Talk:Tom Horn

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"hanged himself" or "mechanically hanged"[edit]

I don't see how it could possibly be justified to say Tom Horn "hanged himself", never mind the mechanism of the gallows.

Excerpt from Chip Carlson's writing at


The word rang out like a gunshot in the crowded Cheyenne courtroom in September 1993, almost a hundred years after Tom Horn’s hanging for first-degree murder.

Light is fading on the early Twentieth Century, but even as that light dims it has become more apparent as time passes that Tom Horn was not the killer of Willie Nickell on July 18, 1901. It took a hundred years to exonerate him, if only in a mock trial at the same locale where he was convicted.

There were no witnesses to Willie’s murder. At the first trial -- the only trial that really mattered -- the prosecution had an alcohol-induced “confession,” weak circumstantial evidence and perjured testimony.

Tom Horn had been in the general area at the time of the murder. He had been at the neighboring Miller ranch, the homestead of a family who had been feuding with Willie Nickell’s, the previous morning. Other questionable scraps of circumstantial evidence were added to the mixture.

The linchpin for the prosecution was a questionable “confession” given by a drunken Tom Horn to a federal officer operating out of his jurisdiction, Joe LeFors. The conversation was recorded, but only in part, by a legal reporter who, together with a deputy sheriff, was a witness. LeFors had planted them for a single purpose – to “cinch” Tom Horn. LeFors himself acknowledged that he was operating under the instructions of the district attorney, Walter Stoll, whose own ambitions perhaps exceeded Joe LeFors’. His apparent obsession with winning a conviction gained him reelection to office.

The prosecution had, as well, a jury tainted with prejudice against Tom Horn’s employers and the power they represented and had misused. And it had an elected judge presiding, who himself had a clouded history, and whose rulings and instructions to the jury were anything but impartial. His ambitions led to election to a seat on the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Tom Horn had a legal defense team whose work in 1902 was described by the lawyer who represented him in the retrial as the “worst he had ever studied.” And Tom Horn’s own foolish statements in cross examination, driven by an ego that Walter Stoll played as if on a musical instrument, helped drive one of the nails into his own coffin.

The three shots that rang out in an early summer morning in 1901 near remote Iron Mountain, Wyoming were more than mere gunfire. They were, figuratively, the sound of a hammer driving final nails into the coffin of a Wyoming cattle business as it had existed for over thirty years. Willie Nickell was the second fourteen-year-old Iron Mountain boy to die of gunshot wounds within a few months.

In the spring Frank Miller, son of hostile neighbor Jim Miller, had died when a shotgun in a spring wagon in which he and a younger sister were playing accidentally discharged. The sister, Maude, carried the buckshot and scars from her wounds the rest of her life. It was stated that Jim Miller placed the blame for Frank’s death solely on Willie Nickell’s father, and that he swore that if the law did not avenge the death, he would.

Willie Nickell had saddled his father’s horse at six thirty the morning of July 18, 1901. He was going to try to find a man to replace a sheepherder who was quitting his father’s employ. Kels, Willie’s father, had ordered Willie to find the man who had ridden through the area looking for work. The unwitting order led to Willie’s death.

Willie mounted the bay and headed from the family cabin northwest of Cheyenne toward wire gate three-quarters of a mile to the west. Reaching the gate, he dismounted, led the horse through and turned to loop the gate closed.

Three shots rang out. Two followed in quick succession, then a pause, and then another. Two reached their mark. They smashed into the boy’s left back, and exited. Blood sprayed on the gate, the ground and the post, a tree now lying today at the site. Willie stumbled sixty-five feet toward home before he dropped facedown on the rough granite gravel. Blood seeped from the exit wounds.

Someone, no doubt the killer, rolled Willie’s body over and pulled open his shirt. The reverberations of that gunfire through the Wyoming hills signaled the beginning of a long search for Willie Nickell’s killer. And they marked perhaps the largest setback, one of several that began with the lynching of Ellen “Cattle Kate” Watson in 1888, for the so-called cattle barons’ and their fiefdoms. They, along with the industrial, railroad and mining barons, were unwilling players in the drama of economic and social changes marking an evolution in America from an agrarian to an industrial society.

Two years, three months and two days after Willie Nickell’s assassination Tom Horn strangled to death in a hangman’s noose in the Laramie County jail on November 20, 1903. He would have been forty-three years old the next day.

Tom Horn’s execution may symbolically mark the passing of the Old West in Wyoming, poignantly described in the forward of Owen Wister’s The Virginian, written while Tom was in jail in 1902:

It is a vanished world.... A transition has followed the horseman of the plains; a shapeless state, a condition of men and manners unlovely as that bald moment in the year when winter is gone and spring not come, and the face of nature is ugly....

The controversy over whether Tom Horn “shot that kid... the best shot that I ever made and the dirtiest trick I ever done,” his so-called confession, trial and failed appeals still rages on in Wyoming almost a century later.

Excerpt from Chip Carlson's writing at

Bosler vs Coble?[edit]

I checked a couple of sources and they both said that Horn's base in the Chugwater area was at Coble's Frontier Land & Cattle Company. I guess that doesn't really mean that Coble hired Horn, but on the other hand, I couldn't find anything linking Bosler and Horn; they probably knew each other, but we would need sources that proved a more substantial link. CosmicPenguin (talkWP:WYOHelp!) 03:06, 30 November 2009 (UTC)

Rope in Photo[edit]

I don't believe the rope in the photo was used to hang him. I believe that he was making the rope for John C. Coble. We need a better source than Legends of America. > Best O Fortuna (talk) 22:30, 20 April 2010 (UTC)

This site states the same thing Legends of America does. The Utahraptor (talk) 23:45, 20 April 2010 (UTC)
This is another site that states the same thing. The Utahraptor (talk) 23:48, 20 April 2010 (UTC)
You think that "" and "" are credible and reliable sources? What does the Enquirer say? I could go post on findagrave anything I want. Jimmy Hoffa shot John F. Kennedy. I could go create 10 websites that say anything I want.
Please go read:
We need respected sources who do half-way credible research. Those two sites don't past muster. > Best O Fortuna (talk) 07:52, 21 April 2010 (UTC)
People say that because anybody can put anything on Wikipedia, it is unreliable. Are they right? No. The Utahraptor (talk) 21:19, 21 April 2010 (UTC)
The official Tom Horn site doesn't say that the rope he braided hung him. However, it does say that it was braided in the sheriff's office, which indicates he braided the rope shortly before he was hung. The Utahraptor (talk) 21:27, 21 April 2010 (UTC)
Yes, there was a rope (or more than one) braided while he was in jail. He was very good at it, and had braided ropes and had been asked to do so, prior to the killing of Nickle. He was a particular talent for him. But these ropes where used for roping livestock. Coble asked him for one of his ropes (maybe to keep him busy instead of just sitting there and stewing). So, I have no doubt that he did braid at least one rope while he sat there (it was a long time). But, I seriously doubt that that rope was used to then hang him. Coble most likely had that rope before that. If you read up on James P. Julian you'll see that he he was quirky, a perfectionist, and had little contact with Horn. The rope was already being braided some time before Julian was hired to build the gallows. Is there anything of it in the writings of John C. Thompson? I think I remember that the lariats he braided for roping were 1/2-inch or maybe 5/8, but the rope used to hang him was a 3/4-inch. I think we need a roping expert. Myth-Busters? > Best O Fortuna (talk) 07:32, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
If he did braid more than one rope while awaiting execution, then perhaps he did, indeed, braid the rope that hung him? Maybe it doesn't show the rope that hung him in the photo; maybe he was braiding that rope for Coble. But maybe there was another rope that he braided (but nobody got a photo of him braiding it), and that was used to hang him? You've pretty much convinced me, but I suggest we get the opinion of other users before removing the unverifiable content. The Utahraptor Talk 12:32, 22 April 2010 (UTC)
But that is all just speculation isn't it, and doesn't belong in an encyclopedia? I seriously doubt he touched the rope that hung him until it went around is neck. If you will read as much as I have on Horn, about 10 books, you will see that Sheriff Smalley really liked and respected Tom, and would not have disrespected him. Remember also that while he respected him, he also feared him. What if that gang of Horn's friends had really come for him and broke him out (as was speculated might happen) and he would have done something mean to Tom? Don't believe what the Steve McQueen or David Carradine films showed, or even the book I, Tom Horn, they are half-fiction. Have you tried contacting Dean Krakel (if he is still alive), Doyce Blackman Nunis, or Chip Carlson? Trying asking Chip about the rope, I am sure he has an opinion. Also remember, Horn was in jail for almost two years, arrested in Jan '01 and hung in late Nov '02. That was a long time back in the day. His case was about politics and a country changing from the Nineteenth Century to the Twentieth, and the "growing up" of the nation, as it was about murder. He was found guilty as much for past sins (or more so) as for Will ie Nickell. The rope story is what you call "urban legend" now days. It is speculative folklore. Don't believe that Horn was a hero, but also don't believe he was evil. He was good at tracking, shooting, roping (he was a champion rodeo contestant), and those skills came in handy for men like Coble. But he also had a air about him that scared people. He would not answer people about things, certain questions, to let the rumors put pay in his pocket. And while this worked for him, to get jobs, it came to work against him, he reached a point of the rumors getting out of control and they scarred people. He trapped himself in a bed of lies in the end. He "silentness" scared people. He was a loner. So, while a rancher might hire him, they didn't invite him over for supper. Coble was a rare exception, when all of the other deserted him, Coble stuck by him. But even this was to a point. Coble regretted not doing more for Horn and faster than he did. If you read up on what happened to Coble after Horn died, he went from being a respected and on-the-path to very wealthy rancher in Southeastern Wyoming, to leaving Wyoming and dying near broke. That jury verdict seemed to kill two men. Don't you think that it is a little morbid to think that he braided the rope that hung him? Smalley had a code, and this would have crossed the line. Try and contact Carlson and see what he thinks. > Best O Fortuna (talk) 00:56, 23 April 2010 (UTC)


You're probably right. Do you think we should wait for more input or remove the unverifiable content now? The Utahraptor Talk 01:41, 23 April 2010 (UTC)

  • Hello, I'm new to Wikipedia, but not to Old West lawmen, outlaws, tales, etc. In my opinion, Best O Fortuna is right; Tom Horn was braiding that rope for John Coble, not so he could be hanged. And he most likely didn't braid the rope that hanged him. Thank you. OldWestHistorian (talk) 13:39, 23 April 2010 (UTC)
Per Wikipedia guidelines, it should be removed. It is gossip. > Best O Fortuna (talk) 01:33, 24 April 2010 (UTC)
I just removed it. Never mind, somebody brought it back. The Utahraptor Talk 04:32, 24 April 2010 (UTC)
You'll have to excuse me, I am getting old and my memory is fuzzy. But, I think I mis-spoke that the rope was for John C. Coble. But thinking about it the past few days drags out different clutter, like an attic with old furniture in it. I think I remember the true story of "the rope" in the photo:
  • Horn's friend, Charles Burton Irwin, the famous rodeo star, asked Horn to braid the rope for him to use in competition. There should be a letter at the Wyoming Historical Society, or one of the universities, in the collection of John C. Coble, or C.B. Irwin, that talks about Horn braiding the rope for him to use in show. It was not your average run-of-the-mill rope, but the distinctive two-tone rope Irwin used in his shows. Now, one of you young guys with a sharp mind go and find what this old mind remembers. AND, one of you should create an article for Irwin, it was a larger-than-life character himself. My grand-father's sister ran around with Will Rogers, Wiley Post, and the Irwin brother's when they came to Oklahoma. Now you guys don't go asking me who Rogers, Post, and the Irwin brothers are, go read a book. If my memory is right, the Irwin's might have also been in Hollywood with silent movies back in the 1920s. It is hard for me to get to the library these days, so how about some young legs with lots of energy? I've got to go take a pill. > Best O Fortuna (talk) 06:17, 24 April 2010 (UTC) PS: I think one of Charlie's brother's was named Francis, can't remember the other one. > Best O Fortuna (talk)
  • I went looking for reliable sources about Irwin, and stumbled across this letter from Horn to Irwin: Its not 100% definitive, but its a start.CosmicPenguin (talkWP:WYOHelp!) 12:57, 24 April 2010 (UTC)
I'll see if I can find anything at my library. The Utahraptor Talk 16:01, 24 April 2010 (UTC)
  • Well, it's been a while, so should we just remove the dubious content? The Utahraptor Talk 22:36, 6 May 2010 (UTC)

Assassin or not? >>> Neutrality Question[edit]


"Horn's exploits as an assassin far overshadowed any other accomplishments he made during his lifetime, including during his time as a scout in tracking Apaches in southeastern Arizona Territory, southwestern New Mexico Territory, and into the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in northern Mexico along the Sierra Madre Occidental."

This assertion does not examine the who, why, what, where and when. Was Tom Horn realy an assassin? If so who did he assasinate, where did it happen, was he tried for the murders, how many murders did he committ to overshadow his life story? There are way too many questions raised with this assertion to leave it as a mere "statement of fact." Placing a geographical area where he might have acted as an assassin does not complete any argument that he was in fact a cold killer. His life as a lawman and Pinkerton don't seem to be overshadowed, they have been cited succinctly. This article needs more more information on the overshadowing aspect, please.

I am no Tom Horn authority by any stretch of the imagination, but asserting that he was an assassin without describing the people he killed leaves the information seeker wondering what the author is talking about. I came looking for general information on Horn and I am suddenly confronted with "new" information I have never heard before. The problem being the assertion is unclear. The article talks about situations where he was acquitted of murder and of course he was finally hanged for an alleged murder, are these the reasons his life is over shadowed by the spectre of assasination? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Garandguy (talkcontribs) 16:45, 9 September 2010 (UTC)

Assassin also usually implies political goal. Agree this assertion re: Horn needs specific cited source from a verifiable RS, not some website.Parkwells (talk) 17:59, 4 October 2014 (UTC)


Accrding to the article and its source Horn was born in Etna, Missouri. However, I ran across another source, The Encyclopedia of the Old West that quoted a letter from his aunt stating Tom had actually been born in Ohio and moved to the Etna-Granger area at around age two. Here's a link to it.,+Missouri%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=KJDqUbn9MILu8QTP7YCQCA&ved=0CGAQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=%22Etna%2C%20Missouri%22&f=false

It's not a major deal in the overall article, just thought someone might want to do some more digging to make sure what we have is accurate. I'd "be bold" and do it myself, but I also "be busy" extremis with work on other articles. Ran across the discrep. and thought I'd bring it up. Sector001 (talk) 13:40, 20 July 2013 (UTC)

No "Official" Tom Horn site[edit]

No one owns his memory; no museum is devoted to him. Chip Carlson, a historian who has published on Tom Horn, created the "Tom Horn/Tom Horn Story" websites, and also sells his most recent book there. This is his personal website devoted to Tom Horn.Parkwells (talk) 17:32, 4 October 2014 (UTC)

Questionable sources[edit]

Valid histories have been written about the era, Horn and his trial; these should be used as RS rather than "Thrilling Detective" website or similar. References should satisfy Wiki MOS standards for Reliable Sources and verifiability. Parkwells (talk) 17:32, 4 October 2014 (UTC)

please fix this[edit]

"The story goes that he pinned one of the dead cowboy's ears at [??] the homesteaders as a warning." WilliamSommerwerck (talk) 13:02, 4 April 2015 (UTC)

Assessment comment[edit]

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Tom Horn/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

From Chip Carlson, author and authority on Tom Horn who has done over 15 years of research on Horn: There are a number of outright inaccuracies in the first part of this site. The most glaring is that Horn killed seventeen men while employed as a Pinkerton.

Last edited at 20:21, 20 March 2007 (UTC). Substituted at 08:59, 30 April 2016 (UTC)