Big Nose George Parrott was a petty crook, horse thief and stage coach robber in Wyoming during most of the 1870s. He made a few local headlines but longed for more, both money and fame. Gangs he rode with were not famous like Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch or the James Gang, two groups he rode with many years after his death in dime novels and writers dreams. Now the fame he sought while robbing stage coaches and hardware stores has finally become part of his legend. Today he is famous, at least in Wyoming, but maybe not for what he wanted. There are so many versions of his train or attempted train robbery in Wyoming that it is often hard to believe any of them. So like all writers I choose to put together parts of the many stories and come up with my own. (I may have also thrown in a few of my own ideas.)
Big Nose George and his gang of two, Sim Jan and Frank McKinney had started to tear up a small section of railroad track near Medicine Bow Wyoming. The three were so content on working that they did not see an official of the railroad checking track. Once he and the outlaws spotted each other the official high tailed it back to the office and wired for help. While he ran back east to the office the outlaws ran south and west toward the mountain side hamlet of Elk Mountain.
Railroad official Tip Vincent and Carbon county Deputy Sheriff Robert Widdowfield soon caught up with the outlaws. A good old west shot out ensued with Big Nose and the gang killing both Widdowfield and Vincent. Widdowfield reportedly taking a shotgun blast in the face and Vincent shot in the back tiring to get away.
It took three years but the law finally caught up with up with Big Nose George Parrott in Montana and he was taken back to the city of Rawlins in Carbon County Wyoming for trial. Within days he attempted to escape but he was no better at this than train robbing and he never got outside the jail house building. The people of Rawlins, although a good humor bunch did not find this funny. Within hours he was ripped from the jail by a mob of 200 and lynched.
This should have been the end of the line for Big Nose George but in his unusual case we’re just getting warmed up. The body was given to a local doctor and his apprentice who attempted a crude autopsy sawing off the top of Parrots head in search of some type of outlaw lobe in his brain. Not sure if they found much of anything—see bungled robbery and escape above. But the story still does not end. Will it ever?
Big Nose George was skinned and made into a pair of shoes a small bag and according to some a belt and a wallet. The shoes were worn by a local doctor on many special occasions including his own inaugural ball after being elected governor of Wyoming in 1893.
Big Nose George’s body was pickled in salt brine and kept for a year or more in various business places in and around Rawlins Wyoming. Reportedly a favorite game of locals was to take unsuspecting visitors to see the famous Big Nose George—the big game likely went something like this:
“Hey Pard ya ever heard of Big Nose George the outlaw?”
“Sure everyone’s heard of him.”
“Ya wanna see him.”
“Not likely, he’s been dead for years”
The local comic then reaches over opens the wooden whiskey keg reaches in grabs a few parts of ol’ Big Nose and pulls him out of the barrel and starts laughing hysterically. At this point visitor passes out or throws up.
But a year later all the parts of Big Nose George disappeared—until 1950 when a construction project unearthed his bones—Big Nose George was back.
Historical Note—The skull and shoes can still be viewed in a downtown Rawlins Wyoming museum. There was a bag that appeared to be a medical bag but it has not been seen in more than a century. As for the belt and wallet –they may have existed only in legend; if they were real, like the bag they are lost forever.
Personal Note—My wife and I live within an hour’s drive of the train robbery site, my son and his family live on a hill overlooking the train tracks Big Nose tried to tear up just outside of Medicine Bow Wyoming.