Carbon County’s Most Infamous Outlaw
Back to the "Big Nose" George Parrott Room
George Parrott, better known as Big Nose George was a member of an outlaw gang. In mid-August 1878, the gang decided to try for a bigger prize and came South from the Powder River to rob a Union Pacific train. By August 16th, seven of them had arrived at Medicine Bow Station. Gang members loosened the rails so they could derail Union Pacific Train No. 3 Westbound but as the outlaws lay in wait, section hands discovered the damage and repaired it long before the train arrived. They immediately notified Albany and Carbon County authorities and a special two man posse was formed to hunt for the culprits in Carbon County. Deputy Sheriff Robert Widdowfield from the coal mining town of Carbon and Special Railroad Detective Henry “Tip” Vincent started out to track down the outlaws. By the time they hit the trail, the gang had headed south along Halleck Ridge, then on to Elk Mountain where they camped in Rattlesnake Canyon.
After several days tracking the gang Widdowfield and Vincent discovered the gang’s campfire. Widdowfield got off his horse and put his hand in the ashes of the campfire. He remarked to his partner that the ashes were very hot and that the gang must be close. From their ambush position a gang member immediately fired, shooting Widdowfield in the face and killing him. The gang members then fired at Vincent who was trying to escape by riding up the canyon. He fell from his horse, but managed to get up on his knees and tried to raise his gun. The gang fired again and Vincent fell dead. After hiding the bodies the gang fled from Elk Mountain. It was August 19th 1878.
When Widdowfield and Vincent failed to return, others set out to look for them. They found the officers’ bodies hidden in Rattlesnake Canyon on Elk Mountain on August 27th. Initially county authorities offered a $10,000 reward for the apprehension of the murderers and this was soon doubled by the Union Pacific Railroad.
Dutch Charlie was the first caught. The Westbound train bringing him to Rawlins for trial was stopped by a lynch mob in Carbon. He was taken from the train, a rope was tied around his neck and the other end tossed over the cross-arm of a telegraph pole. A barrel was placed beneath his feet. Then according to legend Mrs. Elizabeth Widdowfield kicked the barrel from under Dutch Charlie shouting, “This will teach you to kill my brother-inlaw.”
Big Nose George was in Montana when he was arrested after getting drunk and boasting of the attempted train robbery in Wyoming. Sheriff Rankin went to Montana to bring Big Nose back in July 1880. The train carrying Big Nose to Rawlins was also stopped in Carbon by the same mob that had met Dutch Charlie. George was taken from the train and strung up. He pled with the vigilantes and confessed, promising to tell all he knew about the murders if they would let him live. He was cut down and allowed to be taken to Rawlins for trial.
Big Nose George pled guilty to murder in District Court at Rawlins on September 13, 1880. , he was sentenced to be hanged on April 2, 1881. While in jail awaiting execution Big Nose pretended to get religion and made an attempt at escaping that was foiled by the Sheriff’s wife with the help of her husband’s pistol after the outlaw had attacked and injured her husband.
A few hours after the attempted escape a lynch mob formed and overpowered the jailers. A Deputy named Simms was on duty in the jail. Hearing a knock on the door, Simms inquired “Who’s there?” “Friends” was the reply. Simms informed the men that they could not enter. The door was busted open and several masked men burst in pointing pistols at the deputy. All Deputy Simms could do was watch while armed men entered the room and dragged Parrott from his cell. The mob proceeded down to East Front Street with Parrott. A crowd of about 200 persons assembled around a telegraph pole adjacent to the railroad track, near the corner of Front and Third Streets. Dr. John Osborne was called to witness and confirm the death. When he arrived at the scene of the lynching he saw Big Nose with his hands tied behind his back. George was placed on an empty barrel, a rope tied around his neck with the other end thrown over the cross arm of the telegraph pole. The barrel was then kicked out from under him, but the lynch rope broke allowing George to fall to the ground where he begged to be shot.
While Big Nose George was on the ground, he succeeded in loosening the rope which held his hands behind his back. A ladder was set up against the pole and another noose of heavier rope was place around his neck. He was forced to climb the ladder to a height of about twelve feet. Then the ladder was pulled from under him. By now he had succeeded in untying his hands, and as he swung by his neck into the pole, he was able to put his arms around it. But, he was unable to climb or cling to the pole and because of his own weight and that of the heavy shackles he soon tired and gravity pulled him down, slowly choking him to death. The body was left hanging for several hours. Later, William Daley, the local undertaker, removed it. Dr. Osborne took possession of the leg shackles when they were removed from the body. He kept them until 1928 when they were donated by him to the Union Pacific Railroad for display in their Omaha, Nebraska Museum. He also performed a crude autopsy to try and understand what caused Big Nose Parrots criminal behavior by examing the brain. Osborne made a death mask and removed skin from the body which he had tanned and made into a pair of shoes. Despite the odd behavior of Dr. Osborne he was elected territorial governor in 1893 and wore the shoes to his inauguration.
Adapted with thanks from: www.legendsofamerica.com and www.carboncountymuseum.com