In the summer of 1867, General John A.
Rawlins, the Chief of Staff of the United
States Army, joined General Grenville M.
Dodge and a party of surveyors. As they rode
west and approached the hills that stand
guard over the present city, General Rawlins
expressed a desire for a good cold drink of
water. Scouts discovered a spring near the
base of the hills. As the Generals sat drinking
from the returned water, General Rawlins
declared it was the most refreshing drink he
had ever tasted. “If anything is ever named
after me, I hope it will be a spring of
water”, he exclaimed. Immediately, General
Dodge named the spring “Rawlins Springs”, and
marked it so on his map, thus the town of
Rawlins Springs was born. Sometime later the
Springs was dropped to create the present day
Rawlins remained a raw and rowdy cow-town for many years. Its location in the western foothills of the Rockies made it a place to wait out the winter blows in the upper mountains. This is precisely what we ended up doing. An early snow storm blew in and we needed a place to hunker down until it passed. The Western Hills Campground high over I-80 is open all year round. It is about the only one that is in the area. Doreen McDade and her husband John, are wonderfully supportive RV park people who will do just about anything to make your stay as pleasant as possible.
There are several worthwhile points of interest in Rawlins. The old Territorial Prison is open for tours. The Ferris Mansion which is now a B&B is a delightful turn of the Century Victorian home. However the most interesting place for us was the Carbon County Museum at 9th and Walnut. From my previous writings, it is obvious I migrate to these local treasures where one can find the history and color usually not covered in any other place. It is here that some of the best stories are found, and it was here that I heard the bazaar story of Big Nose George Parrott. Now, Big Nose George was a somewhat inept train robber who operated in the county in the late 1800. He once commented that his nose was so big there was no reason to wear a mask, as they would know him anyway. After bungling a train robbery in 1881 he was arrested and held in Rawlins. On March 22, 1881, not wishing to remain in jail, he arranged an escape, but it was foiled when his nose gave him away while walking down the street. He was grabbed and a crowd gathered. He was bound and lead to a telephone pole at 3rd and Front street where he was hung, twice, as the first attempt failed. A prominent local physician, Dr. John Osborn was summoned to pronounce the outlaw dead. He was then buried. A note by the undertaker indicated that George’s nose was so large that the lid of the coffin would not close. The next day, Dr. Osborn, along with Doctors Thomas Mead, and Lillian Heath exhumed the body, ostensibly to examine the brain in hopes of determining if the criminal mind had an identifiable abnormality. The top of the skull was cut off and remained in the possession of Dr. Heath for some time. It is reported that Dr. Osborn’s involvement bordered on the morbidly bizarre. He made a death mask out of plaster of paris and removed skin from Parrott’s thigh and chest. The skin was tanned and made into a pair of shoes that Dr. Osborn sometimes wore to events and dances. This grotesque act failed to tarnish the good doctor’s image as he was elected governor of Wyoming in 1893, and later became the assistant Secretary of State under President Wilson. Poor George’s remains were committed to a salt solution in a whisky barrel in the rear of the doctor’s office where it remained for a year. Not much was known of it after that although in retrospect it was most probably put in a land fill near the doctors office where it remained until 1950 when it reappeared in an excavation for a new structure where the old doctor’s office had stood. The barrel was still intact. The top of the skull was retrieved from an nearby museum and matched against the skull in the barrel for a perfect fit. Not exactly your everyday museum story. This is why the small county museums can be so fascinating. You never know what you will find.
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