March 22, 1881
George Parrott, alias Big Nose George, is lynched following a failed jailbreak
Parrott and a group of other bandits had robbed people of thousands of dollars over several months, culminating with an attempt to derail a train carrying payroll. The group had loosened a railroad spike which they tied a telegraph wire to, with the intention of ripping the spike out and moving the railroad tie enough to cause the train to become immobilized and thereby easier to rob. A railway worker noticed the disturbed spike and repaired the track before the train reached the area, though the robbers were hunted nonetheless.
Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Widdowfield and detective Henry “Tip” Vincent tracked the group down but were killed “in cold blood,” as the newspapers reported, on August 19, 1879. These murders turned the public against the men and vigilantes began their own manhunts. One of the men was Dutch Charley Burris who was apprehended by lawmen and put on a train to be transported for trial. An angry mob dragged Burris from the train and lynched him on January 23, 1880. The barrel which held Burris’ weight directly before his hanging was kicked from beneath him by Widdowfield’s sister-in-law.
Parrot, identifying himself as George Francis Warden, was captured and arraigned in September 1880. He entered a plea of guilty, changed the plea to not guilty, and changed it once more to guilty, eventually being convicted of murder and sentenced to death in December 1880, with his execution to be carried out on April 2, 1881.
Less than two weeks before the scheduled execution, Parrott attempted an escape by breaking through the iron shackles binding his ankles. He hit the jailer with the shackles and attempted to flee, though the jailer’s wife heard the commotion and locked the outer door then raised the alarm. Citizens from the town rallied at the jail, pulled Parrott out, and stood him on a kerosene canister to hang him. The rope broke. A 12-foot (3.7 meter) ladder was supplied and Parrott was made to walk up with new iron shackles, which made ascending the ladder more difficult. Once he reached the top, he stated he would jump and the fall would break his neck. He was wrong on both accounts as the ladder was pulled from beneath him and he strangled to death, assisted by the iron shackles.
No one claimed Parrott’s body, so the corpse was taken by two doctors for medical research. A death mask (pictured) was made of his face, he was partially skinned, the skin taken from his body was turned into leather and made into a pair of shoes (also pictured), his skull was cut in half to allow the brain to be examined, the upper half of the skull was given to Lillian Heath (who later became Wyoming’s first female physician), and his body minus the top of the skull and skin was buried in a whiskey barrel.
Van Pelt, Lori. “Big Nose George: A Grisly Frontier Tale.” Wyo History. November 15, 2014. Accessed: March 22, 2020. https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/big-nose-george-grisly-frontier-tale (image source)
“The day Big Nose really blew it.” Star-Tribune [Casper, Wyoming]. April 1, 1981
“Big Nosed George.” The Memphis Daily Appeal. March 24, 1881