Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr. (1860 - 1903) MP

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Death: Died
Cause of death: hanged for the murder of Willie Nickell
Occupation: (lawman, scout, soldier, hired gunman, detective, outlaw and assassin)
Managed by: Matthew Wilson Burdorff
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr.

Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr. (November 21, 1860 – November 20, 1903) was an American Old West lawman, scout, soldier, hired gunman, detective, outlaw and assassin. On the day before his 43rd birthday, he was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the murder of Willie Nickell.

Horn's exploits as an assassin far overshadowed any other accomplishments he made during his lifetime, including during his time as a scout in tracking Apaches in southeastern Arizona Territory, southwestern New Mexico Territory, and into the states of Sonora and Chihuahua in northern Mexico along the Sierra Madre Occidental.

Early life

Born to Thomas S. Horn, Sr. and Mary Ann Maricha (née Miller), in rural northeastern Scotland County, Missouri, on the family farm of 600 acres (bisected by the South Wyaconda River) between the towns of Granger and Etna, he was the fifth of twelve children.

He left home as a young teen, probably in part because of an abusive father and his desire for adventure.


At sixteen, he headed to the American Southwest, where he was hired by the U.S. Cavalry as a civilian scout under Al Sieber and became involved in the Apache Wars and aided in the capture of warriors such as Geronimo. On January 11, 1886, Tom Horn was involved in an expedition into Mexican territory in the pursuit of Geronimo. During the operation, Horn's camp was attacked by Mexican militia and he was wounded in the arm. Allegedly Horn killed his first man in a duel-a 2nd Lt in the Mexican Army.

Later, hiring out his skills with a gun, he took part in the Pleasant Valley War in Arizona between cattlemen and sheepmen, but it is not known for certain as to which side he was allied, and both sides suffered several killings to which no known suspects were ever identified.

Career as a detective and lawman

He worked in Arizona for a time as a deputy sheriff, where he drew the attention of the Pinkerton Detective agency due to his abilities in tracking. Hired by the agency around late 1889 or early 1890, he handled investigations in Colorado and Wyoming, in other western states, and around the Rocky Mountain area, working out of the Denver office. He became known for his calm under pressure, and his ability to track down anyone assigned to him.

On one instance, Horn and another agent, C. W. Shores, captured two men for robbing the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (on August 31, 1890) between Cotopaxi and Texas Creek in Fremont County, Colorado. Horn and Shores tracked Thomas Eskridge (aka "Peg-Leg" Watson) and Burt "Red" Curtis to a house (the home a of man named Wolfe) in either Washita or Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, along the Washita River, without firing a shot. In his report on that arrest, Horn stated in part "Watson, was considered by everyone in Colorado as a very desperate character. I had no trouble with him".

His termination from employment, however, was not as a result of his killings. In Charlie Siringo's book, "Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism", he wrote that "William A. Pinkerton told me that Tom Horn was guilty of the crime, but that his people could not allow him to go to prison while in their employ". More likely than not, this was due to the agency's desire to avoid negative press. Siringo would later indicate that he respected Horn's abilities at tracking, and that he was a very talented agent but had a wicked element.

Horn resigned from the agency, under pressure, in 1894. Over the course of the late 1890s he hired out as a range deputy US marshal and detective for various wealthy ranchers in Wyoming and Colorado, specifically during the Johnson County War, when he worked for the Wyoming Stock Grower's Association; and is alleged to have in involved of the killing of Nate Champion and Nick Ray April 6, 1892. In 1895, Horn supposedly killed a known cattle thief named William Lewis near Iron Mountain, Wyoming. Horn was exonerated for that crime and for another six weeks later, the murder of Fred Powell. In 1896 a ranchman named Campbell who had a large stock of money was last seen with Horn and "disappeared"

Although his official title was always "Range Detective", he actually functioned as a killer for hire. In 1900 he was implicated in the murder of two known rustlers and robbery suspects in northwest Colorado. Just prior to the killings, Horn had begun working for the Swan Land and Cattle Company. He had killed the two rustlers, Matt Rash and Isom Dart, while he was following up on what became known as the Wilcox Train Robbery, and he was possibly working freelance for the Pinkerton Agency when he did so.

During his involvement in the Wilcox Train Robbery investigation, Horn obtained information from Bill Speck that revealed which of the robbers had killed Sheriff Josiah Hazen, who had been shot and killed during the pursuit of the robbers. He passed this information on to Charlie Siringo, who was working the case by that time for the Pinkerton's. This information indicated that either George Curry or Kid Curry had killed the sheriff. Both outlaws were members of the Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang, which was then known as "The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang."

He left that line of work briefly to serve a stint in the Army during the Spanish American War. Before he could steam from Tampa for Cuba, he contracted malaria. When his health recovered he returned to Wyoming. Shortly after his return, in 1901, Horn began working for wealthy cattle baron John C. Coble.

Willie Nickell murder, Horn's arrest and trial

On July 18, 1901, Horn was once again working near Iron Mountain when Willie Nickell, the 14-year-old son of a sheepherding rancher, was murdered. Horn was arrested for the murder after a questionable confession to Joe Lefors, an office deputy in the US Marshal's office, in 1902. Horn was convicted and hanged in Cheyenne in 1903. The prosecutor in the case was Walter Stoll.

During Horn's trial, the prosecution introduced a vague confession by Horn to Lefors, taken while he was intoxicated. Only certain parts of Horn's statement were introduced, distorting the significance of the statement. Additionally, testimony by at least two witnesses, including lawman Lefors, was presented by the prosecution, as well as circumstantial evidence that only placed him in the general vicinity of the crime scene.

Glendolene M. Kimmell, a school teacher who knew the Miller family, testified on the Millers behalf during the Inquest. She further testified that Jim Miller (no relation to the Texas outlaw Jim Miller) was nervous on the morning of the murder. Jim Miller and the Nickell boy's father had been in several disputes with each other over the Nickells' sheep grazing on Miller's land.

In 1993, the case was retried in a mock trial in Cheyenne and Horn was acquitted.

It is still debated whether Horn committed the murder. Some historians believe he did not, while others believe that he did, but that he did not realize he was shooting a boy. Whatever the case, the consensus is that regardless of whether he committed that particular murder, he had certainly committed many others. Chip Carlson, who extensively researched the Wyoming v. Tom Horn prosecution, concluded that although Horn could have committed the murder of Willie Nickell, he probably did not. According to Carlson's book Tom Horn: Blood on the Moon, there was no actual evidence that Horn had committed the murder, he was last seen in the area the day before the murder, his alleged confession was valueless as evidence, and no efforts were made to investigate involvement by other possible suspects. In essence, Horn's reputation and history made him an easy target for the prosecution.


Tom Horn has the distinction of being one of the few people in the "Wild West" to have been hanged by an automated process. A Cheyenne architect named James P. Julian designed the contraption in 1892, earning the name "The Julian Gallows", which made the condemned man hang himself. The trap door was connected to a lever which pulled the plug out of a barrel of water. This would cause a lever with a counterweight to rise, pulling on the support beam under the gallows. When enough pressure was applied, this would cause the beam to break free, opening the trap and hanging the condemned man. Tom Horn was buried in the Columbia Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado.


Tom Horn has been the subject of two movies: Mr. Horn (1979) a made-for-TV movie starring David Carradine, and Tom Horn (1980), starring Steve McQueen. The McQueen film was not entirely accurate, but it was well received. There was a third movie, "Fort Utah" (1967), a western fiction with John Ireland playing Tom Horn.

The History Channel aired (December 2009) the series "Cowboys & Outlaws" which featured an hour-long episode entitled "Frontier Hitman" about the life of Tom Horn.

In 1954, Louis Jean Heydt played Tom Horn in an episode of the syndicated television series, Stories of the Century, narrated and starring Jim Davis. Walter Coy appeared in the episode as Sam Clayton


Famous Indian scout who was hanged for killing Willie Nickel.


Debatable connection information - primary source corroboration needed.

Based on the "Horn Papers" - later proven to be a hoax.,9171,779400,00.html

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Tom Horn's Timeline

November 21, 1860
November 20, 1903
Age 42