Tom Horn November 21, 1860- November 20, 1903, Hanged one day before his 43rd birthday in Cheyenne, Wyoming. even to this day there is much speculation that he was hanged for a crime that he didn’t commit. in 1998 a trial was staged in which the evidence used to prosecute Tom Horn was presented and the jury found him not guilty, of course this was 95 years to late to do poor Tom any good.
What renewed my interest in the Tom Horn matter is the fact I recently started reading a book that my wife read some twenty plus years ago and has been laying around the garage for most of that time. i never generated much interest in the book because I thought it was one of those historical romance novels. The author is Anna Lee Waldo, and once I started to read her “Sacajawea” novel. It was well written and well researched, but became tedious after awhile so I abandoned it, as I had read several other on her. The current novel “PRAIRIE” is a historical semi-biography of a Charlie Irwin. And is a well written story of his life and accomplishments. In the story she weaves historical people he is supposed to have met and dealt with and one of the is Tom Horn and some of his escapades in Wyoming. Miss Waldo does a creatable job in portraying Tom Horn At this time. (so ends this side ramble and now back to Tom Horn.)
Tom Horn cram ed a lot into his forty-three years of life. And if he was executed for a killing he did not commit, Like some said at the time he killed plenty more that he was never tried for.
Tom was born in north-east Missouri, in the town of Memphis, at a time when it is said anyone born in Missouri is destined for a bad end. He fled his home at the age of sixteen probably because of a abusive father. He headed to the Wild and Wolly south-west, joining the U. S> Cavalry as a wrangler and scout. During the Apache Wars he became chief of scouts under Generals Crook and Miles. And was instrumental in the final capture of Geronimo. (a fact he seldom failed to mention in his stories of himself)
Later after he left the military service he became involved in the Pleasant Valley Wars in Arizona, between cattlemen and sheepherders. It is not known for certain on which side he was allied. Both sides suffered several killings , and the killers were never identified. (it is known that in later years Tom Horn was always employed by the cattle interest)
For a time he was employed in Colorado as a deputy sheriff. While in this line of work he drew the attention of the Pinkerton decetive agency because of his superior tracking abilities. Hired by the Pinkerton’s in late 1889 or early 1890, he did tracking for them in Colorado and Wyoming. Working out of the Denver office he covered the area around the Rocky Mountains. Considered calm under pressure he tracked anyone assigned to him. One story goes that he rode alone into the hideout of a outlaw gang and arrested a outlaw known as “Peg-Leg” Watson and arrested him with out incident. IN HIS REPORT HORN SAID “I HAD NO TROUBLE WITH HIM.”
This is not to say Tom Horn was shy about using his gun. In four years of Pinkerton employment Horn is reported to have killed seven- teen men, none of which was ever contested in a court of law.
Toms separation from the Pinkerton’s was not due to his use of deadly force, but rather that he was accused of committing a robbery in Nevada, while in the agency’s employment. In a book by a Charlie Siringo’s he quotes “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.” Tom Horn’s tracking abilities and the fact that he was a very talented agent could not hide the fact he ha a dark side that could be easily accessed.
In 1994 under pressure Tom Horn resigned from the Pinkerton’s. During the late 1890’s he hired out as a range detective for a number of wealthy cattle ranchers in Wyoming and Colorado. During the Johnson county War (Which has been covered i this blog several times) he worked for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. IN 1865 a known cattle theft named William Lewis attempted to kill Horn and was killed instead. On September Tom kill Lewis’s partner, Fred Powell.
Operating under the cover of “Range Detective” Tom Horn was actually a killer for hire While working for the Swan Land and Cattle Company , he killed two rustlers, Matt Rash and Isom Dart. While implicated in these murders apparently nothing was ever done about them.
Horn was also involved at this time in the investigation of what was to become known as the Wilcox Train Robbery. Horn had obtained information from a explosive expert Bill Speck (in another source of information Horn threatened to kill Speck if he did not talk. Speck is said to have expressed fear of the gang if he talked. To which Horn replied ‘I am here now and will kill you if you don’t) as to who had killed Sheriff Josiah Hazen, during the purist of the robbers. Speck supposedly named either George Curry or Kid Curry, both members of the Wild Bunch. Horn then passed this information on to Charlie Siringo who was working for the Pinkerton’s. It is felt that Horn was operating as an unofficial Pinkerton at the time.
Horn was receiving $600 for every rustler he killed. He is alleged to have killed around 22 to 24 rustlers during this period alone. Horn once is alleged to have said, “Killing men is my specialty. I look at as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.” It has been said that he rested the head of his victim’s on a rock as a trademark.
He left his chosen profession to serve in the Army during the Spanish American War. Before he could steam from Tampa for Cuba, he came down with Malaria. By the time his health returned the war was over and he returned to Wyoming, where he obtained work as a cowboy for the wealthy cattle baron John Cobe. He entered into a romantic relationship with a local schoolmarm named Glendolene Kimmell.
A rancher named Jim Miller (no relation to Killin Jim Miller) and a sheepherder named Nickell had been feuding over the fact that Nickle was allowing his sheep to graze on Millers land. Words and threats had been exchanged between the two publicly. At one point Millers thirteen year old son and daughter were playing in a wagon when a shotgun blast killed the boy and scared the girl for life. In some way not explained Miller blamed Nickle for the death. three months later on a drizzly morning thirteen year old Willie Nickle left the house wearing his fathers slicker and hat and saddled his fathers horse to ride after some of his fathers hired help on a errand. Dismounting to open the gate he was shot from some distance away, and killed with a large calibre rifle.
Suspicion was immediately laid on the Miller fraction and Tom Horn. No evidence surfaced on either party. And the District Attorney and sheriff were becoming antious to find a killer to pros cute. lawman Joe lafors devised a plan whereby he concealed a court stenographer and a second witness in a nearby room. He began plying Tom Horn with liquor and in a friendly manner began to ask leading questions. eventually leading up to the Nickle murder. Tom denied the actual murder but, in a braggart manner supplied enough circumstantial information. County Prosecutor Walter Stoll used it along with circumstantial evidence that could have placed Horn in the vicinity of the crime as aexcuse to place Tom on trial for the murder.
During the trial the prosecution introduced only certain parts of Horn’s statements to Lefors , greatly distorting what Horn had said. What came out was a vague confession by Horn. Perjured testimony by at least two individuals, one being Lafors himself, was introduced. The additional evidence was just circumstantial that only placed Horn in the general vicinity.
The schoolmarm Glendolene Kimmel, testified on Tom’s behalf at the trial, she stated that he had been set up, and that the fact of the ongoing feud between the miller and Nickle clans should make it clear that someone from the Miller family committed the murder. She also stated that Jim Miller, who she knew quite well, was nervous on the morning of the murder. Other Character witness on Tom’s behalf was in effective also. The Judge who presided was known to be sympathetic to the small ranchers and homesteaders who were generally considered rustlers by the large outfits that employed Tom Horn in the past. The jury of Tom’s peers was also comprised of this same set of small ranchers. Every attempt to suppress tainted evidence and circumstantial was struck down. The Judges instructions to the jury before deliberation left little choice to the verdict they were to bring in. The verdict was guilty and a sentience of death by hanging was set for November 20, 1903.
All attempts for appeal or stay were denied. Tom spent his time waiting for execution braiding horse hair ropes and bridles for friends. A attempt of excape was tried by Tom and a second prisoner. Both were quickly apprehended. Tom had grabbed a Belgin automatic pistol (also identified as a German Luger), but could not figure out the safety on it. A photo exist of him being escorted back to jail surrounded by a large group of excited onlookers some pushing bicycles.
Petition of over one thousand signatures asking for clemency or a stay of execution was presented to Governor Fenimore Chatterton, just hours before the execution. The capitol building was under heavy guard, supposedly the governor had received death threats. After a quick glance at the petition Chatterton replied, “PersonallyI do not believe in capital punishment. You may tell your fellow cattlemen that a proper hearing has been given Mr. Horn and the recommendations of the jury must be taken under the law. Good-day, gentlemen,”
Deputy Proctor stepped on to the gallows platform and in a loud voice pointed out that the gallows had been designed by Cheyenne architect, James P. Julian. Tom Horn Had the distinction of being one of the few, and first to be hung by a automated process. the trap door was connected to a lever which pulled a plug from a barrel of water. this would cause a counterweight to rise, pulling the support beam from under the trap and hanging the condemned man. It is said that Tom Horn wove the rope he was that pulled the plug from the barrel, while in jail awaiting his execution.
After the annoucment about the gallows Deputy Proctor paused then looked look at the door leading to the cells and said “Alright we are ready now.”
Tom walked out seeming to tower over those on the platform. He was over six feet tall. Brushing cigarette ashes of his vest he looked around and said to Ed Smalley “What a scared-looking lot of lawmen. What’s making them shiver? Is it cold this twentieth November 1903, or is it fright for what they are to see?”
The straps were tightened around tom’s legs and he nearly lost his balance. :Seems to me you birds might steady me. I might tip over.” Sheriff Smally and Joe Cahill steadied him as the rest of straps were tightened.
Proctor placed the hood over tom’s head and placed the noose with thirteen wraps around his neck. and asked Are You ready?” With out hesitation Tom replied “Yes.”
Cahill and Proctor lifted Tom onto the trap. Nothing could be heard but the hiss of the escaping water Suddenly the door split in half and Tom’s body plunged down, after a few spasmodic jerks his body hung limp in the frigid Wyoming ait.
Later Thompson of the Wyoming State Tribune would break the tension saying, “He was hanged at eleven-o-four, thirty-one seconds since he was on that damn door. He’s fallen nearly four feet.” Later Proctor explained that with Tom being over six feet, and weighing over two-hundred pounds that a longer drop would have had the danger of snapping his head of the neck like Black_Jack Ketchem.
So still to-day there is much controversy over whether Tom Horn was guilty of the Nicklle killing. Many said it did not really matter as he was know to have kille many more than that. There is no way to know how many men Horn killed in his Killer-For-Hire days, but it is commonly believed to be in the neighborhood of 25 to 30. Add that to the known 17 conformed killings while in the Pinkerton service and we have a total of between 42 and 47. So where does this place Tom Horn on the list of “OLD WEST KILLERS” ? If not on the top very near. More than Killin Jim Miller and at least equal to John Westley Hardin.
Once again there are many good sites on the web about Tom Horn, one that even explores the psychological impact his childhood had on his development.
At least two films have been made about his last years. “Mr. Horn” a 1979 made for T-V starring David Carradine (which I probably saw, but do not remember.) And “Tom Horn” ,starring Steve McQueen ,1980, The McQueen film was not very accurate but was pretty well received by the unassuming public. The most memorable event for me was at a dinner by Senator Warren, one of the cattle barons, Tom is at the buffet with Richard Farnsworth and he picks up a boiled Lobster and declares “I ain’t gonna eat no big bug.”
Well for once I ain’t got no ramble, the story tells it’sself.