Friday, May 24, 2019

The Wild West 365 by Michael Wallis


[The following is paraphrased from a single page of the volume.]

So, in 1881, George “Big Nose” Parrott decides to become noticeably richer.
• He attempts to rob a payroll train east of the town of Rawlins, Wyoming.
• Things do not go well and “Big Nose” winds up killing two lawmen in the process.
• He is eventually apprehended and taken to the Rawlins’ jail.
• The citizens of Rawlins decide incarceration ain’t quite good enough so an approximate 200 of them converge on the jail and take him for a short ride where they hang him from a telegraph pole.
• Once he has been displayed long enough, the undertaker delivers the remains to Dr. John Osborne who hopes to discover abnormalities in the brain that led to Parrott’s nefarious ways.
• First, he makes a death-mask of the corpse.
• Then he saws off the top of the skull and finds nothing untoward.
• Being the industrious sort, he proceeds to skin the entire body.
• Dr. Osborne sends the skin to a tannery in Denver with these instructions: “Make a pair of shoes and leave the nipples on.”
• The shoes arrive, but sans nipples, merely chest skin. He is disappointed but still loves the footwear and wears them proudly.
• Incidentally his medicine bag was also made of Mr. Parrott’s exterior.
• Wyoming being a progressive sort of place also housed Dr. Lillian Nelson, the first female physician in the region.
• Dr. Osborne in an act of collegiality gifts Parrott’s skullcap to Dr. Nelson.
• She is touched and uses it as both an ashtray and doorstop till her dying days.
• BTW-The skinless rest of Mr. Parrott was sealed into a whiskey barrel and buried.
• Lest we think Doctors Osborne and Nelson were anomalies and folks looked askance at such behavior.
• Dr. Osborne went on to be popular enough to win the governorship of Wyoming and he proudly wore his special shoes to the inaugural ball.
• He also later served in Congress and as the first assistant secretary of state under President Woodrow Wilson.
• And yes, he wore his shoes.
• Different times, huh?

This magnificently illustrated volume has one entry for each day of the year but that makes it sound like a trivial “fact of the day” book. Wallis has found so many odd, outre, off-the-beaten path aspects of the Wild West they left me shaking my head asking, “How have I never heard of this?”

I have been immersed in Western history for some time, and yes, some here is familiar, but there is such a wealth of the unfamiliar presented this book that it easily soars to the top of my favorite non-fiction in the genre.
Kudos, Mr. Wallis!

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