Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West
Wild West History Association Dedicated to the history and lore of the American West
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Tom Horn

 

(November 21, 1860 - November 20, 1903)

 

Tom Horn was born in Memphis, Missouri where he learned to hunt and use his rifle. Tom's early life has never been researched thoroughly with writers concentrating on his later career.

 

Most of what is known about Tom's early life comes from his autobiography. Most autobiographies by famous westerners serve the authors interest and must be viewed with caution. Here is a summary of those early exploits:

 

  • 1875 - worked as a stage driver on the Overland Mail Route
  • Herded oxen at Camp Verde, Arizona
  • Quartermaster at Fort Whipple
  • Became an interpreter (Spanish) for Al Sieber
  • Served in various capacities for the army
  • Learned the Apache language and was called "Talking Boy" by the Chiricahuas
  • 1886 - received a commendation during a fight
  • Became chief of scouts under George Crook in his pursuit of Geronimo
  • Served in a few lawmen positions and may have been involved in the Pleasant Valley War
  • In 1890, Tom Horn teamed up with Doc Shores in pursuit of horse thieves. Capturing the criminals without trouble, Doc Shores wrote the Pinkerton Detective agency singing high praise for Tom. The Pinkerton's acquired a new employee.

 

After pursuing train robbers, again, with Doc Shores and capturing two, Horn quit the Pinkertons describing it as too restrictive.

 

For the rest of his career, Tom Horn became the man hunter for which he is best known. Prior to his being hired as a Stock Detective for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Tom did some dirty work during the Johnson County War in Wyoming.

 

Tom Horn was responsible for eliminating people here and there based on the wishes of various cattle barons. The cattle barons constantly accused the smaller ranchers of rustling, which was probably true, but their wandering stock invited this behavior.

 

On July 18, 1901, a boy named Willie Nickell was killed when two bullets slammed into his body. Willie Nickell bled to death.

 

U.S. Deputy Marshal Joe LeFors knew of Tom Horn's other killings. It was this knowledge and as Chip Carlson concludes "was jealous of Tom Horn and other lawmen and LeFors believed he could elevate his own stature above Horn's by extracting that fatal, drunken 'confession'".

 

This "confession" was used against Tom Horn. Tom Horn was tired, convicted and hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming for the killing of Willie Nickell. Tom Horn is probably not a person deserving respect, but one has to admire his proficiency as a man-killer. He was not a gunfighter, but an ambusher. Yet, the six foot two inch tower left his legacy in Old West.

 

Tom Horn is buried in the Old Pioneer Cemetery, which is part of the Columbia Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado.

 

 

Photo by Dave Logan

 

Gravesite Map

 

Information compiled by Steve Grimm

Drawing by Richard Florence

 

Books about Tom Horn

 

Tom Horn - Blood On The Moon by Chip Carlson

 

A new book expected out in the fall of 2001 for the 100th anniversary of Willie Nickell's murder. Take a look at the new book and some rare photos related to Tom Horn at Chip Carlson's Web Site.

 

Tom Horn - Killing Men Is My Specialty by Chip Carlson

 

A well-researched book, which is out-of-print, but probably can still be found. The definitive book on Tom Horn's later career. As cover comments by Dr. Gene M. Gessely from the American Heritage Center state "Chip Carlson knows more about Tom Horn than anyone." You will agree after reading this book and be surprised at the information demonstrating Tom Horn probably did not kill Willie Nickell.

 

Joe LeFors - I Slickered Tom Horn by Chip Carlson

 

A well-researched book, which is out-of-print, but probably can still be found. Based on the original manuscript by Joe LeFors, Chip Carlson presents the life of a fine lawmen whose career was tarnished by the Tom Horn "confession". Additional items showing Tom Horn was probably innocent make this a great read.

 

Life of Tom Horn by Tom Horn

 

One of the first old west books I read. An autobiography which cover his life prior to arrival in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Some of the material has been bashed, but I have not seen any book provide an in depth study on this aspect of Tom Horn's life.

 

Powder River Country, The Papers of J. Elmer Brock edited by Margaret Brock Hanson

 

This book has a number of items on Tom Horn when he was involved in the Johnson County War. Provides superb description of events that involved Horn.

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© Wild West History Association - a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation

http://www.WildWestHistory.org