SWEETWATER COUNTY — A revolver currently on display at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River, Wyoming belonged to an outlaw who was killed by a lynch mob, but his afterlife was even more gruesome than his death.
After a bungled attempt at a train robbery in 1878, George Parott – known as “Big Nose George” – and his gang murdered two lawmen near Elk Mountain, Wyoming: Carbon County Deputy Sheriff Robert Widdowfield and Union Pacific Special Agent Henry “Tip” Vincent. Parott was captured in 1880 and returned to Rawlins, the seat of Carbon County, where he stood trial and was convicted.
Sentenced to be executed, he tried unsuccessfully to break jail in Rawlins on March 22, 1881, injuring a jailer, Robert Rankin, in the process. (Rankin’s wife Rosa held Parott at gunpoint until help could arrive.)
An angry mob gathered, removed Parott from his cell, and lynched him. Parott was not the first outlaw to meet his end that way, nor was he the last, but his story was not yet finished.
Two Rawlins doctors, John Osborne and Thomas Maghee, took possession of Parott’s body; they were particularly interested in studying the brain of a criminal and sawed his skullcap off in order to remove and examine it. They presented the skullcap to their assistant, a young woman named Lilian Heath, who would go on to become the first woman licensed as a doctor in Wyoming, but they weren’t quite finished: portions of Parott’s body were skinned – by some accounts, his chest and thighs – and the skin tanned. Osborne then had the skin incorporated into a pair of shoes, which he wore at his inaugural ball after he was elected Governor of Wyoming in 1892.
Osborne went on to serve as a Member of the U.S. House of Representative from Wyoming and was appointed as Assistant Secretary of State in the Wilson administration, a post he held from 1913 to 1916. He died in Rawlins in 1943, at age 84.
Parott’s remains, including his skull, were stuffed into a barrel, buried, then forgotten for 70 years. In Rawlins in 1950, construction workers excavating a site discovered the barrel and its skeletal contents. The skull’s cap was missing, and a visit was paid to Lilian Heath – by now Dr. Lilian Nelson, the wife of Dr. Lew Nelson – and the skull and skullcap were a perfect match: the remains were those of George Parott.
Parott’s handgun, a .44-caliber Remington New Model Army, is part of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum’s “Firearms of the American West – Single Action Revolvers” exhibit, and bears two notches cut into its grip.
The Carbon County Museum in Rawlins has a fine George Parott exhibit, which includes his death mask, a cast of his skull, the gold watch presented to Rosa Rankin for her swift action in preventing Parott’s escape, and Dr. Osborne’s shoes made from his tanned skin.
The Sweetwater County Historical Museum is located at 3 E. Flaming Gorge Way in Green River. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 .m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free.
The Carbon County Museum, 904 West Walnut Street in Rawlins, is currently operating under its summer hours, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. There is no charge for admission.