George Parrot: The Man Who Became A Pair Of Shoes

May 15, 2017 6 comments

George Parrott, who was also known as Big Nose George, was a small time cattle rustler and highwayman in the American Wild West in the late 19th century. He was reputed to have a large nose, hence the nickname.

Big Nose and his gang enjoyed a successful career robbing freight wagons and stage coaches. In those days, all business transactions were done in cash, and coaches often carried large amounts of paper money especially during paydays.

One day back in 1878, Big Nose’s gang decided to try their luck on a Union Pacific train that was carrying payrolls for its employees. They found a lonely stretch of tracks near Medicine Bow River, in Wyoming, loosened a spike in the rails and waited for the train to arrive. But a sharp-eyed railroad employee spotted the tampered rail, repaired the damage and alerted lawmen before the train could arrive.


This innocuous-looking pair of shoes hides a macabre secret. Photo credit: Scott Burgan/Flickr

Big Nose George and his men fled to Rattlesnake Canyon at the base of Elk Mountain. Hot on their heels were two law enforcement officers— Wyoming deputy sheriff Robert Widdowfield and Union Pacific detective Tip Vincent. When the officers arrived at Rattlesnake Canyon, they saw the ashes of a campfire that was hastily stamped out. As Widdowfield stooped to feel the ashes to see how recent the fire was, a shot from the bushes stuck him in the face killing him instantly. Vincent turned and tried to run but was shot next.

The Union Pacific Railroad immediately put a bounty of $10,000 on the head of Big Nose George. This was later doubled to $20,000.

George and his men remained at large for the next two years, until Big Nose got drunk in a bar in Miles City, Montana, and boasted of the killings at Elk Mountain. He was arrested and hauled back to Rawlins, where a trial court found him guilty and sentenced to hanging.

Ten days before the scheduled execution, on March 22, 1881, George Parrott made an attempt to escape. Using a pocket knife, he sawed through the rivets on the heavy leg shackles that bound him and struck jailer Robert Rankin in the head cracking his skull. Despite being injured, Rankin managed to call out to his wife, Rosa, who grabbed her husband’s pistol and ordered George Parrott to return back to his cell.


The only known photograph of “Big Nose” George Parrott

When the news of the attempted escape spread throughout the city, an irate mob stormed into the jail, dragged George Parrott out and strung him from a telegraph pole.

Having no family to claim the corpse, Doctors Thomas Maghee and John Eugene Osborne took possession of Parrott's body in order to study the outlaw's brain for clues to his criminality. The doctors sawed off the top of Parrot’s skull and examined the brain but found no marked differences between Parrot's brain and a "normal” one.

From this point onwards, John Osborne’s experiments began to turn decidedly bizarre. He first molded a death mask of George’s face using plaster of paris. Then he removed skin from the dead man’s thighs and chest, and sent them to a tannery in Denver with a very specific set of instructions. The hide—which included George’s nipples—was to be fashioned into 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 he wore them anyway.


Carbon County Museum Director Tiffany Wilson holding the special pair of shoes. Photo credit:

The rest of George’s dismembered body was kept in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution, and Osborn continued his bizarre dissection and experiments for a year. Eventually, the whiskey barrel was buried in the yard behind Dr. Maghee’s office.

With the grisly episode behind him, Dr. Osborne got into politics and went on to become the first Democratic Governor of Wyoming, and later the assistant Secretary of State under President Wilson. At his inaugural ball as the Governor in 1893, Osborn was said to have worn the notorious shoes.

The sawed-off skull cap was presented to Dr. Osborne’s 15-year-old assistant, Lillian Heath, who later became the first female doctor in Wyoming. Over the years, she used the skull cap as an ashtray and later as a doorstop in her office.

Big Nose George was nearly forgotten until one May afternoon in 1950, when construction workers unearthed a whiskey barrel filled with bones while excavating for a new building. Inside the barrel was a skull with the top sawed off, a bottle of vegetable compound, and a pair of shoes.


A local newspaper article reports the discovery of “Big Nose” George Parrott’s remains in 1950 in Rawlins. Photo credit: Carbon County Museum

The local authorities had a clear idea whom the remains belonged to, but they needed verification. Then someone remembered the skull cap Dr. Lillian Heath had kept, and sent for her. Dr. Heath was still alive and well into her eighties when she was contacted. The skull cap was brought to the scene, and it fit perfectly with the skull found in the barrel. Decades later, DNA testing verified the results.

Today, the shoes made from the skin of Big Nose George, together with the bottom part of his skull and his death mask, are on permanent display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, Wyoming. The skull cap is at the Union Pacific Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The medicine bag made from his skin was never found.


The skull of Big Nose George. Photo credit: Scott Burgan/Flickr


Carbon County Museum’s redesigned exhibits about “Big Nose” George Parrott. Photo credit: Carbon County Museum

Source: Wikipedia / Legends of America /


  1. Amusing Planet never disappoints! This grisly story offers a wee bit of satisfaction that justice was actually served, albeit in a very strange way! I think Big Nose George got precisely what he deserved.

  2. The brain of a bandit and murderer may look normal, the brain of a man who wants to wear shoes made from another man's skin? Perhaps not so normal...

  3. Dr. Osborne's brain needed some examining as well. What he did is much more chilling than cattle rustling.

  4. Dr. Osborne along with Drs. Thomas Maghee (the real guy) and R.W. Odell performed surgery for a facial cancer on my ancestor "Black Jack" Parker in Rawlins in 1886. Don't smoke a pipe. Dr. Woodruff had excised the tumor on Jack's lip (with basically no anesthesia mind you) but it eventually returned. The surgery was a success of sorts (half of face taken off) but it metastasized to stomach. Maghee was actually one of the first plastic surgeons in the U.S.

  5. Aparrotly, these people had nothing better to do with their time.


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