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Wyoming’s Original Ozzy Osborne: The Doctor Who Turned An Outlaw Into Shoes

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

If you’re a history buff, the great state of Wyoming has an interesting past. This could be the strangest story of them all.

In 1880, an outlaw named George “Big Nose” Parrot was arrested for his part in a failed train robbery attempt near Medicine Bow. He was sent to Rawlins where he was sentenced to hang.

When Parrot was caught trying to escape from jail, a crowd of vigilantes in Rawlins dragged Big Nose George out to Front Street and strung him up to a telegraph pole. It took them three times to successfully hang the outlaw, whose ears were ripped off his head during the first two botched attempts.

And then it got really strange. After the hanging, Parrot’s body was claimed by a local doctor named John Eugene Osborne. Osborne and an associate wanted to study the outlaw’s brain to determine a potential link between brain size and criminal behavior.

As it turned out, Parrot’s brain didn’t display any abnormal characteristics. But that didn’t stop the doctor from continuing his research. Osborne removed the skin from the victim’s body and commissioned a tannery in Denver to turn the dead man’s skin into a pair of shoes.

Much to Osborne’s chagrin, the tannery was unable to sew the nipples from the cadaver onto the shoes. In 1892, Osborne was elected as Wyoming’s third Governor and is said to have worn the shoes at his inaugural ball. Years later, President Woodrow Wilson would appoint Osborne as the Assistant Secretary of State.

While dissecting the Parrot’s body, Osborne also constructed a mask of the outlaw’s face. The mask was given to his then assistant Lillian Heath. After Heath became the first female doctor in the state of Wyoming, she proudly kept the mask as a keepsake, using it for an ashtray in her office.

The mask, the shoes and the skull made from Parrot’s body are now on display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins.

 

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