Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
You're listening to American Shadows, a production of I Heart Radio and Greyman miles from Aaron Minkey. Tales of the American West have long fascinated us stories of cowboys, wagon trains and gold rushes to an untamed spirit and I for adventure. Even after the Civil War, news articles about the new Western frontier were read as eagerly as the latest bestsellers. Maybe the appeal stemmed from the long ravages of war. The West offered a new way of life. Or perhaps people were enthralled by the draw of possibilities out in open country, where people struck it rich in gold, oil or land.
But it wasn't the prairies or distant mountains alone. People were the real story, especially horse thieves and cattle rustlers, as well as bank train and stagecoach robbers. Equally fascinating were the lawmen who went after them. When it comes to the sheriffs and marshals wearing that gold star, many of us undoubtedly think of why Morgan and Virgil Earp, along with their friend Doc Holliday, of all the history surrounding them, none is more enduring than the shootout at the OK Corral, though the gunfight itself lasted only 30 seconds.
As for cattle rustlers, horse thieves and murderers, names like Billy the Kid made for great headlines, the kid nickname stemmed from his age. He was just 21 when he died. It was also the number of men that he killed. Cattle and horse theft might have been the equivalent of a Wild West car theft ring, but the real money was in robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains from Jesse James to the Dalton gang. Armed robberies were as much a part of the West as cowboys and saloons.
Jesse James pulled off 19 robberies, the Dalton gang started as lawmen before finding better pay, pulling off bank heists and robbing trains, part of their claim to fame was not one, but two bank robberies at the same time in broad daylight. But few have ever captured our attention, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid born Robert Leroy Parker. He adopted the Cassidy moniker to protect his family's good name. He left home early, finding life in cattle wrestling more lucrative than small town work.
Soon, his gang, known as The Wild Bunch, began robbing trains. Their hosts were always well planned. Occasionally, the dresses waiters at gala events to gain information on the trains would be on them and other details to help them pull off the job. Cassidy had a reputation for never batting an eye during a robbery, but he did have a weak spot. His lack of etiquette knowledge made him incredibly nervous as he did his best to properly serve the rich party guests.
Harry Longabaugh, also known as the Sundance Kid, didn't meet Cassidy until they worked at a ranch together, while they would end up two of the most famous outlaws. Neither was prone to gun violence. In fact, people thought they were friendly and everyone said they were helpful. Though Cassidy and Sundance pulled off robberies that would be worth 10 million today. They had a code of ethics assure that rob trains and banks, but common folk were off limits.
Cassidy never shot anyone during a holdup, either. Lawmen on their trail labeled them as the most shrewd and daring outlaws in the West. But don't mistake daring her carelessness. The gang's success came from Cassidy and Sundance's meticulous planning. The men spent hours training horses in ways that aided the gang in their robberies. They also took their time planning often months to avoid capture. No detail was too small over the years, though, they tired of life on the run.
Cassidy once asked the lawyer if he couldn't do something to earn himself a pardon and settle down, disheartened but not surprised at the answer. He made plans with Sundance for one last heist that used the money to fund a new way of life in Bolivia down in South America. They pulled it off, too. Before leaving, Cassidy stopped by local ranchers place. The rancher's son had always been enamored with Cassidy's horse, and the outlaw gifted it to him.
The two fled to South America after that. It's still a mystery whether they died during a shootout with the Pinkerton detectives who eventually tracked them down or if they escaped once more. DNA from the bodies at the site of the shootout has since proved they were not Cassidy or Sundance. No matter whether you envision an epic shootout where Butch and Sundance died in a blaze of glory or an ingenious dodge where they once again planned the perfect escape. They've left us with an enduring and legendary story.
Some outlaws, though, have left behind something darker. I'm Lauren Vogel. Welcome to American Shadows. His name was George Frederich Menus, maybe you've never heard of a French Wild West outlaw, but George was born in Montpelier, France, on March 20th of 1834. He was married there to Lucy, Matilde and Leonardo. The two shared deep roots in the area and soon became parents to a boy. All seemed well until George left his family and traveled to America on April 17 of 1862.
While that alone wasn't unheard of and plenty of immigrants established themselves in America before sending for their families, but George didn't, he cut ties and changed his first name to George and his last name to parent like the bird, but with a second T and sure, immigrants often changed their names in an attempt to fit in or maybe to make a name easier for English speakers to pronounce George.
Though given his appearance, it seems more likely that he took a physical feature and embraced it. He stood five foot 10 and weighed 160 pounds. His hair and mustache were dark and bushy and his eyes were dark and heavily lidded. George wasn't really considered handsome, but he did have one standout feature his nose. His nose was large. Some say it looked like a parent's beak, hence the nicknames Big Nose George and Big Beak Parrot. George headed west where the law and promise of land parcels were common and railroads made the trip easy.
Some of the largest and richest employers were also out west, once in Dakota territory. George found that an honest man could make an honest day's wages if he was willing to put in the backbreaking work. He found employment as a freight wagon driver, hauling supplies to gold rush towns. From there, he worked the railroad on gold or shipments to the Union Pacific Railroad Depots in Sydney, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. All honest work and honest pay.
George found the competition tough, though the West was full of other immigrants and settlers, all trying to cash in on the government's offer of free land, much to the Dakota people's dismay. As you might imagine, the West was pretty close to a free for all. Sure, there were lawmen, but in some cases by the barest of definitions. Before long, George found a lucrative job with a gang of seven cattle rustlers.
Stagecoaches became their next target after a string of successful robberies, the emboldened gang felt confident in their ability to pull off something larger. This time they set their sights on the Union Pacific Railroad. Probably inspired by the finesse with which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid pulled off train robberies, George and the gang might have thought it would be an easy payday. They'd leave the gold. It was heavy and made fast getaways difficult.
Instead, they set their sights on the payroll money that should be on board. But George and the gang didn't train their horses, nor did they infiltrate elite parties to glean information on their intended target. They went with the basic knowledge that the train sometimes carried payroll.
On Sunday, August 17th of 1878, they took a page from other outlaws and loosened the spike along a desolate stretch of track near Madison Bo when the train derailed.
The rest would be easy. All they had to do was wait.
Unfortunately for the outlaws, a large crew of repairmen arrived ahead of the train to check the tracks. They hadn't thought of this. One of the gang members wanted to kill the servicemen, but George and another member thought missing men would raise a red flag, but frustrated the would be robbers had to wait in hiding all day until the repair crew left before removing the spike again. Their lack of planning became their undoing. Missing spikes had become a popular technique among train robbers, and the repairmen reported the incident upon their return.
The train stayed at the station while George and the others waited for it to arrive, when it didn't, the gang realized their mistake and fled. Authorities weren't far behind, though, a search party along with the Carbon County Sheriff, Robert Whitford and railroad special agent H.H. Vincent were on the men's trail. The two had a good idea of who they were looking for.
George and the others have been spotted in the area just days before. The loughman separated from the rest of the search team, finally coming across the gang's hideout and Rattlesnake Canyon, finding evidence that the camp had recently been vacated. They knew they were close. They just had no idea how close George and the others had decided to ambush the lawman instead of running outnumbered. Weatherfield and Vincent were killed. The gang stole their weapons and valuables, threw the bodies into the brush and left feeling secure that they had covered their tracks.
Back in town, the remainder of the search party suspected foul play when Middlefield and Vinson didn't return. They put together a larger search team. 10 days later, they found the bodies.
Officials in Carbon County quickly organized a manhunt and offered a hefty reward. Two thousand dollars, which would be over fifty thousand in today's money. Whitfield and Vincent were the first lawman killed in the line of duty, and authorities didn't care if George and the others were captured, dead or alive.
The gang had a botched train robbery, empty pockets and a price on their heads. Naturally, they fled to men split from the group, taking their chances on their own for short while.
It looked like this plan worked. Their luck wouldn't hold, though a string of bizarre twist soon began to unravel their plans, and little did they know things were about to get worse. First, one of the outlaws died from tuberculosis, another Dutch, Charlie Burris, made the mistake of staying too close to town and the authorities captured him within weeks. Days after that, the former fugitive sat handcuffed and shackled on a train heading back to Carbon County. Sheriff Jim Rankin rode along as an escort to ensure that Charlie made it to trial.
The transport had been arranged quietly, but in a small Western town, secrets had a way of traveling at lightning speed. As soon as the train stopped to refuel at nine 25 that evening, a group of armed and masked men burst into the cabin. Within minutes, they dragged Dutch Charlie outside where a mob had gathered, deciding that a court of law would take too long. The masked men beat the outlaw, finally getting a full confession from him.
The admission didn't save him, though. The mob dragged Dutch Charlie to a telegraph pole and strung him up as a message to other would be outlaws. They left his body swinging at the end of the rope a full day before cutting him down and checking his body into a coal car. The rope still around his neck. Despite hearing the news, the rest of the gang returned to their old ways, they robbed Stagecoach and made off with twenty seven thousand dollars, that would be over 700000.
Today, though, it was their biggest payday yet, it had come at a cost. One member died from gunshot wounds. Once again, the gang found themselves on the run. They rode for days, putting miles behind them, finally stopping in Yellowstone County, Montana. With their new wealth from a successful heist, two of the outlaws decided that this was where they parted ways. George and a couple of others stayed behind, though, within a year that spent their entire windfall.
One February night, the men were sitting in a local saloon lamenting their lack of funds when they overheard that Morris can, a merchant and one of the richest men in Montana was planning a trip to North Dakota for supplies. The desperados went right to work on a plan, a military ambulance and an escort of 15 soldiers were also making their way to North Dakota and can managed to secure passage with them, sweetening the deal the soldiers would be carrying in neighboring towns payroll.
Oh, George and the gang needed to do was follow the caravan beyond the Powder River crossing into the steep walled valley beyond it, if they timed it just right, can and the others would walk straight into an ambush. And the plan worked when the first segment, the writers entered the valley and made the first turn around large boulders, George and two others held them at gunpoint and secured them and their weapons. Moments later, the second group, including calm, rounded the bend and found themselves looking down the barrels of several shotguns.
All the men were robbed of cash and valuables, to add insult the outlaws to hands peach brandy in the lead sergeant's horse as the gang rode off, they past the wagon driver a cigar. They fled across the Yellowstone River before doubling back north, returning to Mile City in Montana, it had gone perfectly, they thought, except for one thing, despite wearing bandannas and wide brimmed hat pulled down over their eyes, Georgia's big nose had given them away.
It didn't take long before authorities arrested him, of course, bragging about the exploit didn't do him any favors, but although he was put on trial for the robbery, no one made the connection to the wanted poster for murder just a few miles south. During the trial, a witness testified that George had been in Buffalo Springs at the time of the holdup, making it impossible for him to have been in Powder Springs. The witness had been paid for the testimony, but it did the trick.
The case ended with an acquittal. George felt rather pleased with himself, and once back at the saloon, he bragged about the crimes to all who would listen. He falsely claimed that he'd done jobs with more renowned outlaws like Jesse James and The Wild Bunch. And all that attention seeking, tipped off locals who spread the word. Soon, the United States Army was rumored to be heading to Miles City with a score to settle once more. The gang was forced to flee.
They made their way 300 miles north to Rocky Gap, where the men took ranch jobs while keeping an ear out for stagecoach runs. When the men weren't working, they spent the evenings at another local watering hole planning to rob a paymasters wagon due to arrive from Helena. But the wagons escort party proved too large to take on without many stagecoaches opportunities proved few and far between and the gang headed back to Wyoming. After failed attempts at multiple robberies and run ins with angry and well-armed ranchers, they returned to Mile City.
By now, though, Pam Ervin, the local sheriff, had seen the wanted posters while the rest of the gang left town. George took refuge at a friend's cabin. The sheriff had his own plan, had been watching the cabin and noticed that a sex worker was a frequent visitor, Earvin struck a deal with the woman who reported back to him. Irvin hired two additional deputies, both of whom George wouldn't know. They posed as prospective buyers to scope out the property.
The first time the men showed up, they were met with rifles. When the men presented no threat, George let his guard down. On the second visit, the deputies were greeted unarmed, then the sheriff came out of hiding and George was hauled off to jail.
Once more, the news traveled far and wide that a mother of the murdered lawman's killers had been caught. Time hadn't reduced the anger, the people living in Carbon County. If anything, it burned hotter and brighter than it ever had before. It was a big day for the authorities on August 14th of 1880, Sheriff Rankin arrived in Miles City with extradition papers and a couple of newly sworn in deputies, a posse formed to assist with safe passage for the officials in their prisoner to the steamboat landing on the Yellowstone River.
The sheriff had taken no chances. Handcuffed and shackled, George wasn't going to escape once the steamboat docked in Omaha, Nebraska. Rankin ushered the outlaw to the Union Pacific Railroad headquarters. Georgia's mug shot was taken one of only two known photos of him in existence. Then the interrogation began. Though they tried for hours, Rankin and the others couldn't get a single confession. George repeatedly and calmly denied his involvement in the robberies and the murders when the train to Cheyenne, Wyoming, arrived.
The officials continued the interrogation en route to the next stop. Without a confession, the outlaw began to feel pretty confident about his chances for another acquittal. One thing had to sit on his mind, though, they were headed to Rollins, the same trip that Charlie had taken, and just like that trip, the train stopped for fuel and water. As the train pulled into the station, George noticed the stores were lit in celebration and people danced in the streets detecting that their prisoners seemed nervous, Rankin and the deputies recounted the night the crowds had strung up that Charlie, they took turns telling the story how the mob had dragged him to his fate.
They spared no detail. George began to sweat. As they finished with how the body had been discarded into a bin, the doors to the cabin flew open. A dozen armed and masked men stormed inside, easily overcoming the sheriff and deputies rank and called upon the passengers to intervene. That justice should be in the hands of the court, the passengers, i.e., the armed men, and figuring an outlaw wasn't worth the effort, stayed in their seats.
One masked man wielding an axe broke George's shackles, feeling pretty certain that the mob wasn't there to rescue him. He grabbed one of the men's guns. The struggle was short lived, and the men quickly wrestled the gun away. They dragged George off the train. The train platform was a sea of angry men and women, each of them calling to string him up. Some demanded to know why he had killed the men. Still protesting to the bitter end, he denied both the robbery attempt and the murders.
His persistent innocence acted like a fuel to a fire. Another angry round of string him up erupted. More hands grabbed him as they hauled George from the platform, the chanting and cheering continued.
He begged them to shoot him instead, but they ignored his pleas.
They dragged him down the street to a corral. The crowd applauded and cheered louder when someone tossed a rope over a beam. One of the men placed the noose over his head faced with eminent death. George begged the crowd once more, telling them he was scared and asked for a few moments to compose himself. The crowd quieted down and waited. Finally, George confessed, at least somewhat. He admitted that he was part of the gang and that they'd killed the men because, as the old adage says, dead men tell no tales.
It had been that Charlie's idea, he insisted. Then he waited to see what they'd do with his partially true confession behind him. He expected that hang him anyway. Instead, the leader ordered him returned to the sheriff. They'd gotten a confession. After all, let the courts order a legal execution. The group pushed and shoved him back to the station and tossed him unceremoniously into the train car. Witnesses said. George collapsed into a seat, shaking and laughing until he cried.
Outside, the crowd began to dance again, and Renkin smiled at his prisoner. He had a confession, and as far as he was concerned, the townsfolk hadn't hung an innocent man the night that strung up Dutch Charlie. George stayed in jail until the preliminary hearings in September of 1880 right from the start. He pled guilty, though once the court gave him a lawyer, he recanted his confession. There wouldn't be an acquittal this time. The case went to trial and the court found George guilty on December 17.
The judge sentenced him to death by hanging, scheduling the date of execution for April 2nd of 1881 between the hours of 10:00 and for. Bailiffs had to support George back to his cell. In an attempt to protest his execution, he staged a hunger strike it didn't take long to figure out that no one much cared if a condemned man starved to death. When that failed, he claimed had repented and had converted to Christianity in the hopes that his captors would grant him more freedom, and it worked to over time, they permitted George to roam the hall outside his jail cell.
Over the next few months, he collected a knife and a piece of sandstone and began planning his escape. That day came when Sheriff Rankin left town putting his brother Robert in charge of the jail. On the night of March 22nd, George used the knife to file down the rivets on his leg shackles and then waited as soon as Robert rounded the corner to lock the prisoners in their cells. He leaked from his hiding place and struck the jailer in the head with the eight pound shackles.
Robert fought back all the while shouting for his wife. As you might imagine, Rosa didn't take to the assault on her husband sitting down, she sweet talked the outlaw back into a cell with a loaded pistol leveled at his head while her sister went for help. Later, the women were awarded a gold watch and key in a velvet lined box for their service and bravery. Needless to say, no one believed George had truly found Jesus after that, the news of the attack in the form of Rose's sister running down the street in search of help enraged the citizens.
Before long, a mob formed outside the jail. Around him that night, the mom burst through the door and stole the selkies, a few masked men headed toward the cells. Instead of being afraid, George oddly mistook their intention as a rescue mission. The men whisked him from his cell and out onto the street, the site of the mob made him realize his mistake. They were there to watch him drop with a sudden stop. They placed the noose around his neck, tied his hands and forced him onto a barrel under a telegraph pole.
The sister in law of one of the murdered men kicked to the barrel instead of hanging, the rope snapped and George tumbled to the ground, choking and gasping for air. Within minutes, they had another rope ready. They forced him up a 12 foot ladder and slid the noose around his neck just as they pushed the ladder away. George managed to slide his hands free and grab the telegraph pole. He begged them to just shoot him. Instead, the mob grew quiet and waited for him to lose his grip.
The news spread of how the citizens had hanged big nose George and Dutch Charlie, other outlaws decided to slip out of town rather than meet the same end. But hangings weren't the only way citizens had of preventing Would-Be Outlaws from messing with Carbon County, Wyoming, because it seems there really was a fate worse than death. No family stepped forward to claim George's body had abandoned them in France years before. If any of the remaining gang members were still alive, they knew better than to step foot in Carbon County.
But his corpse was claimed by two doctors and their medical assistant. Doctors McGee and Osborne studied criminals and they had a keen interest in George's brain. Surely there had to be some abnormality that might explain his criminal behavior. First, they made a death mask of George, then sawed off the top of the dead man's skull. An autopsy of the brain turned up no clues, though, disappointed they decided to use the body for, well, other things.
Assistant Lillian Heath, who would eventually go on to become Wyoming's first female physician, took big nose Georgia's skullcap as a souvenir. Dr. Ausborn sent Georgia's body to a tannery in Denver, ordering two things made from a human hide a pair of shoes and a medical bag. The rest of the remains were dismembered, placed into a barrel and buried. Dr. Osborne was quite proud of those shoes when the people of Wyoming saw him in years later as governor, he wore them to the inauguration and the ball that followed and then time moved on.
The city grew and the story of big nose George slowly faded away. But 70 years later, in nineteen fifty one, a construction company came upon a grisly discovery, a barrel with human remains inside. Law enforcement were called in, but they determined that the body wasn't recent and some historians instead. Noting the missing skullcap, they assumed they'd found big nose charge, to be sure, though, they called the only person still alive who might be able to solve the puzzle.
Dr. Lillian Heath. Intrigued, she arrived with a skull cap in hand over the years, she used it as a planter, a paperweight and even an ashtray. As she looked at the skull from the barrel, she placed the cap over the clean hole on top and it was a perfect fit, like Cinderella's slipper, only darker. This time, George received a proper burial minus the skull cap and shoes, of course, those along with the shackles were all handed over to the Carbon County Museum as relics from a bygone day.
The medical bag, though, has never been recovered. There's more to this story. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about it. Names can be confusing when he was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, in 1889, his parents called him James Allen. Later on, though, he went by a number of different aliases Jonas Pierce, James Yorke and others, but mostly folks called him George Walton. Orphaned as a child, his grandparents did the best they could to raise him.
But when he was a young teen, they too passed away. Now, entirely on his own, he returned to Lancaster. He applied for work as a sailor, but was rejected. After holding down a few odd jobs, he turned to crime, landing him in jail at the age of 15 with time to kill. Walton read a lot and even learned a few trades.
After his release, he teamed up with a former prisoner and the two went back to the life they knew best burglary. Like many of the legitimate jobs hit held, Walton wasn't very good at stealing and that saw him revisiting jail on and off for years. Each time he had read more and learn new skills. Yet upon release, he always went right back to his criminal ways. His favorite mode of operation was to hide just off the side of the road, then jump out when a wagon was passing by head level, a pistol at the driver and shout your money or your life.
Normally, people chose their life, cost him their money and fled, but that didn't happen when Walton tried his routine on a large and rather intimidating traveler named John Fenno.
When Walton made his usual demand, Fenno briefly paused to consider the offer and then chose both. Walton had never been challenged before, and it took him by surprise before he could back up his threat, Fenno leapt from the wagon and the two fought. Moments later, Walton fired his pistol grazing vinos chest, realizing he had just shot a man, he fled. Authorities offered a one thousand dollar reward for his capture, forcing Walton to go into hiding the reward money proved too tempting to one of his own criminal friends, and the man turned him in.
Walton was convicted on February 21st of 1834 and sentenced to serve time at the state penitentiary in Charlestown. Yes, he was headed back behind bars yet again, a common theme for his life. This visit turned out to be a life sentence, though, but not because a judge said so easy while he was in there. George Waltin contracted tuberculosis and apparently the fatal illness changed him. That along with a surprise visit from John Fenno. Walton spent his last remaining days in jail writing his own memoir, and when he finished, he asked the warden to make two copies and then have each bound into a book, but not with ordinary leather.
No, he requested that his own skin be used as a cover. And amazingly, the warden followed through with it. After George Walton died in 1837, the warden kept his promise and sent the body to a tannery and the memoir to a printing press. Two copies were made. One stayed with the warden and the other went to none other than Georgia's last victim, John Fenno. Both men kept those books for the rest of their lives. Eventually, one copy found its way to the Boston Athenaeum collection.
And every year at Halloween, the library puts the book on display as part of their spooky offerings. It's unclear how that copy ended up in the library's collection. Some believe Bono's daughter feeling a lot less enamored with the book than her father donated it after inheriting his estate. But the second. Well, it seems the book is still missing, maybe it's in a private collection or perhaps it's sitting forgotten in an attic in someone's home. Either way, I think it's fair to say that George Walton's journey has come to a dead end.
American Chateaux is hosted by Lauren Vogel Bomb. This episode was written by Michelle Muto with researcher Robin Midnighter and produced by Miranda Hawkins and Trevor Young with executive producers Aaron Manque, Alex Williams and Matt Frederich. To learn more about the show, visit Greyman Mile Dotcom for more podcast from My Heart Radio, visit the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.