(May 4, 1887 - July 18, 1901)
Willie Nickell is the young boy killed during a cattleman-sheepman feud in Wyoming. During this time the famous man-hunter, Tom Horn, lived in a cabin south of the scene. Because of Horn's reputation, Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors suspected Tom Horn. During a drunken palaver, LeFors manuvered and induced incriminating remarks from Horn. It was these remarks witnessed by a deputy sheriff which would convict Horn and he was hanged on November 20, 1903, for the killing of Willie Nickell. Chip Carlson in his book Tom Horn: Killing Men is My Specialy describes the killing:
Early on the morning of Thursday, July 18, 1901, Willie Nickell's killer--or killers--lay in ambush outside the barbed wire gate at the west perimeter of the Nickell homestead. They were hidden behind a pile of granite rocks 35 yards northwest of the gate on the road to the Iron Mountain depot, nine miles to the south. The weather had been hot and dry all month, causing concern among the ranchers, but it had rained the previous day. A cooling, upslope breeze from the southeast produced ground fog.
Just before seven, the boy approached the gate from the east, riding his father's big bay horse. Dismounting, he unhooked the gate loop, and led his mount through. He was headed out on an errand to find a sheepherder to replace John Scroder, his father's hired hand. Scroder had decided to quit two days before after hearing a prowler snooping around his wagon the previous night.
As Willie turned to close the gate, two shots hit him in the back. Fatal as they were, the teenager stumbled 60 feet toward home before crashing face-down on the gravel. Within earshot, less than a quarter of a mile away, his father Kels, his uncle William Mahoney, and John Apperson were surveying. They noted the gunfire, but paid little attention.
Willie lay face-down on the broken granite. Then the assassin or assassins rolled him over and discovered Willie had been killed by mistake. He--or they--pulled open the boy's shirt to inspect the exit wounds. When his body was found, his head lay on a flat rock seemingly placed there to support it.
So did Tom Horn kill Willie Nickell? Probably not. Kels Nickell, Willie's father, was a hot-head who had bad confrontations with a number of ranchers in the area. Kels, also, brought a number of sheep to the area. In the old west cattlemen did not like sheep nearby. This bad blood resulted in Willie being killed by mistake since he was riding his father's horse on a rainy day. The evidence for Tom Horn's innocence was first revealed by Chip Carlson in 1991. The documentation is compelling and presented with clarity in Carlson's books (see listing below).
Willie Nickell is buried in the Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne, WY.
Information compiled by Steve Grimm
Books about Willie Nickell
Tom Horn - Blood On The Moon by Chip Carlson
A new book expected out in July 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.