Dr. John Osborne is one of the most enigmatic characters in the sordid story of the outlaw Big Nose George Parott. He only arrived in Rawlins as a new physician from Vermont just a month before Parott’s scheduled execution, where he planned to partner with Dr. Thomas Maghee in his medical office.
In the years following the death of Big Nose George, Osborne enjoyed a successful career in medicine,
and went on to become a Wyoming Governor, member of the U. S. House of Representatives, and President Woodrow Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of State. But it his behavior during those months in and around March 1881 in Rawlins that taint the otherwise stellar career of the good doctor.
Osborne had taken possession of Parott’s body after the lynching on March 22 and
moved it into the medical office. Osborne proceeded to make a death mask of the outlaw before he and Maghee studied the criminal’s brain, assisted by Lillian Heath, a young female volunteer.
Then, Osborne had the corpse skinned so he could have shoes, and other items, made from the hide. Once Osborne finished with the dissections, he unceremoniously buried the body in a whiskey barrel behind the medical office, after he had given Heath the skull cap as a memento.
Those gruesome weeks in the spring of 1881 are a dark asterisk to the otherwise successful career of one of Rawlins’ early physicians. We may never know what compelled him
to do what he did. But enough time has passed for aspiring historians to ask the question with their own research.