Sunday, July 10, 2016
Tom Horn: American Outlaw
Known as "Tom," he was born in 1860 to Thomas S. Horn, Sr. and Mary Ann Maricha (née Miller) on their family farm in rural northeastern Scotland County, Missouri. They had 600 acres (bisected by the South Wyaconda River), located between the towns of Granger and Etna. Tom was the fifth of twelve children. During his childhood, the young Tom suffered physical abuse from his father, and his only companion as a child was a dog named Shedrick. The dog was tragically killed when the young Tom got into a fight with two boys, who proceeded to beat Tom and killed the dog with a shotgun.
Horn allegedly killed his first man in a duel - the man was a second lieutenant in the Mexican Army, whom he killed as a result of a dispute with a prostitute. At sixteen, Horn headed to the American Southwest, where he was hired by the U.S. Cavalry as a civilian scout, packer and interpreter under Al Sieber during the Apache Wars. Horn did a great job in his work for the army, and soon he rose through the ranks. In one instance, as Sieber, Horn and the army were crossing the Cibicue Creek, they were ambushed by Apaches warriors positioned on high ground. The officer in charge of their squad, Captain Edmund Hentig, was instantly killed, and the men became pinned down under overwhelming fire. Desperate, Sieber ordered Horn and another civilian Mickey Free to break away and return fire from a hill. Together with the soldiers, the men managed to repel the attack. Tom Horn and Al Sieber also participated during the Battle of Big Dry Wash, and gained recognition when he and Lt. George H. Morgan slipped through the banks opposite of the Apache line, and provided covering fire for the cavalry as well as killing a number of Apaches warriors. Tom Horn became a respected scout by then, known for going out alone in reconnaissance missions as well as helping track down Geronimo's major stronghold. By November 1885, Tom Horn earned the position as a Chief of Scouts under Captain Emmet Crawford's command in Fort Bowie. During one operation, Horn's camp was mistakenly attacked by a Mexican militia, and he was wounded in the arm during the shootout and led to the death of Crawford. Finally on September 4, 1886, Horn was present at Geronimo's final surrender and acted as an interpreter under Charles B. Gatewood.
Although his official title was "Range Detective," Horn essentially served as a killer for hire. By the mid-1890s the cattle business in Wyoming and Colorado was changing due to the arrival of homesteaders and new ranchers. The homesteaders, “nesters” or “grangers”, as they were referred to by the big operators, had moved into the territory in large numbers. By doing so they decreased the availability of water for the herds of the larger cattle barons. Soon, efforts were made to get rid of these homesteaders, including the hiring of gunmen such as Tom Horn. Violent gunfights such as the bloody shootout that resulted in the death of nine trappers in Big Dry Creek, as well as the lynching and burning of homesteaders Luther M. Mitchell and Ami W. Ketchum, precipitated the war.
In 1900, Horn had begun working for the Swan Land and Cattle Company in northwest Colorado. His first job was to investigate the Browns Park Cattle Association's leader and cowboy Matt Rash, who was suspected of cattle-rustling. Horn went undercover as "Tom Hicks" and worked for Rash as a ranch hand, while also collecting evidence of Rash branding cattle that did not belong to him. When Horn finally pieced together enough evidence to determine that Rash was indeed a rustler, he put a letter on Rash's door threatening him to leave in sixty days. The cowboy however, defiantly stayed and continued working on his ranch. As Rash continued to be uncooperative, Horn's employers were said to have given the assassin the "go-ahead signal" to execute Rash. On the day of the murder, an armed Horn arrived at Rash's cabin as the man had just finished eating, before Horn shot him at point-blank range. The dying Rash unsuccessfully tried to write the name of his killer, but no trace was left of the murder. Only the accounts and rumors from various people point to Horn as the one responsible. Rash was supposed to be married to a nearby rancher, Ann Bassett, and the woman accused Hicks of being the murderer.
At the Millers, Horn met Glendolene M. Kimmell, the young teacher at the Iron Mountain School. Ms. Kimmell was supported by both the large Miller and Kels Nickell families, and she boarded with the Millers. Horn entertained her with accounts of his adventures. That day he and males of the Miller family went fishing; he and Victor Miller, a son about his age, also practiced shooting, both of them with .30-.30s.
The Miller and Nickell families were the only ones to have children at the school. Kimmel had been advised of the families' feud before she arrived, and found that it was often played out by conflict among the children. A few days later, on July 18, 1901, Willie Nickell, the 14-year-old son of sheep ranchers Kels and Mary Nickell, was found murdered near their homestead gate. A coroner's inquest began to investigate the murder. More violent incidents occurred during the period of the coroner's inquest, which was expanded to investigate these incidents, and lasted from July through September 1901.
On August 4, 1901, Kels Nickell was shot and wounded. Some 60-80 of his sheep were found "shot or clubbed to death." Two of the younger Nickell children later reported seeing two men leaving on horses colored a bay and a gray, as were horses owned by Jim Miller. (Bay is a common color among horses). On August 6, 1901 Deputy Sheriff Peter Warlaumont and Deputy U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors came to Iron Mountain and arrested Jim Miller and his sons Victor and Gus on suspicion of shooting Kels Nickell. They were jailed on August 7 and released the following day on bond. The investigation of the shooting of Kels Nickell was added to the investigation of Willie Nickell's murder in the coroner's inquest.
Deputy Marshal Joe Lefors later questioned Horn in January 1902 about the murder, while supposedly talking to him about employment. Horn was still inebriated from the night before, but Lefors gained what he called a confession to the murder of Willie Nickell. Horn allegedly confessed to killing the young Willie with his rifle from 300 yards, which he boasted as the "best shot that [he] ever made and the dirtiest trick that [he] ever done." Horn was arrested the next day by the county sheriff. Walter Stoll was the Laramie County Prosecutor in the case. Judge Richard H. Scott, who presided over the case, was running for reelection.
Horn's trial started October 10, 1902 in Cheyenne, which filled with crowds attracted by the notoriety of Horn. The Rocky Mountain News noted the carnival atmosphere and great interest from the public for a conviction. The prosecution introduced Horn's confession to Lefors. Only certain parts of Horn's statement were introduced, distorting his statement. The prosecution introduced testimony by at least two witnesses, including lawman Lefors, as well as circumstantial evidence; these elements only placed Horn in the general vicinity of the crime scene. During the trial, Victor Miller testified that he and Horn both had .30-.30 guns, and bought their ammunition at the same store. Another, Otto Plaga, testified that Horn was 20 miles from the scene of the murder an hour after it was committed.
Glendolene Kimmell had testified during the coroner's inquest, saying she thought both the Miller and Nickell families responsible for maintaining the feud, but she was never called as a defense witness. She had resigned from the school in October 1901 and left the area, but was in communication with people in the case. She submitted an affidavit to the governor while the case was on appeal. It is recounted in secondary sources but the original document disappeared from public records.
Horn’s trial went to the jury on October 23, and they returned a guilty verdict the next day. A hearing several days later sentenced Horn to death by hanging.
Horn’s attorneys filed a petition with the Wyoming Supreme Court for a new trial. 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.
The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court and denied a new trial. Convinced of Horn's innocence, Glendolene Kimmell sent an affidavit to Governor Fenimore Chatterton with testimony reportedly saying that Victor Miller was guilty of Nickell's murder. Accounts of its contents appeared in the press, but the original document has disappeared. The governor chose not to intervene in the case. Horn was given an execution date of November 20, 1903.
Horn was hanged in Cheyenne. At that time, Horn never gave up the names of those who had hired him during the feud. He was buried in the Columbia Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado on 3 December 1903. Rancher Jim Coble paid for his coffin and a stone to mark his grave. After his death, many considered Horn was unrightfully executed for a murder solely based on a drunk confession. Even the old Apache warrior, Geronimo, expressed his doubts about Horn's charges during an interview with Charles Ackenhausen, saying that he "did not believe Horn was guilty."
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