This memento was kept in the Heath house for many years and used as a doorstop, ashtray, and rock holder. Parrott’s body wasn’t found until it was accidentally excavated in 1950. The remaining artifacts were split up among different historical institutions.

Post contributed by Archives Aide Sarah Kesterson, AHC Reference Department


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