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A Short History of Tom Horn 1861-1903

Tom Horn was born in Scotland, Missouri in 1861.  At the age of 14, he ran away from home and headed west. He is described as being broad-shouldered, over 6' tall, with a lean and muscular frame, and generally handsome but having a prominent nose and small penetrating eyes.  Some said that he could "stare a hole straight through you." His demeanor was usually quiet and mild-mannered.


Tom Horn arrived in Arizona in 1875 and worked as a teamster, driving a stage between Santa Fe and Prescott.  At the age of 16, he went to work as an apprentice for the famed Army scout Al Sieber.  During his time with Sieber and the Apaches, Horne learned how to survive in the harsh frontier and how to stalk an adversary.


Horn served under Generals George Crook and Nelson Miles as a packer, government scout, interpreter, and chief of scouts.  He fought in the battle of Big Dry Wash in 1882.  A year later he went to Mexico as a packer during Crook's Sierra Madre campaign.  It was during the Apache campaign (1885-1886) that Horne was promoted to chief of scouts.


After the conclusion of the Apache Wars Horn prospected and ranched in the Globe area.  During this period he gained a reputation as a champion class calf roper.


When the Pleasant Valley War (Graham-Tewskbury feud) broke out in 1887 Horne found himself caught in the middle.  He denied taking the side of either party, but some claim Tom was a participant.



In 1890 Tom Horn left for Wyoming and found work as a range inspector.  He was later commissioned as a Deputy U.S Marshal and also worked for the Pinkerton detective Agency.


In 1898 he sought out his old friends in the military and offered his services. He was commissioned Chief Packmaster for General William Shafter.  Prior to the Battle of San Juan Hill, Horne transported 500 pack mules to Cuba to provide support to Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider charge.  When Horne later caught the fever he was sent back to a friend's ranch in Wyoming to recuperate.

Tom is in the back row on the right. He's standing next to "Arizona Charlie" Meadows.



Once recuperated, Tom Horn found work as a "regulator" for large cattle interests during the Wyoming range wars.  A feud broke out between two small ranch families, the Millers and Nickells.  The Nickells family had begun running sheep in the area...specifically on the Millers' range.  Horn took no interest as he wasn't employed by either family.  When 13 year old Willie Nickells' body was found dead, the Millers were the chief suspects.  There was not enough evidence and the case was considered an unsolved murder.


U.S. Marshal Joe Lafors (former range detective who pursued Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) became convinced that the murderer was Tom Horn.  Horn had been known to indulge in tremendous drinking bouts between jobs and Lafors tricked Horn into "confessing" while he was on one of his binges.  A deputy and stenographer were concealed in the next room while Lafors swapped yarns with Horn.  Innuendos were made concerning Horn's role which he seemingly confessed.  Lafors arrested Horne the next day.


The trial in Cheyenne was very political.  Several jury members had reason to hate Horn as he had once recovered stolen cattle from their ranches.  Newspapers pictured him as a heinous murderer of children.  The larger ranchers feared he might reveal his employers.


Horne insisted he was set up.  He claimed that the stenographer twisted the facts and filled in missing parts.  On October 25, 1902, a jury found him guilty of the murder of Willie Nickells, and Tom was sentenced to hang. During a lengthy appeals process, Horn twice tried to escape from jail.  These escape attempts did not help his image.


Glendolene Kimmel, a schoolteacher who taught at the Miller-Nickell school, testified that Victor Miller confessed to her that he was the one who killed Willie.  Unfortunately for Horn, Glendolene's testimony was discounted as people believed that she was infatuated with Tom.


Tom Horn was hanged at the Laramie County Courthouse on November 20, 1903.

Source:    Arizona Adventure - action-packed true tales of Early Arizona by Marshall Trimble.

Tom Horn in group photo with Arizona Charlie Meadows
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