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Big Nose George Parrot, also known as George Manuse and George Warden, was a cattle rustler in the Wild West in the late 19th century. He is known for being made into a pair of shoes after his death.

Death

In 1878, Parrot and his gang murdered two law enforcement officers—Wyomingmarker deputy sheriff Robert Widdowfield and Union Pacific detective Tip Vincent—while trying to escape following a bungled train robbery. Widdowfield and Vincent were ordered to track down Parrott's gang on August 19, 1878, following the attempted robbery on an isolated stretch of track near the Medicine Bow River. The officers traced the outlaws to a camp at Rattlesnake Canyon, near Elk Mountainmarker, where they were spotted by a gang lookout. The robbers stamped out the fire and hid in a bush but, when Widdowfield arrived at the scene, he realised the ashes of the fire were still hot. The gang then opened fire and Widdowfield was shot in the face. Vincent tried to escape, but was shot before he made it out of the canyon. The gang stole the weapons of both men, as well as one of their horses, before covering up the bodies and fleeing the area. The murder of the two lawmen was quickly discovered and a $10,000 reward was offered for the "apprehension of their murderers." This was later doubled to $20,000.

While the gang was able to escape, Parrot and his second, Charlie Burris or "Dutch Charley", were captured in Montanamarker in 1880, after getting drunk and boasting of the killings. Parrot was sentenced to hang on April 2, 1881, following a trial, but tried to escape while being held at a Rawlins, Wyomingmarker jail. When news of the attempted escape reached the people of Rawlins, a 200-strong lynch mob snatched him from the prison at gunpoint and strung him up from a telegraph pole. Charlie Burris suffered a similar lynching not long after his capture; having been transported by train to Rawlins, a group of locals found him hiding in a baggage compartment and proceeded to hang him on the crossbeam of a nearby telegraph pole.

Doctors Thomas Maghee and John Eugene Osborne took possession of Parrot's body after his death, in order to study the outlaw's brain for signs of criminality. The top of Parrot's skull was crudely sawn off during this procedure, and the cap presented to 15-year-old Lilian Heath, then a medical assistant to Dr. Maghee. Heath went on to become the first female doctor in Wyoming and is noted to have used the cap as an ash tray, pen holder and doorstop. A death mask was also created of Parrot's face, and skin from his thighs and chest was removed. The skin, including the dead man's nipples, was sent to a tannery in Denvermarker, where it was made into a pair of shoes and a medical bag. They were kept by Dr. Osborne, who wore the shoes to his inaugural ball after being elected as the first Democratic Governor of the State of Wyoming. Parrot’s dismembered body was stored in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution for about a year, while the experiments continued, until he was buried in the yard behind Dr. Maghee’s office.

Legends

Many legends surround Big Nose George—including one which claims him as a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. Cassidy, however, would only have been 14 at the time of George’s death, so this theory has been ruled out by historians. There is also speculation that he ran with the James brothers—with the flames of this rumor fanned by George himself. During a pre-trial interview in 1880, Big Nose stated that his outlaw pal Frank McKinney had claimed to be Frank James. He also told investigators that another member, Sim Jan, was the gang leader—leading to wild rumors that Frank and Sim were the infamous James brothers, Frank and Jesse.

However, it is generally agreed that George was more of a run-of-the-mill horse thief and highwayman. His gang enjoyed a successful run of robbing pay wagons and stage coaches of cash in the late 1870s, but a yearning for bigger profits led to the attempted train robbery.

Rediscovery

The death of Big Nose George faded into history over the years until May 11, 1950, when construction workers unearthed a whiskey barrel filled with bones while working on the Rawlins National Bank on Cedar Street in Rawlins. Inside the barrel was a skull with the top sawed off, a bottle of vegetable compound, and the shoes said to have been made from Parrot's thigh flesh. Dr. Lilian Heath, then in her 80s, was contacted and her skull cap was sent to the scene. It was found to fit the skull in the barrel perfectly, and DNA testing later confirmed the remains were those of Big Nose George. Today the shoes made from the skin of Big Nose George are on permanent display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, together with the bottom part of the outlaw's skull and Big Nose George's earless death mask. The shackles used during the hanging of the outlaw, as well as the skull cap, are on show at the Union Pacific Museum in Omahamarker, Nebraskamarker. The medicine bag made from his skin has never been found.

Robert Widdowfield

Robert Widdowfield, one of the two victims of George Parrot's gang, was born on February 15, 1846, at Cook Bank, Tanfield, County Durham, Englandmarker. He was the son of miner Robert Widdowfield and his wife Sarah Craggs, but was brought up by his step-mother, Ann Maugham, from an early age. By the time he was 15, he was working in the mines of County Durham. It was his step-mother, according to family legend, who decided to take the family to America in 1869-70. Robert, his three brothers and a sister all travelled with Ann, but there is no mention of what happened to his father. The family settled in Wyoming and Robert became a deputy sheriff in Carbon County. On August 19, 1878, he became Wyoming's first officer to be killed in the line of duty.

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