|Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr.|
Rare image of Tom Horn
(Wyoming State Museum)
He is braiding a rope for his friend Charles B. Irwin, to be used for rodeo performances.
November 21, 1860|
Scotland County, Missouri
|Died||November 20, 1903
Cause of death
|Columbia Cemetery, Boulder, Colorado|
|Other names||Tom Hale|
|Occupation||US Army Scout, lawman, cowboy, detective, assassin|
|Employer||Pinkerton Detective Agency|
|Notable work||Assisted in the capture of Geronimo, disputably killed Willie Nickell|
Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr. (November 21, 1860 – November 20, 1903) was an American Old West scout, who carried out varied roles as hired gunman, Pinkerton, range detective, cowboy, and soldier. Believed to have committed 17 murders as a hired gunman in the West, in 1902 Horn was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Willie Nickell near Iron Mountain, Wyoming. The boy was the son of sheep rancher Kels Nickell, who had been involved in a range feud with neighbor and cattle rancher Jim Miller. On the day before his 43rd birthday, Horn was executed by hanging in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
While in jail he wrote his autobiography, Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter (1904), which was published posthumously. Numerous editions have been published of this book since the late 20th century, and debate continues as to whether he was guilty of Nickell's murder.
Known as "Tom," he was born in 1860 to Thomas S. Horn, Sr. and Mary Ann Maricha (née Miller) on their family farm in rural northeastern Scotland County, Missouri. They had 600 acres (bisected by the South Wyaconda River), located between the towns of Granger and Etna. Tom was the fifth of twelve children. During his childhood, the young Tom suffered physical abuse from his father, and his only companion as a child was a dog named Shedrick. The dog was tragically killed when the young Tom got into a fight with two boys, who proceeded to beat Tom and killed the dog with a shotgun.
Horn allegedly killed his first man in a duel — the man was a second lieutenant in the Mexican Army. Horn, at age twenty-six, killed him as a result of a dispute with a prostitute. At sixteen, Horn headed to the American Southwest, where he was hired by the U.S. Cavalry as a civilian scout under Al Sieber. He served during the Apache Wars, aiding in the capture of warriors such as Geronimo. On January 11, 1886, he was involved as a packer and interpreter in an expedition into Mexican territory in the pursuit of Geronimo.
While crossing the Cibicue Creek, Sieber together with Horn, another civilian named Mickey Free and the army were ambushed by the Apaches. Prior to the ambush, Horn and Free knew of the attack and tried to warn their officer Captain Edmund Hentig but was rebuked in return. During the ambush, Sieber ordered the two scouts to return fire from a hill, and together with the soldiers, managed to repel the ambush. Tom Horn and Al Sieber also participated during the Battle of Big Dry Wash, where he and Lt. George H. Morgan slipped to the banks opposite of the Apache line, and provided rifle fire to support the cavalry, which killed many of the Apaches.
During one operation, Horn's camp was also attacked by Mexican militia, and he was wounded in the arm. Horn was present at Geronimo's final surrender, and acted as an interpreter under Charles B. Gatewood. After the war, Horn used what he earned to build his own ranch during his return to the Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona. His ranch consisted of 100 cattles and 26 horses, and he also laid claim in the Deer Creek Mining District near the canyon. However, it was short-lived, as cattle thieves stormed his ranch one night and stole all his cattle. This incident would mark Horn's hatred and disdain for thieves, which would escalate in him taking the profession of range detective.
Career as a detective, lawman and gun for hire
Horn wandered and took jobs as a prospector, ranch hand and rodeo contestant, but he's most infamous for being hired by numerous cattle companies as a working cowboy and a hired gun to watch over their cattle and kill any suspected criminals preying on them. In his line of work, Horn developed his own means to fight cattle-rustling, which he described: "I would simply take the calf and such things as that stopped the stealing. I had more faith in getting the calf than in courts." If he thought a man was guilty of stealing cattle and had been fairly warned, Horn said that he would shoot the thief and would not feel "one shred of remorse." Horn would often give a warning first to those he suspected of rustling, and was said to have been a "tremendous presence" whenever he was in the vicinity. Fergie Mitchell, a rancher of the North Laramie River described Horn's reputation: "So one day Tom Horn visited the North Laramie. I saw him ride by. He didn't stop, but went straight on up the creek in plain sight of everyone. All he wanted was to be seen, as his reputation was so great that his presence in a community had the desired effect. Within a week three settlers in the neighborhood sold their holdings and moved out. That was the end of cattle rustling on the North Laramie."
Later, Horn took part in the Pleasant Valley War in Arizona between cattlemen and sheepmen. Historians have not established which side he worked for, and both sides suffered several killings for which no known suspects were ever identified. Horn worked in Arizona for a time as a deputy sheriff, where he drew the attention of the Pinkerton Detective agency due to his tracking abilities. Hired by the agency circa late 1889 or early 1890, he handled investigations in Colorado and Wyoming, in other western states, and around the Rocky Mountain area, working out of the Denver office. He became known for his calm under pressure, and his ability to track down anyone assigned to him.
In one case, Horn and another agent, C. W. Shores, captured two men who had robbed the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (on August 31, 1890) between Cotopaxi and Texas Creek in Fremont County, Colorado. Horn and Shores tracked and arrested Thomas Eskridge (aka "Peg-Leg" Watson) and Burt "Red" Curtis without firing a shot. They tracked them all the way to the home of a man named Wolfe, said to be in either Washita or Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, along the Washita River. In his report on that arrest, Horn stated in part "Watson, was considered by everyone in Colorado as a very desperate character. I had no trouble with him."
During the Johnson County War, he worked for the Wyoming Stock Grower's Association. He is alleged to have been involved in the killing of Nate Champion and Nick Ray on April 9, 1892. The Pinkerton Agency forced Horn to resign in 1894. In his memoir, Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism, Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo wrote that "William A. Pinkerton told me that Tom Horn was guilty of the crime, but that his people could not allow him to go to prison while in their employ." Siringo would later indicate that he respected Horn's abilities at tracking, and that he was a very talented agent, but had a wicked element.
In 1895, Horn reportedly killed a known cattle thief named William Lewis near Iron Mountain, Wyoming. Horn was exonerated for that crime and for the 1895 murder of Fred Powell six weeks later. In 1896, a ranchman named Campbell, known to have a large stash of cash, was last seen with Horn.
Assassination of Matt Rash and Isom Dart
Although his official title was "Range Detective," Horn essentially served as a killer for hire. By the mid-1890s the cattle business in Wyoming and Colorado was changing due to the arrival of homesteaders and new ranchers. The homesteaders, “nesters” or “grangers”, as they were referred to by the big operators, had moved into the territory in large numbers. By doing so they decreased the availability of water for the herds of the larger cattle barons.
In 1900, Horn had begun working for the Swan Land and Cattle Company in northwest Colorado. His first job was to investigate the Browns Park Cattle Association's leader and cowboy Matt Rash, who was suspected of cattle-rustling. Horn went undercover as "Tom Hicks" and worked for Rash as a ranch hand, while also collecting evidence of Rash branding cattle that did not belong to him. When Horn finally pieced together enough evidence to determine that Rash was indeed a rustler, he put a letter on Rash's door threatening him to leave in sixty days, but Rash defiantly stayed. As Rash continued to be uncooperative, Horn's employers were said to have given the assassin the "go-ahead signal" to execute Rash. On the day of the murder, an armed Horn arrived at Rash's cabin as the man had just finished eating, before Horn shot him at point-blank. The dying Rash unsuccessfully tried to write the name of his killer, but no trace was left of the murder. Only the accounts and rumors from various people point to Horn as the one responsible. Rash was supposed to be married to a nearby rancher, Ann Bassett, and the woman accused Hicks of being the murderer.
At that time Horn also suspected another cowboy named Isom Dart of rustling. Dart was one of Rash's fellow cowboys, but was believed to have been a rustler named Ned Huddleston, a former member of the late "Tip Gault" gang. The gang, which had rustled cattle in the Saratoga area, was wiped out in a gun battle. Dart also had three indictments returned against him in Sweetwater County. When Dart was accused of murdering Rash, he took refuge inside his friend's cabin and waited for the rumors to cool down. Horn however, managed to track down Dart to his cabin, and saw him hiding together with two other armed associates. The assassin was said to have set up a sniping position under the cover of a pine tree, overlooking the cabin from a hill. As Dart and his friends came out of the cabin, Horn shot him in the chest from a distance. Prior to the assassination, Horn instructed a rancher named Robert Hudler to ready a horse miles from the murder scene for his getaway. The next day, two .30-30 shells were found at the base of a tree where it was believed that the murderer had laid in wait. Hicks was said to have been the only one in the area to use a 30-30. The news of Rash and Dart's deaths spread throughout the territory, and as such the other rustlers scattered in fear. Horn tracked them all down and killed three other members of the Rash's association. The story goes that he pinned one of the dead cowboy's ears at the homesteaders as a warning.
Working for the government
During the Wilcox Train Robbery investigation, Horn obtained information from Bill Speck that revealed which of the robbers had killed Sheriff Josiah Hazen, killed during pursuit of the robbers. Either George Curry or Kid Curry were said to have killed the sheriff. Both outlaws were members of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang, then known as "The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang," for their hideaway in the mountains. Horn passed this information on to Charlie Siringo, who was working the case for the Pinkertons. Horn briefly entered the United States Army to serve during the Spanish American War. Before leaving Tampa for Cuba with the troops, Horn contracted yellow fever and was judged unfit for combat. After recovering, he returned to Wyoming. Shortly after his return, in 1901 Horn began working for wealthy cattle baron John C. Coble, who belonged to the Wyoming Stock Men's Association.
Murder of Willie Nickell
While working again near Iron Mountain, Wyoming, Horn visited the Jim and Dora Miller family on July 15, 1901. They were cattle ranchers. (Jim Miller was no relation to the Texas outlaw Jim Miller.) Jim Miller and his neighbor Kels Nickell had already had several disputes following Nickell's introduction of sheep into the Iron Mountain area. Miller frequently accused Nickell of letting his sheep graze on Miller land.
At the Millers, Horn met Glendolene M. Kimmell, the young teacher at the Iron Mountain School. Ms. Kimmell was supported by both the large Miller and Kels Nickell families, and she boarded with the Millers. Horn entertained her with accounts of his adventures. That day he and males of the Miller family went fishing; he and Victor Miller, a son about his age, also practiced shooting, both of them with .30-.30s.
The Miller and Nickell families were the only ones to have children at the school. Kimmel had been advised of the families' feud before she arrived, and found that it was often played out by conflict among the children. A few days later, on July 18, 1901, Willie Nickell, the 14-year-old son of sheep ranchers Kels and Mary Nickell, was found murdered near their homestead gate. A coroner's inquest began to investigate the murder. More violent incidents occurred during the period of the coroner's inquest, which was expanded to investigate these incidents, and lasted from July through September 1901.
On August 4, 1901, Kels Nickell was shot and wounded. Some 60-80 of his sheep were found "shot or clubbed to death." Two of the younger Nickell children later reported seeing two men leaving on horses colored a bay and a gray, as were horses owned by Jim Miller. (Bay is a common color among horses). On August 6, l901 Deputy Sheriff Peter Warlaumont and Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors came to Iron Mountain and arrested Jim Miller and his sons Victor and Gus on suspicion of shooting Kels Nickell. They were jailed on August 7 and released the following day on bond. The investigation of the shooting of Kels Nickell was added to the investigation of Willie Nickell's murder in the coroner's inquest.
Deputy Marshal Joe Lefors later questioned Horn in January 1902 about the murder, while supposedly talking to him about employment. Horn was still inebriated from the night before, but Lefors gained what he called a confession to the murder of Willie Nickell. Horn allegedly confessed to killing the young Willie with his rifle from 300 yards, which he boasted as the "best shot that [he] ever made and the dirtiest trick that [he] ever done." Horn was arrested the next day by the county sheriff. Walter Stoll was the Laramie County Prosecutor in the case. Judge Richard H. Scott, who presided over the case, was running for reelection.
Horn was supported by his longtime friend and employer, cattle rancher John C. Coble. He gathered a team for the defense headed by Judge John W. Lacey, and included attorneys T.F. Burke, Roderick N. Matson, Edward T. Clark and T. Blake Kennedy. Reportedly, Coble paid for most of the costs of this large team. According to Johan P. Bakker, who wrote Tracking Tom Horn, the large cattle interests by this time found Horn "expendable" and the case provided a way to silence him in regard to their activities. He wrote that 100 members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association paid $1000 each toward the defense, but wanted a minimal effort.
Horn's trial started October 10, 1902 in Cheyenne, which filled with crowds attracted by the notoriety of Horn. The Rocky Mountain News noted the carnival atmosphere and great interest from the public for a conviction. The prosecution introduced Horn's confession to Lefors. Only certain parts of Horn's statement were introduced, distorting his statement. The prosecution introduced testimony by at least two witnesses, including lawman Lefors, as well as circumstantial evidence; these elements only placed Horn in the general vicinity of the crime scene. During the trial, Victor Miller testified that he and Horn both had .30-.30 guns, and bought their ammunition at the same store. Another, Otto Plaga, testified that Horn was 20 miles from the scene of the murder an hour after it was committed.
Glendolene Kimmell had testified during the coroner's inquest, saying she thought both the Miller and Nickell families responsible for maintaining the feud, but she was never called as a defense witness. She had resigned from the school in October 1901 and left the area, but was in communication with people in the case. She submitted an affidavit to the governor while the case was on appeal. It is recounted in secondary sources but the original document disappeared from public records.
Horn’s trial went to the jury on October 23, and they returned a guilty verdict the next day. A hearing several days later sentenced Horn to death by hanging.
Horn’s attorneys filed a petition with the Wyoming Supreme Court for a new trial. While in jail, Horn wrote his autobiography, Life of Tom Horn, Government Scout and Interpreter, Written by Himself, mostly giving an account of his early life. It contained little about the case.
The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court and denied a new trial. Convinced of Horn's innocence, Glendolene Kimmell sent an affidavit to Governor Fenimore Chatterton with testimony reportedly saying that Victor Miller was guilty of Nickell's murder. Accounts of its contents appeared in the press, but the original document has disappeared. The governor chose not to intervene in the case. Horn was given an execution date of November 20, 1903.
Tom Horn was one of the few people in the "Wild West" to have been hanged by a water-powered gallows, known as the "Julian Gallows." James P. Julian, a Cheyenne, Wyoming architect, designed the contraption in 1892. The trap door was connected to a lever which pulled the plug out of a barrel of water. This would cause a lever with a counterweight to rise, pulling on the support beam under the gallows. When enough pressure was applied, the beam broke free, opening the trap and hanging the condemned man.
Horn was hanged in Cheyenne. At that time, Horn never gave up the names of those who had hired him during the feud. He was buried in the Columbia Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado on 3 December 1903. Rancher Jim Coble paid for his coffin and a stone to mark his grave.
It is still debated whether Horn committed the Nickells murder. Historians including Chip Carlson believe he did not, while others such as Dean Fenton Krakel believe that he did, but had not realized he was shooting an underage boy. The consensus is that regardless of whether Horn committed that particular murder, he had certainly committed many others. Carlson, who extensively researched the Wyoming v. Tom Horn trial, concluded that although Horn could have committed the murder of Willie Nickell, he probably did not. According to Carlson's book, Tom Horn: Blood on the Moon (2001), there was no physical evidence that Horn had committed the murder. In addition, he was last seen in the area the day before it occurred, and the conditions of his alleged confession made it without value as evidence. Carlson believed the prosecution made no efforts to investigate other possible suspects, including Victor Miller. In essence, Horn's reputation and history made him an easy target for the prosecution.
In 1993, the case was retried in a mock trial in Cheyenne, and Horn was acquitted.
In 2014, the historian Larry Ball, professor emeritus at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas, published Tom Horn in Life and Legend. Ball was fascinated by Horn's conflicting and enigmatic personality. Ball said that he is convinced that Horn shot and killed Willie Nickell near the Iron Mountain area: "I have to fall back on the historical record." Ball said that he found no evidence of a legal conspiracy against Horn. He added that Horn's penchant for brutality contributed to his being convicted of the murder.
At a discussion of their findings that year, Chip Carlson of Cheyenne continued his support of Horn's innocence, saying: "I maintain that Tom Horn was railroaded" because Horn had been employed by cattle barons who were at odds with the homesteaders. Carlson also noted that the presiding judge at Horn's trial was a candidate for reelection at the time. Carlson described Horn in the trial as "his own worst enemy. The more he talked, the tighter the noose" became.
Representation in other media
- In 1954, Louis Jean Heydt played Tom Horn in an episode of the syndicated television series, Stories of the Century, narrated by and starring Jim Davis. Walter Coy appeared in the episode as Sam Clayton.
- In 1967, the film Fort Utah was released, a Western with John Ireland playing Horn.
- Mr. Horn (1979) was a made-for-TV movie starring David Carradine.
- Tom Horn (1980), starred Steve McQueen as Horn. While the film took liberties with facts, McQueen's performance was highly praised, and the film was well received.
- In December 2009, the The History Channel aired the series Cowboys & Outlaws; the episode "Frontier Hitman" was about the life of Tom Horn.
- In 2014, television station AHC's series, Gunslingers, featured an episode dedicated to Horn entitled "Tom Horn: Grim Reaper of the Rockies".
- Desert Evening News November 20, 1903
- Andrews, Evan (September 9, 2009). "Top 10 Deadliest Gunslingers". TopTenz. Retrieved October 30, 2014.
- Carlson, Chip (2001). Tom Horn: Blood on the Moon: Dark History of the Murderous Cattle Detective. High Plains Press. pp. 22–28. ISBN 978-0-931271-58-8.
- Ball (2014) p.10
- Ball (2014) p.307
- Monaghan (1997) p.59-60
- Ball (2014) p.29
- Carlson.(2001) p.33.
- Runkle, Benjamin (2011). Wanted Dead Or Alive: Manhunts from Geronimo to Bin Laden. Macmillan. pp. 29–33. ISBN 978-0-230-10485-3.
- Monaghan (1997) Introduction
- Ball (2014) p.44-47
- Carlson, Chip (June 12, 2006). "Tom Horn: Misunderstood Misfit". Wild West Magazine. Retrieved October 30, 2014.
- Carlson.(2001) p.36
- Anderson, Dan; and Laurence J. Yadon (2007), 100 Oklahoma Outlaws, Gangsters, and Lawmen: 1839-1939, Pelican Publishing Company, p. 231, ISBN 978-1-58980-384-8
- Tom Horn at www.thrillingdetective.com
- Charlie Siringo, Thrilling Detective website
- "The Murder of Fred U. Powell", Tom Horn website
- Ball (2014) p.232-234
- Ball (2014) p.237
- Ball (2014) p.238
- Ball (2014) p.237-239
- Sheriff Josiah Hazen, Converse County Sheriff's Office, Wyoming, The Officer Down Memorial Page
- Ball (2014) p.214
- Carlson (2001), Blood on the Moon
- Carol L. Bowers. "School Bells and Winchesters: The Sad Saga of Glendolene Myrtle Kimmell", READINGS IN WYOMING HISTORY (5th Revised Edition), Ed. Phil Roberts, University of Wyoming, 2007, Retrieved 2012-10-10
- "Glendolene M. Kimmell, The Schoolmarm", Tom Horn's Story website
- Krakel, Dean Fenton (1954). The Saga of Tom Horn: The Story of a Cattlemen's War, with personal narratives, newspaper accounts, and official documents and testimonies (2 ed.). Powder River Publishers. p. 204.
- Johan P. Bakker, Tracking Tom Horn(Union Lake: Talking Boy, 1993) pp. 127, 131-132
- Wilson, R. Michael (2008). Outlaw Tales of Wyoming: True Stories of the Cowboy State's Most Infamous Crooks, Culprits, and Cutthroats. Globe Pequot. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-7627-4506-7.
- Krakel, Dean, (1954/1988). The Saga of Tom Horn, Powder River Publishing
- Becky Orr (August 22, 2014). "Legend of Tom Horn refuses to die: Western history authors Larry Ball and Chip Carlson talked about Wyoming legend Tom Horn Friday at a program at the Wyoming State Museum". Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. Retrieved August 23, 2014.
- Fairbanks, Brian W. (2005). "Tom Horn". Brian W. Fairbanks - Writings. Lulu Press. p. 349. ISBN 978-1-4116-2432-0.
One of the screen's greatest stars, McQueen was nonetheless vastly underrated as an actor. This is one of his finest performances.
- Davis, Steven L. (2004). "Tom Horn". Texas literary outlaws: six writers in the sixties and beyond. TCU Press. p. 368. ISBN 978-1-4116-2432-0.
Tom Horn did decent box office business, but it failed to reach the blockbuster status of McQueen's previous films. The producers had argued that people didn't want to pay to see Steve McQueen die. "And they were right," Shrake said.
- Carlson, Chip, (2001). - Tom Horn: Blood on the Moon - Dark History of the Murderous Cattle Detective. - Glendo, Wyoming: High Plains Press. - ISBN 978-0-931271-58-8.
- Gatewood, Charles B. (2005). Louis Kraft, ed. LT. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-2772-9.
- Ball, Larry D. (2014). Tom Horn in Life and Legend. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0806144252.
- Monaghan, Jay (1997). Tom Horn: Last of the Bad Men. Bison Books. ISBN 978-0803282346.
- Herring, Hal (2008). Famous Firearms of the Old West: From Wild Bill Hickok's Colt Revolvers to Geronimo's Winchester, Twelve Guns That Shaped Our History. Globe Pequot. pp. 121–136. ISBN 978-0-7627-4508-1.
- Krakel, Dean, (1954). The Saga of Tom Horn: The Story of a Cattlemen's War: with Personal Narratives, Newspaper Accounts, and Official Documents and Testimonies. Powder River Publishing.
Numerous editions of Horn's autobiography have been published and the 1904 original is available online:
- Horn, Tom; John C. Coble (1904). Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter (full-text view via Google books). Denver: The Smith-Brooks Printing Company. Also available as:
- Horn, Tom, and John C. Coble, (2001). Life of Tom Horn - Government Scout and Interpreter. Narrative Press. - ISBN 978-1-58976-068-4.
- Horn, Tom, edited by Doyce B. Nunis, Jr., (1987). Life of Tom Horn - Government Scout and Interpreter - Written by Himself: A Vindication, Chicago: The Lakeside Press, R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company.
- Horn, Tom, Introduction by Dean Krakel, (1973/1985). Life of Tom Horn - Government Scout and Interpreter: A Vindication. University of Oklahoma Press. - ISBN 978-0-8061-1044-8.
- Henry, Will, (1975). - I, Tom Horn. - New York: Bantam Books. - ISBN 978-0-553-29835-2. Historical novel.
- "Hanged By The Neck Until You Are Dead", Tom Horn's Story, (includes Horn's last letter saying his confession was staged and inaccurate)
- Chip Carlson, Tom Horn Story, Tom Horn website
- Tom Horn at www.thrillingdetective.com
- "Stories of the Century: "Tom Horn"". Internet Movie Data Base.
- "Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr". Find A Grave.