Tom Horn, Jr.
Thomas Horn, Jr., known as "Tom", was born in 1860 to Thomas S. Horn, Sr. and Mary Ann Maricha on their family farm in rural northeastern Missouri.
At the age of sixteen, Horn travelled to the American Southwest and was hired by the US cavalry as a civilian scout, packer and interpreter during the Apache Wars. Among
Horn’s most outlandish assertions in his autobiography, is his claim that he was fluent in Apache. In truth, he knew enough to be a good army interpreter under the oversight of Al Sieber. Horn was successful in the army, rising the ranks quickly and gaining recognition for his efforts against the Apache. In one notable event, following the death of squad Captain Edmund Hentig by an ambush from higher ground, Al Sieber ordered scouts Horn and Mickey Free to return fire from a hill away from the`group, ensuring that the Apaches were repelled.
Horn became a respected scout. Often involved in tracking Geronimo’s strongholds, he took part in numerous solo reconnais- sance missions over the years, even becoming known as Chief of Scouts, serving under Captain Emmet Crawford at Fort Bowie by November 1885.
On September 4th 1886, Horn was present for Geronimo’s surrender in Arizona, with Horn escorting Geronimo to the Bowie Station train taking captives into exile in Florida. Following the war, Horn returned to Aravaipa Canyon in Arizona to start up his own ranch with 100 cattle and 26 horses. Unfortunately, cattle thieves stole his stock, leaving Horn to go through bankruptcy. The event was a turning point for Horn, who developed a hatred for thieves that would propel him into the role of range detective.
As a cowboy and hired gun working for various cattle companies, Horn stated that he would not feel “one shred of remorse” for shooting thieves if he believed they were guilty of stealing cattle and had been fairly warned. Horn was described as a “tremendous presence” when he was around, with a rancher from the North Laramie River, Fergie Mitchell, describing him: “I saw him ride by. He didn't stop, but went straight on up the creek in plain sight of everyone. All he wanted was to be seen, as his reputation was so great that his presence in a community had the desired effect. Within a week three settlers in the neighbourhood sold their holdings and moved out. That was the end of cattle rustling on the North Laramie.”
Horn’s work led him to partake in the Toto Basin Feud, a range war between two families, the Grahams and Tewksburys. It is unknown which side of the war Tom Horn became involved with, but Horn himself describes himself as a “mediator” between the warring sides, taking on the role of deputy sheriff. His tracking abilities led him to be noticed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, who hired him in late 1889/early 1890.
As a Pinkerton operative, he was hired to resolve investigations across the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, operating from an office in Denver. Some of his cases were very successful, including the well-known capture of train robbers at the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad between Cotopaxi and Texas Creek in Fremont County, Colarado. Here, Horn and agent C.W. Shores arrested the culprits - Thomas Eskridge and Burt “Red” Curtis - by tracking them to the home of a man named Wolfe in either Washita or Pauls Valley, Oklahoma.
Horn came to be involved in a number of ‘assassinations’, such as the deaths of ranchers John A. Tisdale and Orley ‘Ranger’ Jones, while operating undercover in Wyoming county under the alias Tom Hale. Following his forced resignation from the Pinkerton agency in 1894, Horn was thought to have killed known cattle thief William Lewis the following year, along with Fred Powell shortly after. Horn’s involvement in a number of attacks on cattle rustlers have led him to be considered as a ‘killer-for-hire’, as opposed to his official title of ‘Range Detective’. With the arrival of new ranchers into the territory, he was eventually called upon to assist the cattle barons in removing the homesteaders from the area.
Working for Swan Land and Cattle Company in 1900, Horn was hired to investigate a cowboy called Matt Rash for suspected cattle rustling. Going undercover as ‘Tom Hicks’, he collected evidence of unlawful cattle branding while serving as a ranch hand for Rash, eventually threatening Rash with a letter for him to vacate within sixty days. When Rash refused, Horn allegedly shot him at point-blank range on the orders of his employers. Similar circumstances also led him to murder Isom Dart, one of Rash’s cowboys and a former member of the late ’Tip Gault’s’ gang who rustled cattle around Saratoga. Horn tracked down and killed a number of rustlers within the region after news of Rash and Dart’s deaths spread, causing the others to scatter. Though nobody served as a witness to Horn’s actions, the men were killed by .30-30 bullets, which happened to be unique in the area to Horn.
After a time serving in the US army during the Spanish- American War, Horn returned to Wyoming in the employ of cattle baron John C. Coble. While working near Iron Mountain, Wyoming, Horn became involved in a family feud between Jim Miller and his neighbour Kels Nickell. The two families argued frequently over the introduction of sheep to the area by Nickell, with Miller accusing Nickell of letting their sheep graze on Miller’s land. When Willie Nickell, the 14 year old son of Kels and Mary Nickell, was found murdered near their homestead gate, a coroner began an inquest which later encompassed several other violent incidents from July through September of 1901.
In August 1901, Kels Nickell was shot and wounded, with 60-80 of his sheep found “shot or clubbed to death”. Two of his younger children reported seeing two men leaving on horses that matched those owned by Jim Miller, leading to Miller and his son’s arrest. When Deputy Marshal Joe Lefors questioned an inibriated Horn in January 1902 about the murder, Horn supposedly gave a confession to murdering Willie Nickell, with Horn claiming that the shot, from 300 yards, was the “best shot that [he] ever made and the dirtiest trick that [he] ever done.”
Horn was arrested but was supported by his friend and employer John C. Coble. Despite his work in service to the large cattle interests at the time, he was considered “expendable” and the case a perfect way to silence him about past activities. Though the 100 members of the` Wyoming Stock Growers Asssociation paid $1,000 each towards his defence, they wished to have minimal involvement in the case.
During the trial, Horn’s statement was distorted. Despite numerous testimonies in his favour, claiming that Horn was “twenty miles” away from the scene after an hour of the murder, or that the Miller and Nickell families were responsible, alone, Horn was found guilty and was sentenced to death by hanging. While in jail, Horn wrote his autobiography, Life of Tom Horn, Government Scout and Interpreter. Written by Himself, mostly giving an account of his early life. It contained little about the case. Despite attempts for a retrial, the Supreme Court upheld their decision and the governor refused to intervene. Horn was executed by “Julian Gallows” on November 20th, 1903.
After his death, many stated that Horn was wrongly executed for a murder solely based on a drunk confession. Even the Apache warrior, Geronimo, expressed his doubts about Horn's charges during an interview with Charles Ackenhausen, saying that he "did not believe [Horn] guilty."