Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Hanging of Tom Horn, 1903


Since many of you have asked for my research on Tom Horn, here it is. So now, put a pot of coffee on and find yourself a place where the children can't hear you cussing me out.

I'll start by saying that America's Western Frontier was officially declared closed by the United States Government in 1890. There are some Old West Historians who argue that the Old West, the nation’s "final" frontier where law and order was often a home-spun enterprise, died when Tom Horn was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming on November 20th, 1903.

Tom Horn was sentenced to death for the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy. Some Tom Horn fans have written to say, "Well the boy was big for his age!" I guess dry gulching a big kid makes a premeditated murder, an ambush, is OK somehow. Well, it doesn't.

At the time, Horn was working as a paid assassin for the local cattle-barons who were the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA). Since those cattle-barons were applying vicious force on the newcomers in order to control the land against against sheep hearders and homesteaders, they declared many of them "rustlers" whether they really were or not. To enforce their will of driving them out, there are those who say that Horn was paid $600 for every kill.

It's said that Horn's gun was for hire and he gave his cattle-baron employers full measure of what they paid for. According to myth, rancher John Coble who was a member of the WSGA had supposedly told Horn that his activities in connection to the WSGA would be disavowed by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association if he were caught. Myth says that Horn took their secrets with him to his grave. But frankly, that myth is false since it was very well known in 1903 that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association paid for his entire defense team later when he stood trial.

While myths like that are setup to show how Horn was sold-out, it was well known among everyone there who was paying him at the time. And later when he was on trial for killing that kid, it wasn't some sort of secret who was paying for his defense. So frankly, that lie just doesn't hold water.

As for his supposedly adoring young schoolteacher ladyfriend, Glendolene Myrtle Kimmel, she described him, "He was a man who embodied the characteristics, the experiences and code of the old frontiersmen." She added to the myth even though she had nothing to do with him and was actually involved with someone else. So much for Hollywood!

Horn was born near Memphis, Missouri, on November 21, 1860. His father was a prosperous farmer, so he came from a wealthy family.  In the late 1870s, he and his older brother, Charles, ran their father’s livery stable in Burrton, Kansas.

When he was 17 or already 18 years old, he left home to strike out on his own. While he went from job to job working their way West, he worked on the railroad in Kansas, then joined a team of freighters heading to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He always kept in contact with his family and when times became too difficult for him, it's said that he would wire his father for funds.

In Santa Fe, he found a job driving a stage for the Overland Mail from Santa Fe to Prescott, Arizona. It was during that time that he had first contact with the Apache near Camp Verde. He was fired from driving the stage and soon found himself working as a stock tender and then cowhand. The extent of Horn's experiences in the West was like many others in that he floated from job to job.

He was known for having the job of being a stagecoach driver and cowhand, but that was not out of the ordinary for someone to do for work in those days. And frankly, that's especially true for someone who had a hard time keeping a job. In Horn's case, he started getting a reputation of not being able to keep his mouth shut and do his job. It wasn't too long later that even Chief Geronimo made note of his talking so much.

An Army Scout

Horn claimed to be an Army Scout and interpreter. He also claim of be one of the men involved in with capturing the Apache Chief Nana. Fact is, Horn was quite the talker and was well known for his tall tales. One in particular which grew legs later was his claim that he was responsible for persuading Chief Geronimo into surrendering.

Before becoming a hired killer who would boast "my stock in trade is killing," he was a Scout for a time. According to Horn, at 18 years of age, he was employed by the Army's Quartermaster's department to herd horses for the Army at Fort Whipple. According to Horn, that's where he met the famous Indian Scout Al Sieber who immediately hired him as a Scout. According to him, he joined Sieber as an interpreter at San Carlos for $75 a month.

According to Horn, it was there that he also met Mickey Free, the celebrated one-eyed Apache-Mexican Scout who he said became a close friend. Later, Sieber appointed Horn as a liaison Scout between the Apache and the Army at San Carlos and Fort Apache. It was during that time that he supposedly met and helped capture Apache Chief Geronimo.

Just for the record, I see Tom Horn as much a psychopathic killer as John Wesley Hardin was. And while I do not put any credence in the word of a psychopath, I put no credence in Hardin's biography the same as I put no credence in Horn's biography. It always amazes me when historians observe anything coming from the likes of killers like Horn or Hardin. Since they have absolutely no compunction to lying, cheating, or killing the unsuspected or the innocent for a dollar, why would anyone believe anything they have to say?

When he left the Army after less than a year, it's said he could speak was what was termed "border Spanish." No, he was never "fluent" in Spanish. And frankly, he was never fluent enough in the type of Spanish which he Apache spoke to talk to Geronimo in a conversation.

Besides, the problem with Horn's statements is that it doesn't coincide with records. For example, records show that Horn did not arrive in Arizona Territory until 1881. Army quartermaster records indicate Horn was first employed in September 1881 as a teamster at Whipple Barracks, near Prescott. He soon moved on to the pack train service and remained there until 1885, when the Army began using him as a scout. Point is, no, he was never an Apache interpreter.

Horn loved to tell tall tales and told folks that Geronimo himself insisted that only Horn serve as his interpreter.

While Horn was present in the final pursuit of Geronimo in the summer of 1886, he was never Geronimo’s interpreter. This is especially true for the formal surrender in Arizona in September 1886. Horn was part of the unit that escorted Geronimo to the train at Bowie Station that transported the captives into exile in Florida, but he was one among many others.

When a Indian Bureau scandal shook Washington that year, all civilians were banned from the Indian agencies and the Army scouts lost their jobs.

According to Horn's autobiography, and yes it is a piece of work that should be taken with a lot of salt considering it was widely known that Horn enjoyed telling some real whoppers, Horn said that he and Sieber joined Ed Scheflin and watched the birth of Tombstone. Horn said that while Sieber worked a claim they had staked out, Horn supplied the camps with venison at $2.80 a deer.

Horn said that in October they were recalled to Fort Whipple to join the Sixth Cavalry as scouts. After he and Sieber helped to bring in Geronimo for the first time, they were again fired in the spring of 1879 when federal appropriations ran out.

For a year, Horn worked for Tuly, Oches & Company in Tucson, supplying beef for the Apache at San Carlos. And yes, once again civilians were issuing the rations and corruption was rampant. As Horn recalled, one agent when arrested could not account for $54,000 in food and clothing he had received between six and eight months at San Carlos. but frankly, no one has verified this to be true.

When the Apache war had begun, Horn said that he first served under Colonel Forsyth, hero of Beecher's Island battle, then as a scout when Captain Adam R. Chaffee's troopers of the Third and Sixth Cavalry met the Apache at Chevelon's Fork on the Little Colorado River. The Apache had lost a number of warriors and withdrew to be pursued by Chaffee until they agreed to return to the agency.

In the summer of 1886, Geronimo led a large number of warriors into Mexico. General George Crook ordered Captain Emmett Crawford, one of the finest young officers in the Indian Fighting Army, to track down the wily chief -- Horn, as chief scout, accompanied the expedition.

Under a new treaty allowing American troops to move into Mexico to seek out runaway Apache bands, the tiny army crossed the border and continued on into the Sierra Madre. On the Aros River, Horn and his scouts found the Apache chief's camp. While they engaged the hostiles, they were attacked by Mexican irregulars and Crawford was killed.

It's said that it was his time as a scout with the U.S. Cavalry where he perfected his skills with firearms and tracking. For many years, especially after Horn had been executed for killing a child, the US Army refused to credit him for the part he had played during the Apache campaign. They had no desire to give credit to a child killer.

After Horn's autobiography was published, an autobiography which was finished a short time before he died on the gallows, Army officers contemptuously dismissed him as a braggart. In the section of his autobiography that describes the Apache wars, Horn is said to brag about his bravery and courage. Of course, if he was truly brave or courageous, why would he later become a killer for hire whose specialty was killing at a distance with a rifle?

By 1887, Tom Horn was out of the Army and a participant in in the Arizona Territory’s Pleasant Valley War, a feud between the Grahams and the Tewksburys that began in 1882 and lasted over ten years.

Just three weeks after the Pleasant Valley War began, 1890, Horn was in the employ of the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a tracker tasked with tracking and finding various suspected lawbreakers. In reality, Pinkerton didn't use his services but a few times. As for a bit of trivia pertaining to his working with the Pinkertons, while he did help catch the outlaws who held up a train in Cotopaxi, Colorado, in August 1891 Horn was arrested for robbing a casino in Reno, Nevada.

According to sources, two trials and the political influence of the Pinkerton agency helped to keep him out of jail. It's believed that the Pinkertons lied to keep him out of jail to stop having such a scandal involving one of their employees harm their company. They did that by asserted that outlaw Frank Shercliffe was the man who robbed the casino and not Horn. It's said the people in Reno knew better.

In May of 1892, Horn was sent to Johnson County, Wyoming, by the Pinkertons in the aftermath of what became known as the "Johnson County War." He left the Pinkertons while in Wyoming to work for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

Horn's biography reads: "While Pinkerton's is one of the greatest institutions of the kind in existence, I never did like the work, so I left them in 1894. I then came to Wyoming and went to work for the Swan Land and Cattle Company."

A Hired Gun

Horn became one of many hired guns who stayed in Wyoming after the Johnson County War. They hired out to the large cattle owners. While some say Horn was a cowboy, that may have only been his job title as he hired out his gun to ranchers in the area. In fact, I read where Horn had completely disdain for cowboys and others who worked hard for a living.

When Horn was hired by the Swan Land and Cattle Company, he was fired on at their Two Bar Ranch. The Swan’s headquarters was in Chugwater which is about 35 miles north of Cheyenne. The Swan Land and Cattle Company owned a number of ranches. Their Two Bar Ranch was 20 miles northwest of the Swan headquarters in Chugwater. That was in 1893.

By 1894, when he was finally fired from Pinkerton, Horn had been in Wyoming and the Brown’s Park area for a couple of years by then  By then he had already been working for the big cattle interests with other gunman as a "cowboy" while doing a little work for the Pinkertons.

Some say he drifted between Arizona and Wyoming when weather conditions and the pay were suitable. Some say he even worked in Utah. During the period following Wyoming's Johnson County War, more people became aware that most of the cattle-barons were from the East or foreigners from Europe. In many cases the cattle-barons were big Eastern corporations. Those working for those corporation are said to have become tired of seeing settlers and sheep move in to homestead and claim public lands that the cattlemen saw as their own.

As for small ranchers, the big ranchers labeled them "rustlers" as well. Then again, to the big cattlemen at the time, whether they were homesteaders, young cowmen striking it out on their own and started ranches, settlers, or sheep-men or thieves, that didn't matter. To them, they were all "rustlers."  And their solution, well that was to hire men willing to commit murder for them.

Hollywood depicts Tom Horn was one of a kind, but in reality Horn was one of many so-called "Cattle Detectives" or "Stock Detectives." Fact is even fired and disgraced Texas Ranger Bass Outlaw was a "Stock Detective" before murdering another Texas Ranger.


Most hired guns working as Stock Detectives captured rustlers and brought them in to face the law, Horn was different in that he was a bushwhacker in that he shot those he suspected of being rustlers. He shot his victims from a distance. He was known to leave his victims dead on their land or on their doorstep where he shot them. His specialty was killing from a distance in hiding, and definitely not face to face or in public.

Of course, helped along by his own stories which he gladly bragged about in saloons, Tom Horn became Wyoming’s boogieman to many at the time. In fact, it’s said, “people feared the sight of a solitary man on horseback outlined on a ridge-line or sitting beside a campfire,” those he killed never saw him.

Bounties on the heads of sheep ranchers, settlers, and cattle rustlers usually paid anywhere from $300 to $600 a man. That was big money during a time when a working cowboy made $30 a month. Horn was known to collect and satisfy his employers. And yes, in the eyes of the cattle barons, the term "rustlers" did not always mean cattle thieves. Some were homesteaders who refused to leave. Some had staked out water as part of their claim and were stubbornly willing to fight it out.

Horn stalked them until there would be a solitary shot and his victims would be found by their children, wife, or friends. Some historians have said Horn placed a small stone under his victim's head as his trademark, but this appears to me to be a legend of sorts.

Horn supposedly worked for some of the wealthiest and most powerful cattlemen in the West including in Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming. He would roam the countryside prowling the valleys and isolated canyons, searching for signs that a rustler had used a running iron to change a brand, or a fence was cut, or cattle had been moved.

While killing mostly unarmed men and scaring others was lucrative, Horn had become a drifter on the high plains. He moved from spread to spread and had only transient friends and saloon admirers who crowded around him to hear his boasting and tall tales while accept his drinks that he bought with his blood money.

Brown’s Hole Valley straddles Colorado and Utah. The area was once the land of the Comanche, Shoshoni, the Ute, the Blackfoot, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Navaho. It was a favorite spot for fur trappers and later during the California Gold Rush, the valley was used as a wintering ground for cattle.

In the 1860’s, the valley had become known as a haven for outlaws running from the law. But mostly it was a place for cattle rustlers and horse thieves. It was right up there with the famous Hole-In-The-Wall in Wyoming and the Robbers Roost in Utah as far as being a place for outlaws.

I remember being told that there was a “Brown’s Hole Outlaw Ethic.” Yes, believe it or not, when I visited the area, I was told the Brown’s Hole Outlaw Ethic allowed most criminal acts but not murder. And among those who frequented the area was Robert Leroy Parker, who is said to have gotten his famous nickname “Butch Cassidy” when he was working for a local rancher there.

While in Brown's Hole, Horn was hired to kill Isom Dart and Matt Rash. Both ranchers were suspected of being rustlers by the cattle barons that hired Horn. He killed them in the early summer and fall of the year 1900.

Matt Rash arrived in Colorado’s Brown’s Park in the early 1890s wanting to start his own ranch. Rash had a running confrontation with cattle-baron Ora Haley who was trying to drive out newcomers and grab their land. Haley was control of pastureland and he was frustration to obtain control had run its course. Haley hired gunman Tom Horn to eliminate Rash and other small ranchers.

Matt Rash found one of Horn's famous notes tacked to his door. It was a warning to him to leave the country or else. Matt thought it was big talk, a bluff, all bluster, and decided stick it out.

On the morning of July 8th, 1900, he was shot twice as he ate breakfast. It’s said that he had just enough life left in him to crawl to his bed, remove one of his boots, and attempt to leave a note scrawled in his own blood. It should be noted that Matt Rash was the fiancĂ© of cattle Queen Ann Bassett. It’s said she spent a decade seeking revenge on Haley for the murder of Rash. She ended up driving Haley out.

Isom Dart, a sometimes partner of Rash, was born a slave in Arkansas in 1849. He was freed after the Civil and went by the name Ned Huddleston. Huddleston being the name of his owner. He was also known as the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy.” While a known outlaw and rustler, there are stories about how while in southern Texas, he was considered a master horseman. Huddleston left Texas one step ahead of a rope as he and a Mexican bandit were known for stealing horses in that area.

Joining a cattle drive heading north to Brown’s Hole in the Colorado Wyoming around 1871, he became part of a notorious band of rustlers known as the Tip Gualt Gang of southeastern Wyoming. But after escaping being shot by those who didn’t want their cattle stolen, he decided to go straight. It was then that changed his name to Isom Dart, settling down in Brown’s Hole around 1890 where he established his own ranch while also making a living as a bronc buster.

He was known as one of the great riders, ropers, and bronco-busters back in the day. And while he was trying to go straight, local cattlemen suspected that he built his herd from cattle that he’d rustled from their ranches. Of course, others in the area didn’t agree. They saw Dart as a good-hearted hard working extremely talented horseman. In fact, from what I've read, he was considered a top bronc stomper in that area.

Dart received his note from Horn on September 26th, 1900. Horn ambushed and killed Isom Dart on October 3rd, 1900. It was at dawn on a cold morning that Isom Dart died of a single gunshot wound to the head as he stepped out of his cabin heading towards the corral.

Keep in mind that during that time, cattle-barons were trying to squeeze out the small ranchers. As I’ve said before, in many cases, they would accuse someone of being a “rustler” when in fact they weren’t. This could be why public opinion was divided over Isom Dart's guilt. While there were some who believed that he returned to his outlaw ways, some Brown's Hole residents actually mourned his death. Many at the time saw Dart as being killed by cattlemen who just wanted his land and cattle.
Horn lived with cattleman John Coble north of Laramie, Wyoming, since about 1894. John Coble was the son of a wealthy Pennsylvania family. He was in fact an Easterner who had gone West rather than accept an appointment to the United States Naval Academy. Coble is said to have been like most Easterners who romanticized about the West after reading Dime Novels. He believed the myth and accepted the fraud as fact.

John Coble had established the Frontier Land & Cattle Company with the backing of Irish nobleman Sir Horace Plunkett. When the ranch was wiped out in the horrible winter of the Great Die Out of 1886-1887, Plunkett returned to Ireland and a political career while Coble moved to Iron Mountain, Wyoming. It's said that Coble established the Iron Mountain Cattle Company. But in reality, Wyoming Industrialist Frank Bosler formed the Iron Mountain Ranch Company and hired John Coble to manage the operations there. Coble was in essence a ranch manager.

It's said John Coble had a sort of hero worship of Tom Horn. Coble is said to have viewed Horn as a link to the days of the frontier. Remember, these were the days of Wild West Shows and the romantic notions of the West. A lot of people were making a lot of money romanticizing about the West that was never as they portrayed it. Coble bought into the Dime Novel / Wild West Show notion of the glamorous West. Yes, hook line and sinker!

Horn is said to have accommodated Coble by playing the role of the intrepid Indian fighter while entertaining Coble and his guests at the Cheyenne Club with all sorts of tales which he'd perfected telling in saloons. Horn was the "Forest Gump" of his time as he told tales supposedly placing him at just about every historic event in the Old West in the 1800s.

Yes, according to Horn, he moved the herds up the Chisholm Trail, stalked the Apache, captured Geronimo, settled Tombstone, and tamed the West almost all by himself before breakfast.

While living with Coble, Horn began to search out "rustlers" and others of annoyance to Coble. This was the reason Horn met Jim Miller who was another rancher, and the strange little schoolteacher who was visiting with the Miller family.

She was a guest of Jim Millers’ ranch and is said to have been a round-faced girl who some thought was Chinese because she reportedly looked Asian. She supposedly had a deep desire to see the Wild West with its gallant frontiersmen about whom she had read so much about. By her own statement in the supplementary articles to Horn’s autobiography, she had come West because she was "strongly attracted by the frontier type."

She described Horn as, "a man who embodied the characteristics, the experiences and code of the old frontiersmen." The "legendary" Tom Horn fulfilled her dreams with all sorts of tales. As she later wrote, "he was the true embodiment of the romantic man of the West, tall, lean, hawk-eyed with an air of danger about him." Yes, she added to the myth.

It's said that she was good for Horn's ego and bankroll. He loved the adoration and hero worship. Horn was living with John Coble. John Coble was a friend with Jim Miller who along with Coble was also feuding with Kels Nickell. Some believe that Coble and Miller got Horn to send Kels Nickell a message by later killing his son Willie.
As with other places in the West, feuds over land had been going on in an out of court for a long time. When Nickell brought in sheep, the cattle country rose against him. But that didn't matter to the fiercely stubborn Kentuckian Kels P. Nickell who defied his neighbors and stood guard over his flock armed with a shotgun.
Child-Killer

On the very early morning of July 18th, Kels Nickell's 14-year-old son Willie went out to saddle up and stay overnight with his father at their sheep camp. His mother waved good-bye and went back into the house. Shortly after two shots rang out. Later, his mother would said that she didn't hear the shots. This has lead many to speculation that the shot must have been fired from a distance.

Later that morning, the two younger Nickell boys found the body of their brother near the corral gate dead on the ground facing their home. Apparently, he had been knocked to the ground with one shot. Then as he weakly tried to crawl toward home, he was shot a second time.

Yes, it's true that Horn had a real aversion to killing people in public. During his life he may have shot and killed at least four men that can be confirmed. So yes, the story that he killed as many as 15 to 20 is all just myth most likely made up by Horn himself. As with others who were hired to do such things, a great reputation served them well.

It is interesting to note that Horn's contemporaries never regarded him as a "gun man" or a "man killer" or a "shootist." Because of his reputation of shooting his victims from ambush, he was considered a "bushwhacker" and “dry-gulcher.”

Horn liked to brag about his marksmanship prowess, but realistically it’s believed that his shots were always less than 100 yards. Some say 50 or 60 yards was his style of dry-gulching folks.

The distance of his rifle shots must not have been very far because he was known to walk over to his victim's body to examine the body. He was also known to rob the dead when he checked his kill. It was very well known to most that Horn shot his victims from fairly close hiding positions.

While some say Willie was shot from atop a horse, others believe Kels Nickell’s 14-year-old son Willie was shot as he was closing a corral gate at his father's ranch while on the ground.

It is believed that the boy was slammed to the ground by the first shot. Some believe that he may have tried to get up and run but staggered or crawled anywhere from 60 to 75 yards up towards his home before Horn shot him again. Willie Nickell died of two gunshot wounds to the torso. One round is said to have severed the boy's spine.

Some say he had just been riding a big bay horse. Some have tried to excuse Horn for killing the boy by saying that Willie was "big for his age," that he was wearing his father's hat and coat, and that he was "riding his father’s big bay horse." Yes, as if any of that excuses premeditated murder.

When Willie's body was found, he had been rolled over on his back and his shirt opened so whoever killed the boy inspected the exit wounds. Willie’s head was found to be lying upon a flat rock and his clothes had been gone through as if checked for money.

Settlers who knew of Horn's method of doing things, and his reputation helped name him as the boy’s killer. Horn produced an alibi saying that he was on a train between Laramie and Cheyenne on the day Willie was killed. But then again, no one could confirm that he was actually on that train.

Later at Horn’s trial two physicians with military experience testified about the wounds. One said the wounds were from soft-nosed .30-30 rounds, the other said they were inflicted by .45-90 rounds.

Jim Miller’s son Victor was also a suspect but Glendolene Kimmell, the schoolteacher, testified at a Coroner's Inquest that he was at home with her when the shooting took place. It was also believed that Victor Miller and Glendolene Kimmell were romantically involved.

Glendolene Kimmell’s own statement in supplementary articles to Horn’s autobiography stated that she went West because she was "strongly attracted by the frontier type." The "legendary" Tom Horn fulfilled her dreams with all sorts of tales, as she later wrote, "he was the true embodiment of the romantic man of the West, tall, lean, hawk-eyed with an air of danger about him."

So, though she had fantasized about Horn the “lean frontiersman,” she had nothing to do with him romantically and was actually involved with Victor Miller.

Since John Coble was a friend with Jim Miller, who was also feuding with Kels Nickell, talk started to go around that Horn sent Nickell a message for Coble and Miller by killing Kels Nickell’s son for them.

The killing of a boy set the people on fire. Soon the county offered a reward of $500 and reward posters appeared, then state of Wyoming matched the county's reward offer with an additional $500 and reward posters appeared on fence posts and telegraph poles.

Willie's father is also shot!

A few days after his son Willie was shot, his father got into a fight with Coble and his ranch foreman George Cross at the Western edge of Nickell’s homestead over some cattle. That was on July 23rd, 1901. During the two on one fight, Kels Nickell is said to have actually knifed John Coble. While the wound was not considered serious or life threatening. it was enough for Coble to try to have Kels Nickell killed again.

On August 4th, 1901, almost a month after his son was murdered, Kels Nickell was shot and wounded from ambush. The would-be killer’s bullet shattered Nickell’s arm. Riders passing nearby are said to have scared away the assassin. And later as he lay in the hospital, Kels Nickell learned that a number of masked men had clubbed most of his sheep to death.

Some say that Coble sent Kels Nickell a message by having Horn kill the Nickell’s boy. When that message didn’t work, it’s believed Coble had Horn ambush Kels Nickell. It was only after that ambush that Nickell moved on. Tom Horn took credit for the shooting and forcing the sheepherder to move on.

Remember, he was quite the bragger. Besides, he certainly could have done it because Horn was still free to do so. Remember, when Kels Nickell was shot in August, Horn had not been arrested yet. He was not arrested for killing the Nickell's boy until the following year.

Joe LeFors' Investigation

While we think that the interest in the killing of a boy would not die away, believe it or not, it's said that the interest in the murder of Willie Nickell gradually died away. And frankly, while Hollywood has not been very favorable to him, if it weren't for Joe LeFors the murder of Willie Nickell would have been forgotten.

While Hollywood like to depict LeFors to be a corrupt cop bought off by the cattle-barons, that wasn't the case with Joe Lefors. Besides, why would the cattle-barons pay LeFors to frame Horn while also paying for the best defense team that money can buy to get Horn off later? They wouldn’t. And yes, that’s where the myth falls apart as well.

Fact is Joe LeFors, who was the Deputy United States Marshal in Cheyenne. He didn't let the murder of a young boy go without attention. It is said that he doggedly continued to investigate the boy's murder even after some told him that he would be putting his own life in danger by doing so.

After he had interviewed the Millers, while in Denver on a shopping spree, Miss Kimmell wrote a long letter to Horn to warn him that LeFors was asking questions about him. Some believe this was an attempt to get Horn to leave the area. Instead, Horn ignored the letter and continued to make his nightly tour of the saloons.

Horn who had not been in Cheyenne for years discovered the city was no longer a large cow camp where a cowboy with money was king. The night was lighted with electric signs, the wooden sidewalks were gone along with the old-fashioned stores and their false fronts. It was a modern city.

To the supposedly adoring Miss Kimmell, Tom Horn in his cowboy boots and sombrero, was a living legend. Of course, to some of the people the city of Cheyenne, Horn was see as a living anachronism. Yes, seen as something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time period -- something or person that belongs to an earlier time.

It's said that when Horn was sober, he was a talker who held the attention of a crowd with endless of how he won the West. But when drunk, he would try to intimidate and bully smaller men. It surprised me to find out that since Horn was 6’1” and weighed in at 200 plus pounds that he couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag. While he was very capable of being very violent with a gun, he was no brawler.

Drunk or sober, Tom Horn liked the sound of his own voice and talked a great deal to prove it. Of course, if you listened well, you'd soon find that Horn placed himself at every historic event in the West even if they took place before he was born. But for many at the time, Horn's reputation, whether inflated or not, was a link to the frontier that was fast becoming a romantic memory.

It's said that when Horn walked into a saloon, he was quickly joined by admirers who were always ready to buy him drinks and listen to tales of his supposed bravery and courage. It is known that on a few occasions Horn let his mouth write checks that his ass couldn't cash and did in fact get the stuffing knocked out of him. Yes, at over 6 foot 1 inch tall and over 200 pounds, it’s said Tom Horn couldn’t punch his way out of a paper bag and was not a very good brawler.

One brawl where he had his head handed to him place in the first week of October in 1901. After that Denver Colorado bar brawl, the outcome wasn't one that Horn wanted to brag about. He actually got his jaw broken and was laid up for nearly twenty days in a St. Luke’s Hospital.

No, the fight wasn't with the legendary boxing champion Jim Corbett as the Horn myth likes to state. Fact is, he never met the legendary boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett.

The Investigation Continued

Deputy U.S. Marshal Joseph S. LeFors, in his autobiography, states he was first introduced to Tom Horn by City of Cheyenne Police Chief Sandy McMcNeil in Frank Meanea’s Saddle Shop. Horn was buying a scabbard for his Winchester and he and LeFors talked about guns. 

Later, LeFors was in Laramie gathering information regarding the day of the Nickell's murder when Horn had arrived in Laramie on horse is said to have had obviously been ridden hard. LeFors found out that Horn had left a bloodstained article of clothing at a cobbler's shop and went to check it out.
The Horn Arrest Myth
Myth says that Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors entrapped a drunk Tom Horn into confessing for the killing of Willie Nickell. Supposedly, LeFors lured Horn to his office on the pretext of needing to talk to him about a supposed rancher-friend in Montana who wanted a good Stock Detective.

Myth says that LeFors found Horn drinking heavily in a boasting mood in a local saloon. LeFors supposedly got Horn to continue his boasting at his office. Supposedly it was there that a nervous friend of LeFors was in a closet writing down as much as he could, "the best he could," of what a very drunk Tom Horn had said. It was then that LeFors got Horn to confess about killing Willie Nickell.

The myth says that between drinks, Horn said how he had been paid "twenty-one hundred dollars for killing three men and shooting five times at another." He supposedly also told LeFors how he shot the Nickell boy at "three hundred yards" and called it "the dirtiest trick I have ever done ... killing is my specialty ... I look on it as a business ..."

The Myth Is Not True

Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors was someone who knew that if he could get a suspect to start talking, that they would usually bury themselves. He figured this was especially true in the case of Tom Horn who liked to talk about himself.

LeFors actually scheduled an interview with Horn at his office at 11am. Before Horn arrived, LeFors positioned Deputy Sheriff Leslie Snow and District Court Stenographer Charles Ohnhatus in an adjoining room to stand witness, overhear and record the interview. Charles Ohnhatus was not some amateur at taking statement, he actually recorded everything Horn told LeFors just as if Horn were sitting on a witness stand in court. In actuality, when recording what Horn had to say at LeFors' office, Ohnhatus was closer to Horn than he would have been in court.

All LeFors had to do was let Horn, the man who Geronimo called "Talking Boy," talk all he wanted. And according to records, he talked for hours.

It should be noted that according to court records, Deputy U.S. Marshal LeFors acknowledged in direct examination from Walter Stoll that his conversation with Tom Horn took place in the morning. It started around 11 o’clock. LeFors also stated in his sworn testimony that his interview with Horn continued for hours and ended in the early afternoon.

He also swore that Horn’s had not been drinking before the interview. In fact, Deputy U.S. Marshal LeFors, Deputy Sheriff Leslie Snow, and District Court Stenographer Charles Ohnhatus, all testified during direct examination that Tom Horn was "sober and rational" during the interview regarding his investigation of the killing of Willie Nickell.

The Arrest

After Horn left, Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors swore out a warrant for murder. Tom Horn was arrested in the lobby of the Inter-Ocean Hotel.

His arrest was without incident on January 13th, 1902. County Sheriff Edward J. Smalley, Deputy R. A. Proctor, and Chief of Police Sandy McNeil were the arresting officers. Federal Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors is said to have supervised the arrest. Some say from a distance, while others say he stood next to Police Chief McNeil at the time of the arrest.

Horn's Model 1894 Winchester, serial #82,667 in .30 WCF, was taken from him at his arrest the next day. It had been shipped from the Winchester factory on the 19th of June 1900. Some speculate John Coble bought it as a gift for Horn.

The Trial

Horn's trial started on October 10th, 1902. It was one of the most sensational of its time. Those there knew that the killer on trial was not as important as the underlined issue of the wealthy cattlemen's war against small mostly penniless homesteaders and sheepherders. Most all knew it was about big money and power and greed, and those who hired Horn to kill for them.

There is a myth that says the Wyoming Stock Growers Association wanted to distance itself from Tom Horn. But if that were true, then why would the Wyoming Stock Growers Association pay over $1,000 to each member of Horn's defense team? As since Horn’s legal team was said to be the best that big cattle money could buy, and they spared no expense, how is that distancing yourself from Horn?

In fact, there is one report that says John Coble collected over $100,000 from the Wyoming Stock Growers Association to pay Judge John W. Lacey to be a part of Horn’s defense. And please, don't be fooled into thinking that his legal defense was a group of low level attorneys. Foremost among them was former Judge John W. Lacey, who was Wyoming’s First Chief Justice. Other members of the team were Timothy F. Burke, Roderick N. Matson, Edward T. Clark and T. Blake Kennedy. All were esteemed in their time.

As for finding the funds to support Horn? It is a fact that when Tom Horn was arrested for the killing of Willie Nickell, John Coble went so far as to steal $5,000 of the Iron Mountain Ranch funds to pay a retainer fee for Horn's lawyers. Those funds were given to Coble by Frank Bosler for ranch operations. Does that sound like people who want to distance themselves from Horn? No to me.

On the prosecution’s side of the aisle were Prosecuting Attorney Walter R. Stoll and a couple young attorneys named Clyde M. Watts and H. Waldo Moore. There were no slackers there by any means either.

The trial was not held outdoors. The trial was in reality held on the second floor of Cheyenne's old courthouse. And yes, it was a spectacle. The courtroom was jammed with onlookers from big ranchers to small, from farmers and other homesteaders, to businessmen and other settlers. It’s said they arrived on horseback, in fancy fringed carriages, in old wagons with their families, and walked. All wanted to say years later that they saw Tom Horn, the child killer, on trial.

The trial ran from October 10th until October 24th and was presided over by Judge Richard Scott. Some say the prosecution’s case rested on circumstantial evidence, the "LeFors Confession" and public opinion. One of the many things that hurt Horn’s case was the fact that the jury was not completely sequestered. The other thing that hurt Horn's case was Horn himself.

It's said that the jury had to walk two and a half blocks to take their meals at the Inter-Ocean Hotel where they would engage in conversations with other restaurant patrons about the trial. The jurymen were also subjected to harassment and even a few threats on their way to and from the courthouse. Some folks wanted to convict Horn of killing a child before that the jury heard all of the evidence.

Since it was very near Election Day for Prosecutor Stoll, it's said there was all sorts of political pressure put on Walter Stoll for a conviction. All of this made for a "carnival-like atmosphere" as the court was packed everyday with gawkers and members of the press. Some of the press arrived from as far away as New York City.

One observer noted how "the big city reporters from back East strut about in derbies and celluloid collars while cowboys in tight Sunday suits and ties with tiny knots were there as well. Self-conscious witnesses in their best suits, and farmers with mud-splattered boots and collarless shirts, all attended."

The highlight of the trial was the testimonies of Joe LeFors and Tom Horn.

Joe Lefors was born in Paris, Texas, and his four brother Sam, Ike, Rufe, and Newton were all lawmen at one point or another. Joe’s brother Newton was actually killed in the line of duty when he served as a Deputy U.S. Marshall in the Indian Territory. Joe LeFors actually arrived in Wyoming in 1885 as a cowboy working a cattle drive.

He was part of a posse in 1887 when a large herd of rustled cattle was recovered from the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang. After that, he was asked to stay on in Wyoming as a “Contract Livestock Inspector” which meant that he was responsible for recovering stolen livestock. While his duties also included apprehended cattle and horse thieves, his primary job was livestock recovery. So, in effect, he knew exactly what Horn’s job was supposed to be if he was indeed a “Stock Detective” and not just a hired gun.

LeFors also took part in another posse in 1899 that went after the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang for the now famous "Wilcox Train Robbery." Some say it was his actions in that posse that made U.S. Marshal Frank Hadsell appoint Joe Lefors as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in October of 1899.

During the Horn trial, Deputy U.S. Marshal LeFors detailed how he had talked with Horn. More importantly, LeFors detailed how he let Horn talk until he unwittingly gave a "confession" of what he did.

Keep in mind that LeFors also swore that Horn had not been drinking before the interview that morning. Remember, as I stated earlier, LeFors, Deputy Sheriff Leslie Snow, and District Court Stenographer Charles Ohnhatus, all testified during direct examination that Tom Horn was "sober and rational" during LeFors’ interview with Horn that lasted for hours. regarding his investigation of the killing of Willie Nickell.

So now, since many today insist that LeFors falsified evidence to convict Horn of the murder, my question is this: If that is true, then who was in on this conspiracy to falsify evidence? Remember LeFors, Deputy Sheriff Leslie Snow, and District Court Stenographer Charles Ohnhatus, all swore under oath to the accuracy of the statements provided by Horn.

As for Horn, he denied that he killed the boy, he denied what LeFors testified to, and insisted that LeFors, Deputy Sheriff Leslie Snow, and District Court Stenographer Charles Ohnhatus, had altered what they heard to get the $1,000 reward for the boy's killer.

Tom "Talking Boy" Horn

Horn's defense team's biggest problem was Horn himself -- or more precisely Horn's mouth which they couldn't keep shut. Like it or not, Horn was not the stoic figure some try to paint him as, in fact his defense team soon found out why famed Apache Chief Geronimo nicknamed Tom Horn "Talking Boy".

His defense team found out they couldn't get him to shut up once he was on the witness stand. "Talking Boy" certainly lived up to the Apache warrior's nickname under Prosecutor Stoll's questioning.

Of course he also shot himself in the foot after a comment that many feel really turned the proceedings against him. It was an answer to a question about a witness’s earlier statement. Otto Plaga said he had seen Horn, "He was just spooking along in his usual way, about 25 miles away from the scene -- only an hour or so after the shooting of Willie."

One of Horn's attorneys, Blake Kennedy wrote this is his memoirs: "Plaga gave me an affidavit to the effect that he had seen Horn on horseback at a point where it was practically impossible for him to be, had he been at the spot where the killing took place, which I thought was very valuable evidence; and it would have been except that Horn, when testifying himself upon the trial, not willing to subdue his passion for 'braggadocio' responded to a question that he supposed it would not be impossible for a man who was a good rider and knew the country to cover the ground between where the killing took place and where Plaga had testified he saw him."

Yes, Tom Horn was anything but stoic and actually debunked a witness that may have gotten him off. Imagine that!

A sense of drama, or is it all just myth?
Tom Horn Jury
On the morning of October 23rd, 1902, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and Horn was sentenced to be hanged. Immediately his legal team filed appeals.

Some admire Tom Horn because didn’t implicate his good friend John Coble or any other of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association regarding that complicity of anyone else in the killing of Willie Nickell, or the killings of others. Of course, I can’t help but wonder if he saw his own life on the chopping block if he had implicated any of those who hired him? And since they were very powerful politically, did Horn think that they would get him off somehow?

There was talk going around of a plot to blow up the jail by Horn's friends. There was even a story going around that Butch Cassidy was gathering his Wild Bunch to help in Tom Horn's escape. Of course, it didn't matter that at the time Cassidy was in South America and most of his gang were dead or in jail. And then there’s the story that five sticks of dynamite were supposedly found in the snow outside the wall of the jail, no one really knows if it really was dynamite since it was reported to be a few pieces of pipe painted red.

Horn's attorneys fought to the last hour to save him.

Supposedly a grief-stricken Miss Kimmell, who had gone back to Missouri, gave a last-minute affidavit in which she claimed she had "overheard on three different occasions" two other men talk of how they had shot the boy. Horn's attorneys appeared before Governor Chatterton to review the new evidence. After a short hearing to determine the validity of her claims, Governor Chatterton ruled that the schoolteacher "was not telling the truth but seeking to shield Horn" and refused to postpone the execution. 

It was then that Governor Chatterton stated that he obtained information of an attempted jail break while transporting Horn. He stated, there was "a plan by which the train which took Horn to the penitentiary was to be wrecked and the prisoner freed. But that was contingent upon his securing a commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment. But I have given the matter the last consideration and the execution will take place on Friday without fail ..."

Horn did try to Escape! 

In the cell next to Horn was a safe-cracker by the name of James "Driftwood Jim" McCloud, he was prisoner number 802. McCloud was constantly complaining of stomach problems, so he was prescribed a medicine which he needed to take twice a day. 

So twice a day, a Deputy had to open his cell door to give him his medication. The mechanism that remotely opened McCloud's cell door actually opened all of the cell doors at the same time. That means, twice a day, the cell door to Tom Horn’s cell was also opened.

On Sunday, August 9th, 1903, at 8:00 am, Tom Horn and the prisoner in the next cell, a man by the name of McCloud, decided to make their break. During their escape Deputy Sheriff/Jailer R.A. Proctor was beaten. The escapees then went into the Sheriff’s office in search of weapons. As fate would have it, it's said they overlooked a cabinet containing five lever action .30-30 Winchesters rifles.

McCloud ran out a side door leaving Horn to go back to Proctor. Horn snatched a pistol from Proctor, then beat the Deputy in the head and face before running out the side door as well.

According to historian Lee A. Silva, the handgun Tom Horn tried to use during his escape attempt was a John Browning designed, Fabrique Nationale (FN) manufactured, semi-automatic pistol. Tom had never used a semi-auto pistol before and luckily for Deputy Proctor that Horn didn't know how to use it since he would have most likely killed Proctor during his escape.

The F.N. pistol had a slight resemblance to the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless. According to Silva, he met with R. A. Proctor’s grandson who was still in possession of his grandfather’s F.N. semi-automatic pistol. The pistol has the serial number 56666.

Horn ran out the same door used by McCloud, but when hearing the Cheyenne Police shoot at McCloud and him surrender, Horn decided to run South and then East toward Capitol Avenue. That's where he ran into big problems with the Merry-Go-Round operator.

Beware of the Merry-Go-Round Operator!


Believe it or not, a Merry-Go-Round Operator, actually a Mechanical Engineer,  by the name of O.M. Aldrich spotted Tom Horn running from the jail. Aldrich quickly responded by grabbing his .38 caliber Iver Johnson pocket pistol and lighting out after Horn.

While chasing Horn, Aldrich took a shot at him but sadly missed its mark. The shot is said to have made Horn turn and attempt to return fire. But since Horn didn't know how to operate the semi-automatic pistol, he wasn't able to shoot and kill Aldrich. It's believed it he had known how to operate that semi-auto pistol that Aldrich would have been dead.

Merry-Go-Round Operator Aldrich caught up with Horn and pulled off a round  again. This time his shot is said to have actually creased the top of Horn's head. And as strange as it sounds, this stunned the killer. Believe it or not, it's said that Horn actually became wobbly when shot at. He is said to have actually fainted face first down into the ground.

It's said that Horn tried to regain his feet and get back up. When he did, he again tried to shoot Aldrich who was now almost on him. Again, Horn didn't know how to fire the FN semi-automatic pistol. So no, Tom Horn was not a "weapons expert" by any stretch of the imagination. 

When O.M Aldrich caught up with Tom Horn, he commenced to beat the tar out of the child-killer. In fact, when a mail clerk by the name of Robert LaFontaine showed up to help Aldrich who had tackled Horn, LaFontaine said Aldrich was beating the crap out of the famous killer -- actually clubbing Horn in the back of the head with his little Iver Johnson .38 caliber pocket pistol.

Worn out and beaten, the famous assassin Tom Horn stopped resisting and surrendered to Aldrich and LaFontaine. Horn was lead back to jail by a very large, and very angry, group of townsfolk. The group was soon joined by Cheyenne City Police Officer Otto Aherns, a second officer named Stone and Deputy Leslie Snow.

Many in the group started taunting Horn to make another run for it. Some in the group spit at Horn. A few threw rocks. It's said when Deputy Snow showed up to help escort Horn, he actually tried to bash Horn with his rifle but was stopped by Deputy Proctor.

Some called for a rope. Some were calling for the child-killer to be taken to a nearby tree and lynched. I find it interesting that Deputy Proctor put down any talk of lynching Horn when the crowd outside the jail didn't want to disperse. I also find it interesting that Kels Nickell, the father of the 14-year-old boy who Horn shot twice and killed, was there that day. He's said to have actually tried to  agitate the crowd into lynching Horn. Deputy Proctor is said to have quieted him down as well.

Robert LaFontaine said later that he spent most of his time pulling Aldrich off of Horn for fear the Merry-Go-Round operator was going to kill the assassin. Yes, the Merry-Go-Round Operator whopped the Hell out of the famous bushwhacker Tom Horn!

And as for the man who chased down Tom Horn and beat the tar out of him, Mr. Aldrich was treated as a hero by the folks in that city for many years after that.

The last few days before Horn's execution armed troops surrounded the block where the jail and courthouse were located and supposedly a Gatling gun was placed on the roof.

A Crowd Escorted Horn Back To Jail
As for being railroaded?

I have never believed that Horn was railroaded. I've never believed that was the situation simply because there was no need for him to be railroaded. And of course, there has never been any proof as such and tons of proof to the contrary.

Let's be frank here, other than in a subplot of a Hollywood movie, there is absolutely no evidence. There has never been any evidence presented by anyone to prove that there was some sort of conspiracy to get rid of Horn. And since the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and John Coble put out thousands of dollars to get him acquitted, and everyone knew it, how can anyone believe that they saw Horn as some sort of embarrassment? If anything, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association’s support of Horn made it very evident that they will go to any length to get their way.

Keep in mind that the Johnson County War proved how the big cattle interests were above the law because of their political influence. It was a fact that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association had friends in high places, that was including the Governor and friends in the White House.

As for Kels Nickell being some recent homesteader just arriving there, fact is Kels Nickell was actually in that area before John Coble got there. John Coble was the newcomer to the area, not Kels Nickell.

Kels Powers Nickell was typical of Americans who got out of the Army while fighting Indians and decided to stay in that area where they were discharged. Kels Nickell came West when he served in the U.S. Army under General Crook in 1876. He fought in the Indian Wars and was no slouch when it came to fighting. Nickell fought under Crook at the Battle of the Rosebud in southern Montana, north of Sheridan, Wyoming.

Crook lost the battle, which forced his retreat to the south just days before Custer’s annihilation. Nickell was counted as part of the force at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, in the census of 1880. After his discharge from the Army that year, he moved to Camp Carlin on the northwest outskirts of Cheyenne and opened a blacksmith and farm machinery repair shop. He got married in 1881 and filed a homestead claim in 1885. This was a few years before Coble arrived in the Iron Mountain region.

In 1885, Nickell filed for an additional 480 acres of government land, which could be acquired for $1.25 per acre. Over the course of years, he bought, sold and filed desert claims. That was a common way to acquire arid government tracts by going through the motions of irrigating them.

The Coble and Nickell feud started over land. Coble and Nickell were enemies and had a long history of being such. John Coble was friends with Jim Miller who was also feuding with Kels Nickell.

From 1894 to 1901, Horn supposedly worked as an "enforcer" for the large cattle interests in Wyoming. Some say he ranged into Arizona, Colorado and Utah as well. He was tasked with tracking down and "dealing justice" to those suspected of stealing cattle or encroaching on their range. Horn’s “justice” was delivered by a bullet fired by his .30-30 Winchester carbine from a concealed position.

Supposedly, Horn would study his victims to become familiar with their routine. When it came to Willie Nickell, it's believed that Horn was going to kill whoever came out of the house that early morning. So, Horn is believed to have nestled in a group of rocks which overlooked the entrance of the Nickell’s ranch.

When he saw his victim approach the gate, he fired. When his first shot didn’t kill his victim, he shot him again. Horn was tired and convicted for the murder of Willie Nickell on October 24, 1902.

As for Horn's Loyalty? 

On the morning of November 20th, 1903, Horn was hanged by the neck until dead. There are those who want to applaud his loyalty to those who paid him to commit murder. Keep in mind that 100 members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association paid $1,000 each toward his defense. While some want to call that a "minimal" effort, they should keep in mind that $1,000 in 1903 is equivalent in purchasing power to $27,180.99 in 2018. That is the equivalent of 100 men pulling together $2.7 Million to defend someone in 2018. I wouldn't call that a "minimal" effort, especially when there is a lie that says the Wyoming Stock Growers Association didn't want anything to do with Horn after he killed Willie Nickell.

When he died on the gallows in Cheyenne on a November morning in 1903, the city was under martial law after rumors had been printed. The reason for the martial law was that there were rumors that Horn's "cowboy friends" would storm the jail and release him. Of course, they were all just rumors.

And while some like to say that there were those who “held their breath until the trap was sprung,” waiting for him to give up his employers, we should remember that Horn had been hired by prominent men and he knew full well that his life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel if he did implicate who hired him. Besides, it wasn’t a big secret who hired him. Not among the people there. Maybe for the Eastern reporters, but not the locals. They knew full well who was hiring hired guns in that part of Wyoming.

Eyewitness Account of the Hanging

Horn was executed with a fairly new, and supposedly more humane method of hanging that relied on the emptying of a bucket of water to trigger the release of the trap door upon which the condemned man was standing. The following eyewitness account of the hanging of Tom Horn was written by John Charles Thompson, a reporter.

His newspaper account was originally published in the Denver’s Posse of Westerners:

"We newspapermen were crammed into a little space at the edge of the platform adjoining Horn's cell; the visiting sheriffs were marshaled on the first-tier level below. The Irwin brothers, flanked by guards, stood beside them. The executioners and a venerable Episcopal clergyman, Dr. George C. Rafter, an acquaintance of Horn, were on the gangway at the opposite edge of the platform. Beside the Irwins stood two physicians, Dr. George P. Johnston and Dr. John H. Conway. They were gentlemen of the highest integrity whom nothing could have induced to contribute to a criminal conspiracy.

Horn, his back against the cell grill, was half-reclining on his narrow bed, puffing a cigar. He was perfectly composed. His soft shirt was unbuttoned at the collar, this exposing the scar of the wound he had suffered in a fight at Dixon.

'Ready Tom,' said Proctor. Horn arose, carefully placed his cigar on a cross reinforcement of the grill, strode firmly the few steps required to take him to the side of the gallows platform. He nodded to the Irwins; sardonically scanned the peace officers below.

Ed,' he commented to Smalley, 'That's the sickest looking lot of damned sheriffs I ever seen. 'Would you like us to sing, Tom?' asked Charlie Irwin. ‘Yes, I'd like that,' responded Horn. So, while Proctor buckled straps that bound Horn's arms and legs, the Irwins, each in a rich tenor, sang a rather lugubrious song popular on the range, Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad.

The clergyman read his church's prayer for the dying Horn, standing relaxed, listened without a tremor. ‘Would you like to say anything?' asked Smalley. ‘No,' replied Horn. ‘Tom,' spoke up Charlie Irwin, ‘did you confess to the preacher? No,' was the reply. Proctor adjusted the noose, formed with the conventional knot of 13 wraps, to Horn's neck; drew a black hood over his head. Smal¬ley on one side and a friend of Horn, T. Joe Cahill, on the other, lifted the doomed man onto the trap.

Instantly the sibilant sound of running water permeated the breathless stillness; the instrument of death had begun to operate. To the straining ears of the listeners that little sound had the magnitude of that of a rushing torrent. Smalley, his face buried in the crook of an arm resting against the gallows tree, was trembling.

‘What's the matter,' came in a calm tone through the black cap, getting nervous I might tip over?’ Seemingly interminable, the sound of escaping water ran on. ‘Joe,' said Horn, addressing Cahill, ‘they tell me you're married now. I hope you're doing well. Treat her right.'

Indubitably, he was the best composed man in that chamber of death. Still the sinister sound of running water; then mercifully, the leaves of the trap parted with a crash and Horn's body hung through the opening. Thirty-one seconds had elapsed since he had been lifted onto the trap!

He fell only four and one-half feet; his head and shoulders projected above the gallows floor. This drop was not sufficient; his neck was not broken. Proctor had feared to arrange a longer drop, apprehensive that stoppage of the fall of a body so heavy as Horn's might tear the head off. The slam of the massive hangman's knot against the side of Horn's skull knocked him into unconsciousness, however, and he did not suffer. For seventeen minutes the physicians with fingers on his pulse, felt impulses as a mighty heart labored on; then the pulse ceased. Tom Horn was dead – unconfessed!"


-- end of newspaper account Denver’s Posse of Westerners.

Yes indeed, its eyewitness accounts like that which add to the myth of Tom Horn. As for the myth is that no one wanted to hang Horn? 

The Biggest Myth of All: "No One Wanted To Hang Tom Horn"

Actually, there were quite a few folks who wanted to pull the lever and hang Tom Horn. Fact is there was quite a line formed to drop him. Among those were family members of the "nesters" who he had reportedly killed. 

And of course the list also including Kels Nickell who he dry-gulched and whose son Horn shot dead. In fact, Kels Nickell stayed around to witness Horn’s hanging. So yes, if there was anyone who was ready willing and able to pull the lever and drop Tom Horn, Kels Nickell would have been at the head of the line.

And let's talk about the notion that Horn killed the boy by accident. That “it was an accident." Friends, it was a murder of a boy while in the commission of a homicide. Horn intended to murder whoever was at that house. That wasn’t an accident. Whether it was the father or his teenage son, or one of the other sons, Horn intended on murdering someone.

As for his hanging? Looking at the times, the late 1800s and early 1900s, we have to remember that it was a time when people were already looking into more "humane" ways of preforming executions. In fact, as earlier in 1881, the state of New York established a committee to determine a new "more humane" method of execution to replace hanging.

Alfred P. Southwick, a member of the committee, developed the idea of running electric current through a condemned man after hearing a case of how relatively painlessly and quickly a drunk man died due to touching exposed power lines. We have to remember that the first Electric Chair execution in New York's Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890.

The electric chair was adopted by Ohio in 1897, Massachusetts in 1900, New Jersey in 1906, and Virginia in 1908, and soon became the prevalent method of execution in the United States, replacing hanging.

As for Horn's gallows, were they specially built specifically to hang Tom Horn? No, it wasn't. Actually in 1892, which was many years before the hanging of Tom Horn, Cheyenne architect James P. Julian had designed the water operated gallows. It was designed and built in 1892. It was created with the reasoning being that it would not require an executioner to spring the trapdoors. The system alleviated any stigma of guilt placed upon anyone. The design was said to make a hangman obsolete. So, no, it was not designed special just for Tom Horn.

Fact is, that design of the water operated gallows was created 11 years before the Tom Horn hanging and actually remained the official gallows until Wyoming began using the gas chamber in the 1930s.

Tom Horn’s Hanging

On that Friday morning on November 20th, 1903, it was cold, windy and gray for what would be Laramie County’s last legal execution. Horn awoke early, had a large breakfast of eggs, bacon, cakes, bread and black coffee.

At approximately 10:30 am, Tom Horn was led from his cell for the last time. Frank and Charlie Irwin tried to sing the Baptist hymn "Life’s Railway to Heaven." The story goes that Frank and Charlie had to stop several times to compose themselves and wipe away tears before they could start the next stanza. But frankly, that's all part of the myth.

Because of the shackles worn by Horn, he had to be lifted onto the trapdoor of the gallows. Then a black hood was placed over his head. There was no conversation and thirty-one seconds after Horn was placed on the trap, he dropped four-and-a-half feet into eternity.

Unlike what Hollywood wants us to believe, his death was not as pleasant as portrayed. He did not die bravely or even quick. Fact is, when he fell, he was knocked in the head by the heavy hangman’s knot. Some say he was unconscious. Other say he was alive the whole time that he strangled to death.

He died of strangulation, and not a broken neck. His death was a long and agonizing as he strangled for 17 minutes. Yes, 17 minutes of strangling to death.

I don't know if the father of the boy that he shot enjoyed watching him die like that. I do know that after Horn's body was cut down and taken to the local undertaker, it's said that Kels Nickell was taken to view Horn’s body. Nickell met the corpse at the mortuary and pulled back the rubber poncho to look at his son’s killer. Reports say Kels Nickell looked at Horn's dark blue face and nodded his approval as if satisfied before turning away and leaving.

The next day was Tom Horn’s 43rd birthday. And yes, his body was retrieved from the Gleason Mortuary by his brother Charles and taken to Boulder Colorado to be buried. John Coble of the Swan Land and Cattle Company still had some money in those days and paid for the cost of the coffin and all expenses associated with Horn’s funeral in Boulder. Yes, Coble paid for an elaborate coffin.

Charles Horn accompanied the body of his brother to Boulder, Colorado, where it’s said that more than two thousand gawkers followed the cortege to the cemetery. The Horn family kept a guard at the grave for some time to prevent ghouls "from digging up the corpse and selling it to showmen to put on exhibit."

In the long run, Coble and Miller won their long feud with Kels Nickell as he was forced to sell his spread and move to Cheyenne where he was said to have opened a steam laundry. And for the record, Cheyenne had a population of almost 12,000 people when it became Wyoming State Capitol in 1890. It was a very large cosmopolitan city. It was not a sparse cowtown at the time at all. In fact, the city of Cheyenne was a modern city in that it had brick building and sidewalks. It had enjoyed an incandescent lighting system since 1883. It also had telephone service since the early 1890s. Which by the way, really wasn’t too shabby for a state with a total population of 92,531 in 1900.

As for Horn’s biography, Coble made sure that the manuscript which was written by Horn was published and made into a book. It was published as "Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter - Written by Himself"

Wyoming Industrialist Frank Bosler ended up firing John Coble for misallocating ranch funds when he found out that Coble used $5,000 of the ranch’s operating funds in order to pay for Horn’s defense, his casket, and all of Horn’s funeral expenses.

Coble sued Bosler and eventually won a civil case that went all the way to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Believe it or not, Bosler ended up having to pay Coble over $20,000 in damages. From what I’ve found, Coble burned through that fairly quickly while trying to manage other ranches for other Eastern concerns.

In deep financial trouble, he went back to Frank Bosler for funds but was denied. Then on December 4th, 1914, John Coble was broke and in the lobby of the Commercial Hotel in Elko, Nevada, when he pulled a pistol and put it in his mouth. He shot himself and left behind a widow and four children to fend for themselves.

For the record, Cheyenne had a population of almost 12,000 people when it became Wyoming State Capitol in 1890. I'd say it's a safe bet to say that it was more than that when the trial took place in 1903.

It was certainly not a sparse cowtown. It was a very large cosmopolitan city. In fact, the city of Cheyenne was a city in that it had brick buildings and sidewalks. It enjoyed incandescent lights since 1883. It had telephone service since the early 1890s. Which by the way, really wasn’t too shabby for a state with a population of 92,531 in 1900.

The Rumors 

After Horn was buried, there were rumors in Cheyenne that Tom Horn was never executed but actually been freed through the power and political influence of the cattle associations.

Just as what has happened with others somewhat famous people, soon people were swearing that they had seen Tom Horn here and there. Believe it or not, some folks wondered if he was still stalking nesters, sheepmen, or getting ready to dry-gulch some small rancher or settler. Some wondered if maybe, just maybe, he'd decide to shoot another kid who might just be wearing his father's hat and coat all as a "favor" to a friend.

It’s understandable for folks to feel that way. After all, for small ranchers and settlers there, bushwhacking killers like Tom Horn were the original boogiemen.

And yes, like Elvis, soon people were swearing that they had seen Tom Horn here and there. And believe it or not, some folks wondered if he was still stalking nesters, sheep-men, or getting ready to dry-gulch some settler. Some wondered if maybe, just maybe, he'd decide to shoot another unsuspecting kid who might just be wearing his father's hat and coat -- all as a supposed "favor" to a friend.

I can understand that feeling. After all, for settler in the Old West, bushwhacking killers like Horn were the original boogiemen.

Tom Correa


1 comment:

  1. Tom was a mean kid growing up as a boy and didnt like work or obey his parents...A rebel in his own time,,

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