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Tom Horn more than Hollywood
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Default Tom Horn more than Hollywood

Chugwater, Wyo., 1930's

South of Chugwater on Iron Mountain Road, a graded road periodically punctuated by cattle grates, is the ghost town of Diamond. Further south in Iron Mountain was the Iron Mountain Ranch Company, owned by John Coble and Henry C. Bosler. The ranch served as a "home away from home" of Tom Horn when he was working as a "cattle detective." To the west lies Bosler, a town which today barely survives. Horn's cabin is still on the Iron Mountain Ranch near Bosler.

In August and September 1895, the area was shaken by the unsolved shooting of two local ranchers, William Lewis and Fred U. Powell. A manuscript fragment by an unknown author, sympathetic to Tom Horn, describes the killings and their impact [Webmaster's note: If anyone knows the name of the unknown author, I will be most grateful if you will E-Mail me.]:

Anonymous Manuscript Fragment

For men who had left cattle alone after getting their first notices had received no second. But the day of the deadline came and passed, and the men who had scoffed at the warnings laughed with satisfaction. For , with a single exception, nothing had happened to them. The exception was an Iron Mountain settler named William Lewis

After walking out to his corral that morning, he'd been amazed to see the dust puff up in front of his feet. A split second later, the distant crack of a rifle had sounded. He 'd mounted up immediately and raced with a revolver ready toward the spot from which he'd estimated the shot had come. But he had found all of the thickets and points of cover deserted. There had been no sign of a rifleman and no track or trace to show that anyone had been near.

Bosler Depot, 1916

Lewis was a man who had made a full - time job of cow stealing He hadn't even pretended to be farming his spread. His land had never been plowed. He had done his rustling openly and boasted about it. He had received both first and second anonymous notices , and each time he had accused his neighbors of writing them. He had cursed at them and threatened them.

He found nothing, but he still refused to give up and move out. This time Lewis had his own rifle in his hands, and he threw some answering fire back at the mysterious far - off shot, then spent most of the day searching out the area. "I'll be shootin' right back. I'll be ready next time!" he raged.

Tom Horn

William Lewis made the rounds of all who lived near him again, that August morning after a bullet landed at his feet, and once more he accused and threatened everyone. He was a man , those neighbors testified later, who didn't have a friend in the world. He had his chance the very next morning, for exactly the same thing happened again. "Just let me meet up with that damned bushwhackin' coward face - to - face!" he exploded. "That's all I ask."

He never got that chance. For the unseen, ghostlike rifleman aimed a little higher the third time. A .30-30 bullet smashed directly into the center of William Lewis' chest. He slumped against a log fence rail, then tried to lift himself. Two more shots followed in quick succession, dropping him limp and huddled on the ground. An inquest was held, and after a good deal of testimony about the anonymous notes, the county coroner estimated that the shooting had been done from a distance of 300 yards. Rumors of the offer Tom Horn had made at the Stockgrowers' Association meeting had leaked out by then, and as a grand jury investigation of the murder got underway, the prosecuting attorney, a Colonel Baird, ordered that the tall stock detective be summoned for questioning.

It took some time to locate Horn. He was finally found in the Bates Hole region of Natrona County, two counties away. [Laramie County] Prosecutor [John C.] Baird immediately assumed he was hiding out there after the shooting and began preparing an indictment. But that indictment was never made. For Tom Horn, it turned out, had a number of rancher and cowboy witnesses ready and willing to swear with straight faces that he had been in Bates Hole the day of the killing. The former scout's alibi couldn't be shaken. The authorities had to release him.

William McDonald Ranch, Iron Mountain Road, Northeast of Iron Mountain, 1900, photo courtesy Margie McDonald Schrey

He immediately rode on to Cheyenne, threw a ten - day drinking spree and dropped some very strong hints among friends. "Dead center at three hundred yards, that coroner said!" He'd grin. "Three shots in that fella 'fore he hit the ground. You reckon there 's two men in this state can shoot like that."

Publicly, he denied everything. Privately, he created and magnified an image of himself as a hired assassin. For a blood - chilling ring of terror to the very sound of his name was the tool he needed for the job he'd promised to do.

The unknown author continues in the description of the killing of Powell:

Tom Horn was soon back at work, giving his secret employers their money's worth. A good many beef - hungry settlers were accepting the death of William Lewis as proof that the warning notes were not idle threats. The company herds were being raided less often, and cabins and soddies all over the range were standing deserted. But there were other homesteaders who passed the Lewis murder off as a personal grudge killing, the work of one of his neighbors.

Tom Horn

The rustling problem was by no means solved. Even in the very area where the shooting had been done, cattle were still disappearing. For less than a dozen miles from the unplowed land of the dead man lived another settler who had ignored the warnings that his existence might be foreclosed on; a blatant and defiant rustler named Fred Powell. "Fred was mighty crude about the way he took in cattle," his own hired man, Andy Ross, mentioned later. "Everyone knew it, but he sort of acted like he didn't care who knew it -- even after them notes came, even after he'd heard about Lewis, even after he'd been shot at a couple o' times hisself."

On the morning of September 10, 1895, Powell and Ross rose at dawn and began their day's work. Haying time was close at hand, and they needed some strong branches to repair a hay rack. Harnessing a team to a buckboard, they drove out to a willow-lined creek about a half-mile off, then climbed down and began chopping. Andy Ross had just started swinging an ax at his second willow when the distant blast of a rifle sounded. He looked around in surprise, then noticed that Fred Powell was clutching his chest. The hired man ran over to help his boss. "My God , I'm shot!" Powell gasped. And he collapsed and died instantly.

Ross had no intention of searching for the assassin. He heaved the dead man onto the buckboard, yelled and lashed at the team and got out of there fast. But he brought back the sheriff and several deputies, and to the lawmen the entire affair seemed a repetition of the Lewis killing. A detailed scouring of the entire area revealed nothing beyond a ledge of rocks that might have been the rifleman's hiding place. There were no tracks of either hoofs or boots. Not even an empty cartridge case could be found.

Once again, Tom Horn was the first and most likely suspect, and he was brought in for questioning immediately. Once again , he shook his head, kept his face expressionless and his voice very calm, and had a strongly supported alibi ready.

Later, riding in for some lusty enjoyment of the liquor and professional ladies of Cheyenne, he laid claim to the killing with the vague insinuations he made. "Exterminatin' cow thieves is just a business proposition with me", he'd blandly announce. "And I sort o' got a corner on the market." "Tom," a friend asked him once, "how come you bushwhacked them rustlers. They wouldn't o' stood no chance with you in a plain, straight - out shoot - down."

He had lots of friends, then as always. Even as he became widely known as a professional killer, nearly every cowboy and rancher in Wyoming seemed proud to call him a friend. No man 's name brought more cheers when it was announced in a rodeo. He explained, "s'posin' you was a nester swingin' the long rope? Which would you be most scairt of, a dry-gulchin' or a shoot - down. Yeah, I can see that", the friend was forced to agree. "But ... well, it just don't seem sportin' somehow."

The tall sunburnt rustler - hunter stared in amazement. "I seen a lot o' things in my time. I found a trooper once the Apache had spread-eagled on an ant hill, and another time we ran across some teamsters they'd caught, tied upside down on their own wagon wheels over little fires until their brains was exploded right out o' their skulls. I heard o' Texas cattlemen wrappin' a cow thief up in green hides and lettin' the sun shrink 'em and squeeze him to death. But there 's one thing I never seen or heard of, one thing I just don't think there is, and that's a sportin' way o' killin' a man."

The unknown writer continues with a description of the impact of the killings on rustling in Albany and Laramie Counties:

After the first two murders, the warning notes were rarely ignored The lesson had been learned. The examples were plain.

When Fred Powell's brother-in-law, Charlie Keane, moved into the dead man's home, the anonymous letter writer took no chances on Charlie taking up where Fred had left off and wasted no time on a first notice: "I IF YOU DON'T LEAVE THIS COUNTRY WITHIN 3 DAYS, YOUR LIFE WILL BE TAKEN THE SAME AS POWELL'S WAS." This was the message found tacked to the cabin door. Keane left, within three days.

All through Albany and Laramie counties, other men were doing the same. Houses of settlers who'd treated the company herds as a natural resource, free for the taking, were sitting empty, with weeds growing high in their yards. The small half - heartedly tended fields of men who'd spent more time rustling cattle than farming were lying fallow. No cow thief could count on a jury of his sympathetic peers to free him any longer. Jury, judge and executioner were riding the range in the form of a single unknown figure that could materialize anywhere, at any time, to dispense an ancient brand of justice the men of the new West had believed long outdated. For three straight years, Tom Horn patrolled the southern Wyoming pastures, and how many men he killed after Lewis and Powell. If he killed Lewis and Powell will never be known.


Next page: Tom Horn and the Capture of Geronimo, Tom Horn and the Rough Riders.

Camp Apache, Arizona Territory, 1877

Some 800 miles to the south of the hills and cottonwood of the Upper Chugwater Valley lies a desolate, arid, hot valley surrounded by the Gila Mountains to the north, the Mesca Mountains to the west, and Pinaleno Mountains to the south. To this area, far from the piņon and pine where they resided, the government decreed that all Apache, including the Ciricahua, were to be concentrated on a reservation known as San Carlos. In May, 1885, some of the Ciricahua led by Naiche, son of the great chief Cochise, and Geronimo, "escaped" from the reservation. Their departure was as a result of a dispute involving the brewing of corn beer in violation of government rules. Thus, ensued the last of the Apache wars. As indicated by the unknown author on the previous page, Tom Horn was drawn into this conflict. The extent of his participation is as much a matter of bitter and acrimonious debate as is his involvement in various murders in Wyoming. Was he, as portrayed in movies, responsible for the capture of Geronimo, or was he a liar, guilty of stealing credit rightfully belonging to a young West Point graduate, Charles B. Gatewood?

Horn undoubedly had an ability with languages and had picked up both Spanish and Apache. He also had over the years picked up an ability as a tracker. Thus, it was only natural that he was employed by the Army as a scout and interpreter. As an interpreter, he was employed on Emmet Crawford's ill fated 1886 expedition into Sonora. On January 11, 1886, Captain Crawford's company ran into some Mexican irregulars. Lt. Marion P. Maus, second in command, later reported:

A party of them [the irregulars] then approached and Captain Crawford and I went out about 50 yards from out position in the open and talked to them. I told them in Spanish that we were American soldiers, called attention to our dress and said we would not fire. Captain Crawford then ordered me to get back and ensure no more firing. I started back, when again a volley was fired. When I turned again I saw the Captain lying on the rocks with a wound in his head, and some of his brains upon the rocks. This had all occurred in two minutes. There can be no mistake. These men knew they were firing at American soldiers at this time.

In the ensuing fire fight, among those wounded was Tom Horn. Ultimately, as a result of the superior marksmanship of the Americans and Apache scouts, the Mexicans displayed a white flag of truce. After two days, the Mexicans and Americans separated with the Mexicans keeping some of the American mules.

Geronimo and Gen. Crook at Caņon de Los Embudos, Sonora, March 27, 1886, photo by Camillus S. Fly.

Left to right, seated: Shipp; Faison; Captain Roberts; Geronimo; Jesus Aguirre; Nana; Sgt. Major Noche; Lt. Marion P. Maus; interpreters Vasquez and Besias; Montoya; Bourke; Gen. George F. Crook; and Charley Roberts. Behind Shipp, Faison and Capt. Roberts is an unknown Apache. Behind Geronimo are Cayetano and an unidentified Apache. Behind Vasquez and Besias are Daly and Chihuahua. Behind Crook are an unidentified Apache, Yanozha, and Strauss. Standing are two unidentified Apaches, Tommy Blair with Crook's mule named "Apache," Fun; Ulzanas, Laziyah, and two other Apaches.

C. S. Fly was a Tombstone, Ariz. photographer. His photographic Gallery on Allen Street was located immediately next to the OK Corral and the vacant lot in which the famous gunfight occurred. Indeed, it was Fly, armed with a Henry rifle, that disarmed the dying Billy Clanton immediately after the fight.

Charles B. Gatewood

Following Geronimo's surrender to Gen. Crook, on the way back to Arizona, Geronimo changed his mind and again escaped. As a result on April 1, Crook resigned his Command and was replaced on the 11th by Gen. Nelson Miles. After three months of unsuccessful pursuit, Miles determined to send an officer who was personally known by Geronimo to meet with the chief. This decision must have been particularly galling to Miles, as it meant a reversion to the tactics of George Crook. The only officer who personally knew Geronimo and his men was Lt. Charles B. Gatewood, known to the Indians as Bay-chen-daysen, "Long Nose." Gatewood would later serve at Fort McKinney, Wyo., at the time of the Johnson County War and was injured in the bombing of the barracks by the so-called "Red Sash Gang."

Gatewood, tall, thin, and sickly, at first refused the assignment into Mexico because of his ill health, but he was finally induced to undertake the mission by a promise of being appointed Miles' Aide de Camp. While on the mission into Mexico, Gatewood's health continued to visibly deteriorate, but he was refused a requested medical discharge by Leonard Wood. On August 25, after a month's search, Gatewood, with a contingent comprised of interpreters Martine (a Nednihi Chiricahua), George Wratten, Jesus Yestes, and Tom Horn; a soldier; and four Apache Scouts, came into contact with Geronimo's band at a bend of the Bavispe River.

Party from Geronimo Campaign.

Some question exists as to the identity of the persons in the photo. A handwritten note with the photo identified the individuals as the party that captured Geronimo. If so, the individuals would include Charles Gatewood, Martine, George Wratten, Jesus Yestes, Tom Horn, Kayitah, and possibly Tex Whaley and Frank Huston. An identification has also been made left to right: Groves, Mr Stevens, Chino, Stugh (front), Funston??, Tony, Furgerson, Leonard Wood.

After anxious moments, Geronimo appeared armed with a Winchester. Setting his weapon aside, Geronimo greeted Gatewood and inquired after Gatewood's obvious sickly appearance. After a full day's negotiation, the next morning Geronimo agreed to surrender to Gen. Miles, based on Gatewood's personal promise that Miles was honorable and his word was good; and on condition that Gatewood would personally travel with Geronimo's band to the place of surrender. American troops were to travel separately. It was agreed that the Chiricahuas would keep their weapons until they reached the place of surrender. Thus, the two bands separately traveled to Skeleton Canyon on the American side of the border. On the course of the journey when the two groups camped near each other, Lt. Abiel Smith in charge of the American unit, proposed to disarm the Apache in violation of Gatewood's agreement. Word of the proposal reached Geronimo, who, fearful that the Americans planned on murdering his band, again threatened to flee. Only intervention by Gatewood with Geronimo, and an angry confrontation by Gatewood with Smith and Leonard Wood, saved the situation.

Geronimo (on right), photo by C. S. Fly

With the surrender, Gatewood became, to Miles' consternation, the man of the hour with the press. Miles' actions have became a source of continuing controversy. Miles ordered Geronimo, his band, and the scouts who had loyally served the United States, exiled to Ft. Pickens and Ft. Marion in Florida and later to a fort in Alabama. Geronimo technically remained a prisoner of war for the remainder of his life and was never permitted to return to his native land. All who participated in the capture of Geronimo, except Gatewood, were honored and received promotions. On November 8, 1887, a celebratory reception was held at the San Xavier Hotel in Tucson to honor the officers who brought the Apache War to an end. Gatewood was not invited. In his post-humously published autobiography, Horn took credit for the actions of Gatewood, indicating that it was he, Horn, whom Geronimo trusted and it was he, Horn, who convinced Geronimo to surrender. The autobiography is the only evidence of Horn's responsibility. Officially, Miles and Henry Lawton (later Major General) were given credit. Gatewood never received another promotion. He was nominated for the Medal of Honor for his actions in entering Geronimo's camp outnumbered, but the Medal was denied on the basis that Gatewood never came under actual hostile fire.

William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill

In 1898 with the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor, demand for war against Spain swept the country. In New York, Col. Wm. F. Cody's Wild West Show featured a troup of Cuban rebels who unfurled the Cuban flag while the cowboy band played a Cuban anthem and the audience yelled "Cuba Libre." Col. Cody, himself, offered to raise an army of 30,000 American Indians. Thus, John Hay's "splendid little war" broke out with Spain. Almost immediately Theodore Roosevelt ordered a Brooks Brothers custom made uniform and organized a volunteer cavalry troop of which he was to be second in command. Leonard Wood was to be in command. The troop was composed mostly of cowboys but also included a few Indians and wealthy polo-playing easterners. In Arizona, a former sheriff of Yavapai County, William Owen "Buckey" O'Neill, under whom Horn had served as a deputy, organized a troop, later to be Troop "A" of the Rough Riders. Of O'Neill Roosevelt later wrote:

There was Bucky O'Neill, of Arizona, Captain of Troop A, the Mayor of Prescott, a famous sheriff throughout the West for his feats of victorious warfare against the Apache, no less than against the white road-agents and man-killers. His father had fought in Meagher's Brigade in the Civil War; and he was himself a born soldier, a born leader of men. He was a wild, reckless fellow, soft spoken, and of dauntless courage and boundless ambition; he was stanchly loyal to his friends, and cared for his men in every way.

<B>In July, shortly before Roosevelt's famous charge, O'Neill was killed at Kettle Hill. But O'Neill in some aspects was less than rough and tough. When Dennis Dilda, a condemned murderer, was hanged in 1886, O'Neill commanded the Honor Guard. When the trap dropped, O'Neill fainted dead away.

Following the Apache wars, Horn worked in the area of Pleasant Valley, Ariz. (Now known as "Young."), to the northwest of the San Carlos Reservation. There, he worked on a ranch owned by Tempe hotelier Robert Bowen. In August 1888, Horn participated with Glenn Reynolds in a lynching of three suspected rustlers. In November, Reynolds was elected as sheriff of Gila County. Horn was appointed as a deputy. Reynolds, hmself, was killed in a shootout with the former Apache Scout Haskay-bay-nay-natyl, the Apache Kid. The Kid was so-called allegedly because the whites had diffculty pronouncing his name. In the shootout, another deputy, W. A. "Hunky Dory" Holmes died of an apparent heart attack. The Apache Kid escaped, his fate unknown to this day. Various sightings and reports of the Kid's death were received as late as the 1920's. It is commonly believed that Horn involved himself in the Graham-Tewksbury feud (the "Pleasant Valley War") and that Horn, himself, may have been a precipitating cause with the killing of Mart Blevins in 1887. Some of the Blevins children had been suspected of rustling. Adding fuel to the fire was the introduction of sheep into the area. Whether Horn, in fact, caused the war remains a matter of speculation. Zane Grey, preparatory to writing his The Last Man, spent three years investigating the cause of feud. In his forward, Grey wrote:

</B>I never learned the truth of the cause of the Pleasant Valley War, or if I did hear it I had no means of recognizing it. All the given causes were plausible and convincing. Strange to state, there is still secrecy and reticence all over the Tonto Basin as to the facts of this feud. Many descendents of those killed are living there now. But no one likes to talk about it. Assuredly many of the incidents told me really occurred, as, for example, the terrible one of the two women, in the face of relentless enemies, saving the bodies of their dead husbands from being devoured by wild hogs.

<B>Following the Pleasant Valley War, Horn drifted to Prescott where he worked as a deputy for Sheriff O'Neill. Thus, it would not be unexpected that among those from Prescott who volunteered was Tom Horn. Horn enlisted as a civilian packer or mule wrangler. Thus, as a civilian, Horn was not listed on the rolls of the Rough Riders. [Writer's note, until 1912, the Quartermaster used civilians as scouts, packers, teamsters, and cooks.] After training in Texas, "Teddy's Terrors" as the Rough Riders were sometimes known, arrived in Tampa, Florida, on June 1, 1898.

Rough Rider mules, Franklin Street, Tampa, Florida, 1898. Photo, courtesy Tampa-Hillsborough County Library System.

It is impossible to state with certainty that the above photo shows Horn in Tampa. Names of the wranglers were obviously not taken down. Conditions in Tampa were miserable. Camp Palmetto had to be abandoned because of unhealthy conditions. The Rough Riders were assigned to Port Tampa where many suffered from the tropical heat, humidity, and, after sundown or in the shade, great swarms of mosquitoes. While the woolen uniforms may have helped provide protection from the mosquitoes, they were of little help against the unrelenting heat. Nor did they help against the chiggers which infested the grass and Spanish moss. The chiggers would burrow beneath the skin at the cuff or belt line causing large red welts. The welts gave rise to the local name for the insect, "red bugs." Horn never saw active duty in Cuba. He was one of the many who came down with malaria in Tampa. Troops who came down with typhoid or malaria in Tampa had to be evacuated by hospital train to either Ft. McPherson, Georgia, or Pablo Beach near Jacksonville. Some 1200 passed through Ft. McPherson by the end of August and 1400 through Pablo Beach by November. Indeed, American casualties in the splendid little war were 496 killed in action, 202 died from wounds, and 5,509 died from tropical deseases

Upon his return to Wyoming, Horn resumed his prior employment, ostensibly as a bronco buster at $125.00 a month, for various ranches along the upper Chugwater.

In the late 1890's, ranches in the Green River Valley were plagued by rustlers. To the southeast of Green River City, across the border in Colorado, was an area cut off by mountains, desert, and distance, known as "Brown's Hole" and now called "Brown's Park." The area served as a refuge between robberies for the Wild Bunch, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and others who, perhaps, did not wish to live in close proximity to the law. Soon warnings began to appear, advising various individuals to leave the area.

On July 8, 1900, a tall stanger going by the name of "James Hicks," shared a meal with Matt Rash at his cabin in Brown's Hole. The stranger left. Shortly thereafter Rash emerged from his cabin and was killed with a single shot. The murder was not solved.

Isom Dart, center

Three months later on October 4, 1900, Isom Dart, emerged from a cabin he was sharing with six others. A shot rang out, and Dart fell dead. The culprit was never seen by the occupants of the cabin. The next day, two 30-30 shells were found at the base of a tree where it was believed that the murderer had lain in wait. Dart was popularly believed to be a rustler named Ned Huddleston, the sole survivor of the "Tip Gault" gang. The gang, which had rustled cattle in the Saratoga area, was wiped out in a gun battle. Huddleston had survived only because he was out of camp that night. Dart was also suspected of rustling, having had three indictments returned against him in Sweetwater County. No conviction, however, ever resulted.

Following Dart's demise, other warnings appeared. In December a shot was fired at George Banks but missed. In March another shot hit Banks' saddlehorn. Suspicion turned to Tom Horn. Horn had been familiar with the Brown's Hole area from his days with the Pinkerton Agency before he had moved to Wyoming. It was also suspected that Horn had been hired by Ora Haley, owner of the Two-Bar Ranch and Cattle Company then expanding into northwest Colorado. [Writer's note, Haley's outfit not related to the Two-Bar of Chugwater.] But Horn had an alibi, he was supposedly in Denver at the time.

The murders remained unsolved. For more on Isom Dart, see Green River.

Next page: the murder of Willie Nickell.

Scene near Iron Mountain Post Office (Farthing, Wyo.), June 2001, photo by Geoff Dobson

Seven miles from Iron Mountain was the ranch of Kels Nickell, the only sheepherder in the area. On July 18, 1901, Nickell's 14-year old son, Willie was shot and killed by two bullets in the back. At the time Willie, tall for his age, was wearing his father's coat and hat and was riding his father's favorite horse. It is generally believed that the killer mistook Willie for Kels. Based upon blood at the scene, it was apparent that Willie had fallen face down, and that someone had turned the body over and placed a stone under Willie's head. The culprit left no footprints or shells at the scene. Seventeen days later someone shot Kels, wounding him in the arm, hip, and side. While Kels was in the hospital, masked men clubbed a number of Kels' sheep to death. Shortly thereafter the Nickell family moved to Saratoga.

William "Willie" Nickell, 1901

Victor Miller, a neighbor who was involved in a feud with Kels over the sheep in cattle country, was initially suspected of the crime. Ultimately suspicion turned to Tom Horn because of Horn's involvement in prior killings. Deputy U. S. Marshal Joe LeFors invited Horn to meet with him on the basis that he, LeFors, had a friend in Montana who needed some "secret" work done by someone who was not known in the area. Specifically, it was suggested that there was a "gang" which needed to be infiltrated. It was proposed that someone was needed who would act as a "wolfer" and would be accepted into the gang.

Nickell Homesead, Iron Mountain, photo courtesy of Margie McDonald Schrey.

On Saturday, January 11, 1902, Horn met with LeFors in Cheyenne and the two engaged in conversation. Unbeknownst to Horn, two witnesses were secreted in the next room: a short hand stenographer, Charles Olnhaus, and Laramie County Deputy Sheriff, Leslie Snow. Olnhaus would later serve as Clerk of the United States District Court. During the course of conversations over two days, Horn allegedly admitted that he killed Nickell with his Winchester Model 1894 30-30 rifle and placed a stone under Nickell's head as his "sign." Horn told LeFors that he, Horn, had been paid in advance and received $2,100 for killing three men and taking five shots at another. He told LeFors that the reason there were no footprints is that he was barefoot. LeFors asked whether Horn had carried the shells away, to which Horn responded: "You bet your [expletive deleted] life I did." Additionally, Horn admitted to the unsolved murder of William Lewis and Fred Powell near Iron Mountain in 1895. On Monday, January 13, Horn was arrested in the bar of the Inter-Ocean Hotel by Laramie County Sheriff Edwin J. Smalley, accompanied by Deputy Sheriff Richard A. Proctor and Chyenne Chief of Police Sandy McNeil. Deputy United States Marshal Joe LeFors watched.

16th Street, Cheyenne, c. 1902

The U.S. Marshal's office in which Horn's confession was taken was located in the Commercial Block on 16th Street. The office is the one with the second-floor bow window on the left in the above photo. At the end of the block on the same side of the street is the Inter-Ocean Hotel with the front canopy extending over the sidewalk. The three-story building, with the bow windows on the second and third floors on the right-hand side of the photo is the Atlas Building at 211 W. 16th Street.

Left, Joe LeFors; Right, Sheriff Edwin J. Smalley

John Coble paid for Horn's defense, with Horn being represented by the general counsel for the Union Pacific, John W. Lacey, formerly a Wyoming Supreme Court justice.

The exact employment relationship of Horn to the Iron Mountain spread or to Coble is, however, uncertain. The ranch foreman, Duncan Clark testified, after Willie Nickell was killed, that Coble was east in Pennsylvania at the time. Clark could not say whether Horn worked for Coble because Horn "just comes in and goes out." In response to a direct question of whether Clark knew where Horn came from when he rode in two days following the killing, he responded: "No, sir, he never tells me and I never ask him. I never expect to get the truth anyway." At the time Horn was riding a T Lazy Y horse, a brand still in use in the Chugwater area.

Motion pictures have attempted to make it appear that there was considerable doubt as to Horn's guilt. The films focused on the question of whether Joe LeFors got Horn drunk and whether Horn had really confessed or if the shorthand stenographer Charles Ohnhaus had misheard or mistranscribed Horn's statement.

John C. Coble

The defense was three-fold:

(1.) Horn was under the influence of liquor, tended to make things up, and became talkative when drunk. Witnesses were produced that Horn had been drinking.

(2.) Horn had an alibi and could not have been in the area at the time of the killing. He was in Laramie City, as proven by the fact that Horn's horse, Pacer, was lodged at the Elkhorn Livery in Laramie City for a ten-day period at the time of the killing. Witnesses testified that Horn was nowhere near the Nickell Ranch at the time of the slaying.

(3.) The killing could not have occurred as he described to LeFors in the following regards: (a.) Dr. Amos Barber testified, based on learned texts, that the wounds could not have been inflicted with a 30-30 similar to Horn's. (b.) Frank Stone had bunked with Horn several days later and had observed no injury to Horn's feet such as would have been produced had Horn gone barefoot. (c.) Horn, in his statement to LeFors, described the shooting as coming from one direction. The fatal shot came from another.

Tom Horn, compare with photo on next page.

Horn took the stand in his own defense. The cross-examination by the prosecutor, Walter Stoll, was devasting. Statement by statement, Horn admitted making the various statements testified to by LeFors, Snow and Ohnhaus with the exception of one statement which Horn did not remember but conceded he might have made. However, Horn contended that his confession was a "josh;" it was merely an exchange of wild tales. 1901 Frontier Day Bronco Champion Otto Plaga testified that an hour after the time of the killing, Horn was twenty-five miles from the Nickell Ranch. Horn destroyed this alibi by admitting that he could easily have made it to where Plaga said he was following the killing. The witnesses admitted that although Horn had been drinking, Horn was in control of himself. Dr. Barber admitted he could not say that the wounds were not inflicted with a 30-30.

Other alibi witnesses placed Horn in a different location from that where Horn said he was. Others placed Horn at the Miller Ranch 3 or 4 miles from the Nickell Ranch for several days before the killing and at the William Clay Ranch just to the north of the Nickell spread. It was admitted that the time of check-in of Pacer at the livery in Laramie City was filled out on the registration form when Horn checked out. Horn could have made it to Laramie City following the killing. At the conclusion of the two-week trial, the jury came in after five hours deliberation.

Elkhorn Livery, Laramie City, where Pacer was lodged

Next Page: The verdict and appeal, postscript.

Rocky Mountain News Headline, Saturday, Oct. 25, 1902.

On October 23, 1902, after a two week trial, the jury of 11 whites and one black, Charles Tolson, found Horn guilty on the sixth ballot. At the end of the fifth ballot, two jurors voted for acquittal. The jury then examined all of the testimony. After re-examination, the two hold-out jurors voted guilty. Each later made statements to the effect that although they liked Horn, they had no choice but to find him guilty.

Horn Jury

On appeal, Horn's lawyers argued, among other things, that had not the two hold-out jurors been improperly influenced by comments that they may have overheard while dining, the jury would have remained deadlocked. The head waiter of the hotel testified that guests of the hotel were discussing the case when the jury was present. The two baliffs, who sat at either end of the table in the hotel dining room when the jurors were served, testified that they heard no improper comments from other diners in the hotel. Tolson, who sat directly opposite the two jurors, testified in similar fashion.

In August 1903, while his appeal was pending, Horn with another inmate of the jail, Jim McCloud, attacked Deputy Proctor, broke into the Sheriff's office and stole an automatic pistol. Leslie Snow came upon the scene and gave the alarm. In the meantime Horn and McCloud made it out onto the street with McCloud and Horn heading in opposite directions. Horn first headed east on 19th Street one block to Capitol, the Courthouse being on the corner of 19th and Ferguson [now Carey]. Horn then headed north on Capitol and then east on 20th being chased by a passerby, O. M. Eldrich. Eldrich fired at Horn and Horn attempted to fire the automatic at Eldrich. Apparently Horn was unfamiliar with the safety on the automatic and was unable to fire the gun. Pedestrians then overpowered Horn and he was returned to the jail. See next photo.

Tom Horn being escorted back to jail after escape attempt.

While awaiting the outcome of an appeal, Horn spent his time braiding a rope, see photo below, and writing an autobiography. His appeal was denied on September 30. As preparations for the execution neared, fears arose that friends would attempt to break Horn out of jail. Thus, extraordinary precautions were taken to prevent another escape.

Horn weaving rope

At the same time there began a flurry of legal efforts to convince Governor Chatterton to spare Horn from the gallows. At the end of October, affidavits were presented to the governor intended to indicate that there was new evidence, including allegations that the murder was committed by a double. The Laramie Boomerang reported on November 4, quoting the Denver Post, that the legal efforts were weakening Horn's case:

Gradually the inside facts relating to the affidavits presented to Gov. Chatterton Saturday in behalf of Tom Horn, the condemned murderer, and the methods employed to secure them are becoming known. The Frank Muloch Affidavit is regarded as being absolutely worthless and if it has had any bearing on the case at all it has had a tendency to weaken Horn's plea. It is so plainly evident that there never was a double of Horn, except the one manufactured in this case, that the affidavit is regarded as a sort of boomerang.

<B>The efforts of Gwendolene Myrtle Kimmell, Horn's romantic interest as portrayed in the movies, to save Horn were also down played by the Boomerang. The presentation of Miss Kemmell by Horn's attorneys was regarded as a "bad move" in "the opinion of every one who has followed the case, and especially those who have seen the woman."

The Boomerang report concluded:

</B>Joe LaFors [sic], who trapped Tom Horn into making the confession that he killed Willie Nickell, ridicules the affidavits presented to the governor Saturday. He says they contain all kinds of misstatements and that their sole purpose is to save a man from hanging who not only is guilty of the foulest of crimes but was convicted fairly.

Headline, Los Angeles Herald, November 20, 1903

As the date set for execution drew near, the appeals to the governor became more impassioned. On the afternoon and evening of November 19, Governor Chatterton turned down no fewer than twelve appeals to delay the execution. Before 6:00 a.m. of the day set for the execution, the governor was aroused from his bed with yet another appeal. He responded, "There is no use, gentlemen. This execution will take place at the time set by the law. I will not interfere in the case. This is final."

On November 20, 1903, Horn was led to the gallows by Deputy Proctor and T. Joe Cahill who at the time was a clerk. Cahill later served as Chief of Police in Cheyenne 1934-1940 and was active in Rodeo circles including the Madison Square Garden Rodeo from 1928-33. Cahill apparently exhibited some nervousness. Horn commented, "What's the matter, Joe? Ain't losing your nerve, are you?" Deputy Proctor placed the noose made from Horn's own rope over Horn's head. Horn obliged by ducking his head and thrusting it through the noose. Sheriff Smalley and Joe Cahill then picked Horn up and placed him on the trap.

For the execution, a new type of gallows was introduced using an automatic trap activated by the weight of the convict, eliminating the need for an executioner. The gallows were invented in 1892 by Cheyenne carpenter J. P. Julian but had not been used before. The gallows used a system in which a water valve was opened and ultimately through a system of pullies the trap was opened. This type of gallows remained in use until replaced by the gas chamber. Colorado on occasion also used a water-activated gallows which, however, operated on a different principle. Rather than the convict dropping through a trap, the Colorado gallows used a 50-gallon tank which drained. A float in the tank was connected to a lever. The lever when the tank drained would release a catch on a pivoting beam connected to a counter-weight. The beam to which the noose was attached then jerked the convict upwards, hopefully breaking the convict's neck.

Thus, as the Right Reverend Dr. Rafter of St. Marks Episcopal Church offered prayers and two friends, Charles B. Irwin and Frank Irwin, sang the hymn "Life is Like a Mountain Railroad," Horn was hanged.

C. B. Irwin (in woolies) in Potato Race, Frontier Day, 1904. See text below. For discussion of potato races, see Lusk.

Horn had been an entrant in the 1901 Frontier Day Steer Roping Contest. Charlie Irwin, Frank Stone, and Duncan Clark also entered the same contest. Clark came in first, taking the $65.00 first prize. Irwin took the second place prize of $35.00, a fifth of a second behind Clark. Frank Irwin entered the Cow Pony Race riding a horse named "Uncle Bob." At the completion of the execution, Charlie Irwin noted, "He sure died game."

Tom Horn being placed in hearse at Gleason's Mortuary. Charles Horn at right.

Horn's body was claimed by his brother Charles. Horn was buried in Boulder, Colo.

As a result of an altercation between Coble and Nickell at the railway station over Nickell's sheep, the suspicion has always been that Coble paid Horn to do in Nickell. This has never been proven and it may well be speculated that Horn was merely performing an unsolicited favor of ridding the neighborhood of a sheepman.

In 1903, Coble sold his interest in the Iron Mountain Ranch to his partner Henry Bosler. Later each accused the other of fraud. After Bosler refused to pay Coble what he was due, Coble successfully sued Bosler in a bitter action which went all the way to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Coble nevertheless lost his fortune and went to work as a foreman for a ranch in Nevada. In 1914, he was let go. On December 4, 1914, shortly after midnight, Coble entered the coffee shop of the Commercial Hotel in Elko through the 4th Street entrance, proceeded to the lobby and asked the night clerk for some stationery. He wrote out a note to his wife, and committed suicide in an unoccupied ladies' restroom using a .32 Smith and Wesson.

Commercial Hotel, Elko, Nev., approx. 1949

Duncan Clark was killed in a hunting accident in April 1906 near Horse Creek where he was then residing. His death has been used as the basis for various conspiracy theories. Such theories include: (a) Willie Nickell was killed by Victor Miller using a gun similar to Horn's Winchester so as to blame Horn; (b) Willie was killed by Jose "Joe Good" Bueno, an outlaw from Brown's Hole, Colorado; and (c) the Wyoming Stock Growers Association conspired to "blow" the defense and see Horn hanged rather than have him reveal their being involved in the killings. A review of Justice Potter's opinion, Horn v. State, 12 Wyo. 80, 73 Pac. 705 (1903), reflects that every argument in Horn's favor was raised and carefully considered by the Wyoming Supreme Court. The Horn case is still cited as precedent in Wyoming courts. It is extremely doubtful that a lawyer of John Lacey's reputation would join a conspiracy to lose the case. Extraordinary efforts were made to save Horn including, as above indicated, appeals to the governor for clemency.
Some, such as the unknown writer, excused Horn:

</B>It is possible, although highly doubtful, that he killed none at all but merely let his reputation work for him by privately claiming every unsolved murder in the state. It is also possible, but equally doubtful, that he actually shot down the hundreds of men with which his legend credits him. </B>

For that legend was growing explosively, Rumor was insisting he received a price of $600 a man. The best evidence is that he received a monthly wage of about $125, very good money in an era when top hands worked for $ 30 and board. Rumor had it he slipped two small rocks under each victim's head as a sort of trademark A detailed search of old coroner's reports fails to substantiate this in the slightest.

One thing was certain -- his method was effective, so effective that after a time even the warning notices were often unnecessary. The mere fact that the tall figure with the rifle and field glasses had been seen riding that way was enough to frighten three rustling homesteaders out of the Upper Laramie country in a single week "My reputation's my stock in trade", Tom mentioned more than once.

He evidently couldn't foresee that it might be his downfall in the end. He had made himself the personification of the Devil to the homesteaders. But to the cattlemen who had been facing bankruptcy from rustling losses and to the cowboys who had been faced with lay-offs a few years earlier, he was becoming a vastly different type of legendary figure. Such ranchers as Coble and Clay and the Bosler brothers carried him on their books as a cowhand even while he was receiving a much larger salary from parties unknown. He made their spreads his headquarters, and he helped out in their roundups In the cow camps, Tom Horn was regarded as a hero, as the same kind of champion he was when he entered and invariably won the local rodeos. The hands and their bosses saw him as a lone knight of the range, waging a dedicated crusade against a lawless new society that was threatening a beloved way of life. The wailing , guitar-strumming minstrels of the cattle kingdom made up songs about him. By 1898, rustling losses had been driven down to the lowest level ever seen in Wyoming.


Horn Grave, Columbia Cemetery, Boulder, Colo., photo by Geoff Dobson

In the final analysis, it must be said the jury was there, they heard the witnesses, and, upon consideration of all the evidence, they found they had no other choice but to find Horn guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the mystery of Tom Horn, the one he took to his grave, is not if he killed Willie Nickell. Unanswered questions remain after 100 years: Who paid Horn the $2,100; who paid Horn to kill Isom Dart, Matt Rash, William Lewis, and Fred Powell; and who actually wrote Tom Horn's autobiography. Was it Horn, as claimed by Coble's widow, or Hattie Horner Louthan, a sometimes newspaper correspondent and member of the staff of the Denver Republican? And what of Glendolene Myrtle Kimmell? Miss Kimmell, who stuck by Horn to the end and who blamed Victor Miller for the killing, never married. She allegedly wrote a manuscript, The True Life of Tom Horn, portraying Horn as a knight errant caught between two conflicting worlds. It was never published. What whould it have revealed? Unfortunately we may never know for Miss Kimmell died at age 70 in Los Angeles, California, on September 12, 1949. And who is the author of the fragment copied above found at a Canadian university?

Directions to grave: From Broadway take College Avenue west to cemetary. Next to cemetery on north side, street widens to permit parking. Grave is at 2:00 o'clock position from first parking space, about 10 graves in.


In an effort to explain Horn, some have focused on Horn's relationship to his father, mother, and dog Shedrick. In Chapter 1 of his autobiography, Horn discusses his dog and the lack of recognition given by his mother to Horn's ability at tracking varmints. Whenever a varmint would invade the chicken coop, young Horn would be sent out to capture the culprit, but the dog would receive the credit:

</B>For a kid, I must have been a very sucessful hunter, for when our neighbors would complain of losing a chicken (and that was a serious loss to them), mother would tell them that whenever any varmint bothered her hen-roost, she just sent out Tom and "Shed," and when they came back they always brought the pelt of the varmint with them. </B>

To this day, I believe mother thought the dog was of more importance against vamints than I was. But "Shedrick" and I both understood that I was the better, for I could climb any tree in Missouri, and dig frozen ground with a pick, and follow cold tracks in the mud or snow, and knew more than the dog in a good many ways.

Horn continues by noting that his father would beat the dog and the dog would then not leave Tom for days thereafter. In the book, Horn describes the death of Shedrick as the "climax" of his home life. Horn got into an altercation with two emigrant boys following behind their parents wagon. The fight started when Horn made a crack about the manliness of the larger boy's choice of weapons, a shotgun. When Horn was getting the better of the larger of the two, it became two on one. At that point Shedrick came to young Horn's rescue. At the conclusion of the fight the larger of the two emigrants shot Shedrick. Horn took the dog home and buried him.

Thus, it may be that Horn did not envision himself as a palidin, but, instead, was subconsciously still out with Shedrick tracking varmints who had raided his neighbors' and friends' chicken coops, and by so doing, seeking the approbation of society.

We got too complicated......It's all way over rated....I like the old and out dated way of life........I miss back when..
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