Bill Sniffin: Mark Miller Tells The Sordid Story of Big Nose George Better Than Anyone Else

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus

Okay, so who was Big Nose George?

This legendary character from Wyoming’s formative past has been written about extensively for the past 141 years, but never has anyone really put the whole story all together until now.

Dr. Mark E. Miller’s new book “Big Nose George, His Troublesome Trail” is the best telling I have seen of this famous character’s real story.

I featured a version of this story, along with some crazy photographic images, in my third coffee table book, “Wyoming at 125,” back in 2015. We included the tidbit that after George’s lynching, his body was skinned, and a pair of shoes was made from the remnants.

Lynched? Was he ever lynched! Not sure any Wyoming outlaw endured what poor George Parott, a train robber and confessed murderer, had to put up with as an angry mob put an end to his worthless life in Rawlins in 1881. And George’s body endured an ultimate indignity after he was dead. Miller tells these tales in more detail and in a more entertaining way than I have ever read before.

That colorful tale always begged for more information. I always wanted to know more about this amazing story and Miller’s book comes through. 

Noted historian Phil Roberts of Laramie says Miller’s book “is a well-told story about an event previously shrouded in the mists of time. The book will serve as an important corrective to the jumbled mythology and folklore surrounding the tale of crime and execution in Old West Wyoming more than a century ago.”

Miller has a personal family tie to the story. The sheriff of Carbon County back in 1881 when the lynching occurred was his great-grandfather.

The author is retired from teaching at the University of Wyoming. In his preface, he writes:

“It seems fitting for me to write this brief history of nineteenth-century outlaw Big Nose George Parott, whose criminal exploits spanned 1876–1881 in Wyoming Territory. After all, four generations of Millers grew up telling his story because parts of it hit close to home. My great-grandfather, Isaac C. (Ike) Miller, was Carbon County Sheriff when a Powder River Gang member sat in jail after his turbulent criminal trial in Rawlins. Sheriff Miller was legally required to carry out the sentence imposed by the court on the prisoner.

“I was born in that railroad town seventy years after Parott’s death. Every kid my age grew up wide-eyed, hearing similar har­rowing accounts of the Elk Mountain incident and the outlaw gang who perpetrated it (when Parott and his gang killed two lawmen near Elk Mountain). Most out-of-town visitors to Rawlins heard it as well. In fact, the event is still, at this writing, prominently featured in our community at the county museum and on a large billboard near the railroad depot.

“Parott’s final years in Wyoming Territory produced savage events that led to his ultimate death more than two years after the August 19, 1878, Elk Mountain incident. Hopefully, the behavioral model presented here accurately reflects Parott’s criminal life and the events that followed his death. While gaps in our knowledge still exist, many others were filled in with inferential arguments that present the reader with a more complete flow of probable actions. Future research undoubtedly will expand our discovery of new facts, taking us closer toward truth and further from legend.”

The book opens with a well-written description of the killing of two lawmen by Big Nose George’s gang near present-day Rawlins. Here is how Miller describes it:

“Two horses stomped the firm ground, cutting through bent grass around the smoldering campfire. The tallest rider dismounted, walked over to feel heat from the fire’s embers and said something to his partner on horseback. Suddenly, the sound of a rifle shot rang through the mountain air. A large caliber lead bullet ripped through the aspen leaves into the clearing, struck the standing man in his eye, and blew away half of his face. He dropped dead on top of the warm coals.

“His partner galloped away only to be knocked out of his saddle by a powerful gunshot in the back. This second man died while pointing his revolver toward a group of surly gunmen who had moved out of their forested concealment near the fire. Afterward, Rattlesnake Canyon quieted down once more as the soft breeze fluttered through the leaves dangling from a thousand aspen branches.

“These grisly murders produced the apex moment in the early history of Carbon County, Wyoming, and helped define the social character of Rawlins for over a century.”

The back cover contains the headline “The most outlandish Old West true crime story you will ever read!”  Amen to that.

The 159-page book is $35 per copy for hardback and $19.95 for paperback. I would strongly recommend that clubs and organizations invite Miller to give you a program about this subject and hold a book signing. This is an original Wyoming work and one of its most compelling.

Thanks, Mark, for writing this excellent book.

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