|Birth: ||Feb. 14, 1846|
Durham Unitary Authority
County Durham, England
|Death: ||Aug. 19, 1878|
BURIAL IS A CENOTAPH ONLY - See the story of the stone in the Rawlins Cemetery below. Robert Widdowfield is actually buried here.
Robert Widdowfield was born on February 15, 1846, at Cook Bank, Tanfield, County Durham, England. He was the son of miner Robert Widdowfield and his wife Sarah Craggs, but was brought up by his stepmother, Ann Maugham, from an early age. By the time he was 15, he was working in the mines of County Durham. It was his stepmother, according to family legend, who decided to take the family to America in 1869–70. Robert, his three brothers and a sister all travelled with Ann, but there is no mention of what happened to his father. The family settled in Wyoming and Robert became a deputy sheriff in Carbon County.
Above information provided by Amanda Fox.
Bob Widdowfield and Tip Vincents, on August 19, 1878, gained the dubious distinction of being the first two law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in Wyoming.
George Parrott, or George Francis Warden, better known as Big Nose George was a member of a gang of horse thieves and highwaymen. In the late 1870's they were actively robbing pay wagons and stages of cash shipments as well as taking involuntary contributions from teamsters and passengers.
This gang which had formed in the Powder River country included Big Nose George, Joe Manuse, Frank McKinney, Jack Campbell, Sim Jan, John Wells a.k.a. Sandy, Tom Reed, Frank Tole and Dutch "Charley" Burress. During 1880, in a pre-trial interview, Big Nose stated that McKinney had claimed to be Frank James. George further said that Sim Jan was the leader of the gang. These two statements have led to a lot of wild speculations that Frank and Sim were actually the infamous James brothers, Frank and Jesse.
In mid-August 1878, the gang decided to try for a bigger haul 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. That night they broke into a tool shack and stole the tools needed to draw railroad spikes and remove fish plates. Intending to derail a train and rob the wreckage, they went three or four miles east of the station to a point where the Union Pacific track crossed the Medicine Bow River. Their timing was off! As they were loosening some rails, the East bound train they intended to rob, came past. George was on the bridge and the locomotive almost struck him before he jumped to safety. The train sped by, the engineer apparently assuming the outlaws were a section gang. After Union Pacific No. 4 had passed, the disgruntled gang rode over a hill and camped until evening. Then they returned and finished loosening a rail so they could ditch No. 3 Westbound. After the spikes and fish plates were removed, a long piece of telegraph wire was tied to the loose track so that it could be pulled away just as the locomotive reached it. As the outlaws lay in wait, out of site in the brush, section foreman Eric Brown and his crew came along. They discovered the tampered rail, but not seeing anyone near the far end of the strand of telegraph wire, the crew nervously repaired the track. While they did so, McKinney wanted to shoot them, but Big Nose George and Frank Tole objected, saying they didn't come to kill section men. The gang watched as the railroaders fixed the rail, got on their handcar and rode off.
At the first railroad telegraph, foreman Brown reported the incident to his district supervisors in Laramie. They immediately notified Albany and Carbon County authorities. After some initial investigations, 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 H. "Tip" Vincent took up the pursuit. 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.
The gang members then fired at Vincent who was trying to escape by riding up the canyon. The gang ran after him firing more shots. 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 They removed Vincent's boots and took his gun. Then they put a strap around his legs and pulled him into the brush. Having stolen both men's weapons and one of their horses, they covered the bodies with dead brush and sticks.
Shortly after this the gang fled from Elk Mountain. After traveling a short distance, the party began to divide up and take separate routes back to the Powder River Country. Frank Tole struck out on his own and was killed the next month while trying to rob the Black Hills Stage Line. The remainder of the gang never worked together again. According to information obtained from Big Nose George during a jailhouse interview, he and Frank Tole had created bad feelings among the gang when they objected to killing the railroad section crew.
When Widdowfield & Vincent failed to return, a party led by a knowledgeable guide, John F. Foote, set out to look for them. They found the officers' bodies in Rattlesnake Canyon on Elk Mountain. Widdowfield's body was found in thick underbrush. He had a single wound to the head. Vincent's body was found hidden in brush about fifty yards away. Vincent had no boots and there were several bullet holes in his breast and legs. Vincent's body was swollen considerably but not decayed, while Widdowfield's body was putrefied. Vincent had been shot in the back and the bullet had exited from his chest.
The bodies of the men were placed in coffins and taken to Rawlins. Initially county authorities offered a $10,000 reward for the apprehension of the murderers. One week later the Union Pacific Railroad doubled the amount. The first to be captured for the murders was Dutch Charlie. The Westbound train bringing him to Rawlins for trial was stopped by a mob in Carbon. He was forcibly taken from the train, a rope was tied around his neck and the other end tossed over the crossarm 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-in-law." In reality however, a hastily called grand jury was incapable of discovering who participated in the lynching, (let alone who kicked the barrel).
Big Nose George was in Montana enjoying life when he was arrested after getting drunk and boasting of the attempted train robbery and the murders in Wyoming. A telegraph was sent to Sheriff Rankin of Carbon County in Rawlins. He went to Montana to bring Big Nose back from Miles City in July 1880. The train carrying Big Nose to Rawlins was also stopped in Carbon by the same mob that had met Dutch Charlie and lynched him. George was taken from the train and strung up. He plead 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. Four days later he changed his plea to not guilty. On November 8, 1880, the opening day of his trial, Big Nose asked for a change of venue on grounds that the judge was prejudiced against him. Associate Justice, William Ware Peck, of the Wyoming Supreme Court was assigned to hear the case. C. W. Bramel of Laramie was appointed to defend George. Three days later Big Nose again changed his plea to guilty and on December 15, 1880, he was sentenced to be hanged on April 2, 1881. Upon hearing the sentence, Parrott or Warden began weeping violently and had to be helped from the courtroom.
While in jail awaiting execution Big Nose got or pretended to get religion. He tried to conduct himself in such a manner so that no one would suspect his real motives. With the possible assistance from someone on the outside, he was able to wedge and file the rivets of the heavy shackles on his ankles. To do this, he used a boy's pocketknife and a piece of sandstone from the wall of the jail. Having removed his shackles Parrott hid in the water closet until Jailer Robert Rankin entered the area. Parrott then attacked him from behind. Using the shackles which weighed some seven or eight pounds, Parrott struck Rankin over the head fracturing his skull and cutting his scalp. Somehow, Rankin turned and delivered a blow to the side of Parrott's neck knocking him against the wall. Rankin was then able to call to his wife for help. Grabbing her husband's pistol and the extra keys, Rosa Rankin entered the cell block. She closed and locked the grated door behind her to prevent an escape. Pistol in hand she convinced Parrott to return to his cell. Her husband was then able to leave the area and Dr. John Osborne treated his injuries. James Candlish, local blacksmith, was called to re-rivet the shackles onto Big Nose George's ankles. The attempted escape had failed, and the situation was supposedly under control.
News of the attempted escape quickly spread throughout the city. Soon small groups of men were seen deep in conversation on nearly every corner. About ten that night many people (supposedly including some of the best citizens of Rawlins) were seen walking in the direction of the jail in groups of two or three. There were no boisterous conversations or unruly crowds anywhere. Jailer Robert Rankin was lying in his room recovering from his wounds. Meanwhile a Deputy named Simms was on duty in the jail. When a knock was heard on the door, Simms inquired "Who's there?" "Friends" was the reply. Simms informed the men that because of the late hour they could not enter. The door was immediately forced and several grimly determined masked men burst in pointing pistols at the deputy. All Deputy Simms could do was throw up his hands and watch while armed men entered the room where Rankin was resting. A few held Rankin at gunpoint while others took his jail keys and unlocked the cellblock area. They proceeded to remove Parrott from his cell and were taking him out of the jail when they were confronted by John Landon a special guard hired that night to prevent just such a thing. The guard was told by the men that it would be conducive to his health to "take a walk." Facing several unknown men all pointing pistols at him, Landon did take a walk - - in the opposite direction. The mob then proceeded down to East Front Street with Parrott in tow. A crowd of about 200 persons assembled around a telegraph pole adjacent to the railroad track and across the street from the J.W. Hugus Company Store near the corner of Front and Third Streets. Dr. John Osborne who had treated jailer Rankin for his wounds at the jail had retired to his office. Suddenly an unnamed man appeared and requested that he go with him to see if Big Nose George was dead. When Dr. Osborne arrived at the scene of the lynching he saw Big Nose with his hands tied behind his back. He was shuffling along because of the heavy shackles around his ankles. George was placed on an empty kerosene 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. Meanwhile 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. When he no longer struggled the crowd dispersed. 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.
Legal officials in Rawlins, embarrassed by the lynching, called a Grand Jury. They soon discovered that all those involved in the lynching had allegedly worn masks. Therefore witnesses were unable to identify any who may have been involved. Even prominent entrepreneur, James France, was called as a witness, but it seems he had been one of the few Rawlins citizens to stay at home that evening and was unable to testify about the event. With nothing else to work on, the Coroner's inquest found: that said Parrott, alias Big Nose George, was forcibly taken from the jail by a party of masked men to us unknown, taken to a telegraph pole and there hung by the neck with a rope until he was dead.
The undertaker prepared the body of Big Nose George for burial. It is related that the nose of the dead man was so large that it interfered with the lid of the coffin and that excess pressure had to be exerted to close it and to nail it down. Big Nose George was not destined to "Rest in Peace." Dr. John Osborne, Dr. Thomas Maghee, and young Lillian Heath who was working as an assistant to Dr. Maghee had the casket opened and the body removed. The doctors wanted to study Parrott's brain to see if there was some physical reason for his criminal behavior. The skull cap was crudely sawed off to get at the brain and it was later given to young Miss Heath.
Dr. Maghee and his fifteen year old protégé acted with the medical ethics of the time using the results of their study for scientific research. But Dr. Osborne's involvement borders on the morbidly bizarre. First he molded George's death mask using plaster of paris. The casting is without ears because while struggling as he choked to death, George's ears were worn off by the rope. Next he removed the skin from Parrott's thighs and chest. This flesh was tanned and the greater portion of it made into a pair of shoes that Dr. Osborne wore proudly. For example, it is interesting to note that in the fall of 1892, John Osborne was elected the first Democratic Governor of the State of Wyoming and that he wore those shoes to his inaugural ball in 1893.
The dismembered body of Big Nose George was kept in a salt solution in a whiskey barrel for about a year while further dissection and experimentation continued. After the experimentations were complete, the barrel, George and all, were buried in the yard behind Dr. Maghee's office. George was all but forgotten until May 11, 1950, when workmen excavating for a new building on Cedar Street, unearthed a whiskey barrel of bones behind the building that years before had been Maghee's office. This barrel contained numerous human bones including a skull with the top sawed off.
A crowd quickly gathered to view the grisly remains. Someone remembered that Dr. Lillian Heath had kept a skull cap of a lynched criminal named Big Nose George as a memento. She was still alive and well in her eighties and living in the home that her father had built in Rawlins in 1880. Her husband, Lou Nelson, brought the skull cap to the scene and it fit perfectly to the skull found in the barrel. For locals this proved that the bones were those of Big Nose George Parrott. Subsequent DNA testing directed by the Wyoming State Crime Lab verified their belief.
The death mask, lower skull and shoes made from Parrott's-Warden's hide and the shoes he wore at the time of the hanging are on display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins, Wyoming. A gold Elgin watch given by the County Commissioners to Rosa Rankin is also on display. The watch is inscribed - - "Presented to Mrs. Rosa Rankin by the County Commissioners, Carbon County for bravery in preventing the escape of Big Nose George from jail March 22, 1881." The skull cap and the shackles are on display at the Union Pacific Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The rest of Big Nose George was secretly disposed of years ago.
Father: Robert Widdowfield
Mother: Sarah Craggs
Story of the tombstone in the Rawlins Cemetery - Vincent was buried in the Rawlins cemetery with a tall marble marker. Next to Vincent is a smaller headstone for Widdowfield. The story is that in late 1878, a Rawlins man stopped to pay his respects to the two murdered lawmen. He found the tall impressive marker for Vincent and a few feet away was an unmarked grave. Assuming that this was Widdowfield's grave, the man took it upon himself to have a headstone made for Widdowfield, and erected it. The real occupant of this grave is a sheep herder that froze to death the previous winter. Widdowfield is buried in the Carbon cemetery with a similar tall white marble marker. Stone information courtesy of Marylin Richardson Smith.
(bio by: Tom Todd)
Maintained by: Lostnwyomn
Originally Created by: BrixtonWy
Record added: Apr 24, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14059673