Train robber Big Nose George Parrott is the only man in American history to become a fancy pair of human skin shoes after his death. But the details of his morbid (but stylish) posthumous existence were not revealed until the outlaw’s remains were unearthed in a barrel by construction workers on May 11th, 1950.
Wild West outlaw Big Nose George Parrott
Big Nose George was an outlaw, a member of a gang of thieves who robbed wagons and stole horses in the Powder River country of Wyoming.
On August 16, 1878, the gang plotted to rob a Union Pacific train by causing it to derail. However, as seven of the outlaw members hid in the brush waiting for the train to arrive, a section crew came along, discovered the tampered rail and sent for the law.
The gang was soon tracked down by two lawmen whom they shot, killed and dismembered. Outraged, The Union Pacific Railroad doubled their efforts in tracking the murderers and county authorities offered a $10,000 reward for their capture.
Several members of the gang were caught and put to death. Dutch Charlie was the first to be apprehended in 1879. However, while being transported to his trial, an angry mob in Carbon dragged him off the train and hanged him from a telegraph pole.
Big Nose George was apprehended in Miles City, Montana in July, 1880 after drunkenly boasting of the attempted train robbery. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang on April 2, 1881 in Rawlins, Wyoming. However, an escape attempt on March 22 sped up the process. A mob of over two hundred angry townfolk strung George Parrott up and, after two botched attempts, successfully killed him at the end of the rope.
Several hours passed before the undertaker cut George down and nailed him into his pinewood box. According to a book called The Legend of Big Nose George:
“The nose of the dead man was so large that it interfered with the lid of the coffin and excess pressure had to be exerted to close it and nail it down.”
With no family to claim the corpse, it was taken into possession by Doctors Thomas Maghee and John Osborn in order to study his brain. Osborn’s wife was criminally insane. He hoped that by studying the brain of a criminal, he would discover a cure for his wife.
With fifteen-year-old assistant Lillian Heath on hand, the doctors cut into George’s head. After crudely removing the skull cap, they examined the brain and found no marked differences between George’s brain and a “normal” one. That is when Osborn took a turn into the bizarre.
He began by making a death mask of George’s face with plaster of paris. The mask lacks ears because George’s ears were worn off as he struggled at the end of the rope.
Osborn then removed skin from George’s chest and thighs, including his nipples, which he sent off to a tannery with instructions to make a medicine bag and a pair of shoes. Though disappointed that George’s nipples had not been used, Osborn still wore his new shoes proudly.
Remains of Big Nose George discovered in a barrel in 1950
The doctor continued his experiments and dissection for a year, keeping George in a whiskey barrel with a salt solution. When he was finished, the remains were buried in the yard behind Dr. Maghee’s office.
The skull cap was given to Miss Heath, who later became the first female doctor in the state of Wyoming. Over the years she used it as an ashtray and a doorstop in her office. It was this piece that was used to identify the remains in 1950, followed by DNA testing. Though in her 80s, Lillian Heath was still alive and still in possession of George’s skull cap.
Osborn became the first Democrat governor of Wyoming. He was said to have worn his special shoes at his inaugural ball in 1893. He later became the assistant Secretary of State under President Wilson.
Big Nose George’s death mask, skull and shoes made of his skin are now the star attraction at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, Wyoming, along with the shoes he wore to his lynching and other artifacts. The outlaw’s skull cap resides at the Union Pacific Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The rest of Parrott’s remains were secretly buried in an unknown location. The medicine bag has never been found.
Shoes made from the skin of Big Nose George