Tom Horn:
A Respectable Killer?

Tom Horn started his killing career by working for the Pinkerton Agency in Colorado and Wyoming.  In his defense, most of the men he killed were train robbers and outlaws.

Thomas Horn, Jr. was born in on a 600 acre farm in Missouri on November 21, 1860.  He was one of twelve children.

As much as Tom’s father tried to encourage him to take up farming, Tom had other plans.  At sixteen, he headed out west and was hired as a scout for the U.S. Calvary.

During the Apache Wars, he was a tracker and helped in the capture of Apache Chief, Geronimo.  After the wars, scouting became boring for Horn and he started hiring out as a gunman during the Arizona Wars between sheep farmers and cattlemen.

Horn became a deputy sheriff in Arizona during this time and his accomplishments as a gunman and tracker brought him to the attention of the Pinkerton Agency.

He was a good agent, handling investigations in Colorado and Wyoming along with many other western states.  Horn was stationed out of the Denver, Colorado office.

One of his best known arrests at Pinkerton was the capture of train robbers of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in Colorado.  These men had traveled to Oklahoma where Horn tracked them and immediately arrested them.

It is know that in the years that Horn worked for Pinkerton, he captured some outlaws without firing a shot, but many, seventeen to be exact, were murdered by him.

The Pinkerton Agency hearing of these outrages, pressured Horn to retire.  Resigning in 1894, Horn hired out as a U.S. Marshall in Colorado and Wyoming for rich ranchers.

Tom Horn Uses A Badge To Justify Murder

He convinced ranchers that simply capturing cattle thieves allowed them to get a slap on the wrist by law enforcement and let go.

Horn’s idea was to mete out his own brand of justice by killing the rustlers and making an example for other would be thieves.

Many of years of this kind of justice allowed by cattle barons, gave Horn the reputation of a stone cold killer.

Horn’s downfall came with his planning and murder of Willie Nickell, a rancher’s son who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

It was actually Kels Nickell, who was the target.  Horn had shot the son, not the father, by mistake.

In 1901, Horn was bragging about this mistake to a man named LeFlors, who promptly went to the sheriff.  He was immediately arrested and taken to jail.

He was held over for trial without bail.  His incarceration and trial lasted almost two years.  On November 20, 1903, Tom Horn was walked up the gallows, the noose placed around his neck and the trap door opened. 

Horn dropped like a stone, dead.  He is buried somewhere in the town of Boulder, Colorado.

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