Lillian Heath

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Lillian Heath
Born December 29, 1865
Burnett Junction, Wisconsin
Died August 5, 1962(1962-08-05) (aged 96)
Rawlins, Wyoming
Education Graduated from College of Physicians and Surgeons in Keokuk, Iowa
Years active 1893 – 1909
Medical career
Profession Nurse, Doctor

Lilian Heath (December 29, 1865 – August 5, 1962) was the first female medical doctor in the state of Wyoming and one of the first to practice medicine west of the Mississippi River.

She is infamous for having used the top of the outlaw Big Nose George Parrott's skull as a doorstop and pen jar.

Early life[edit]

Heath was born in Burnett Junction, Wisconsin, on December 29, 1865. Her family moved to Aplington, Iowa, and later to Laramie, Wyoming, before moving to Rawlins, Wyoming, where her father got a job as a locomotive painter for the Union Pacific Railroad.[1] Heath arrived in the Wyoming territory when she was eight years old.[2] She observed the solar eclipse of July 29, 1878, along with scientist Henry Draper and inventor Thomas Edison, who had come to Wyoming to conduct experiments and had stayed in the Rawlins House, where the Heaths were living at the time.[3]


In the early 1880s, Heath's father obtained a job for her as an assistant to Dr. Thomas Maghee, a physician employed by the Union Pacific Railroad. Heath would wear men's clothing and carried a gun as protection. She assisted Maghee, helping treat his patients, including one who had attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chin. Maghee and Heath performed an early example of plastic surgery on the man, recreating a nose from a section of his forehead.[1]

After the March 22, 1881, lynching of infamous outlaw Big Nose George Parrott for the murder of Robert Widdowfield, Heath was a witness at the autopsy performed by Maghee and was given the skull cap that had been sawn off Parrott's head as a souvenir, while other portions of his body were made into a pair of shoes.[4] [3] [1] She used the skull cap as a door stop.[5] She kept the skull cap for decades and it was positively identified as an exact match in the 1950s after the remainder of Parrott's body was exhumed and examined. The skull cap was put on display at the Union Pacific Railroad Historical Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa, while the remainder of the skull is on display at the Carbon County Museum in Rawlins.[3][6][1]

Heath graduated from Rawlins High School in 1888. She enrolled in the University of Colorado at Boulder for a year, and then transferred to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Keokuk, Iowa, where she was one of three women in the entering class of 22 students. She graduated from medical school in 1893 and came back to Rawlins, where she established a medical office in her parents' house.[3]

On October 24, 1898, she married Louis J. Nelson of Rawlins, a painter and decorator.[3] Her husband used the top part of the skull cap as a tobacco pipe ashtray.[7]

Retirement and death[edit]

Heath retired from practicing medicine about 1909. She died at Rawlins Memorial Hospital on August 5, 1962, of complications of a broken hip caused by a fall.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d Dr. Lillian Heath Nelson, National Institutes of Health. Accessed June 8, 2010.
  2. ^ Beaver, Robin. "Dr. Lillian Heath Nelson, medicine woman: Pioneering physician excelled in a field dominated by men", Made in Wyoming. Accessed June 8, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Dr. Lillian Heath Timeline, Made in Wyoming. Accessed June 8, 2010.
  4. ^ Van Pelt, Lori."Unburied bones", Casper Star-Tribune, March 23, 2003. Accessed June 8, 2010.
  5. ^ Spring 1981, p. 122
  6. ^ Union Pacific Railroad Historical Museum, Accessed June 8, 2010.
  7. ^ Stoner, Sarah. "The ballad of Big Nose", Sunderland Echo, February 13, 2009. Accessed June 8, 2010.
  • Spring, Agnes Wright (1981). Near the greats (1981 ed.). American Traveler Press. ISBN 978-0-939650-31-6.  - Total pages: 162