Tom Horn, most famous
of the wests hired guns, was born in Missouri on November 21, 1860.
His father was a farmer. Young Tom hated school and often played the truant.
His father, being of the old school, endeavoured to beat this badness
out of the boy. After one such beating, Tom ran away from home. He took
up odd jobs as he roamed the West. At various times he worked as a railroad
laborer, a wagon driver, and a stage coach driver. By the time he was
17, Tom was employed by his Government as a U.S.Army scout. He did, in
fact, play a prominent part in the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. Horn
was the man who negotiated the terms of surrender with the ageing apache
Horn quit the army shortly thereafter and became a ranch hand. He became
a very good one, by all accounts. In 1888, he entered a rodeo contest
at Globe, Arizona. He ended up winning the worlds championship in
steer wrestling. Embued with the wandering spirit, Horn was not content
to stay with ranch work. He soon found himself working as a deputy sheriff
in Colorado before working as a roving gun for the Pinkerton Detective
Agency. He stayed with the Pinkertons for four years, during which
time he was claimed to have shot down 17 men. During this time he perfected
his skills as a killer for hire.
In 1894 Horn turned up in Wyoming. He was no longer with the Pinkertons
and began offering his services as a cattle detective to the local beef
barons. For each cattle rustler he shot, he would charge the cattlemen
$500. It was about this time that he was reported to have said of his
chosen profession, Killing men is my specialty. I look at it as
a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.
Horn saw himself as a benefactor of society. Getting rid of cattle thieves
was considered to him on a par with killing a wolf or a coyote. And for
his services he received not only financial reward but also the admiration
of the stockmen of Wyoming. At one time, Horns services were even
hired by the Governor of the State, who was also the owner of a large
ranch in the Big Horn Mountains. To clear every rustler out of Big Horn
County, Tom charged the Governor a cool $5000. The Governor, however,
got cold feet and backed out of the deal.
Horns way of despatching rustlers was business-like and clinical.
For several days he would track the rustler, observing his comings and
goings. Then he would secrete himself behind a lookout post, get a bead
on his victim with his buffalo gun and despatch him with a single bullet
to the head. His trademark was a large rock, which he place beneath the
dead mans head.
In 1898, Horn again changed course by joining the cavalry in support of
the Spanish American War. He didnt see much action, however,
being put in charge of the pack trains of Teddy Roosevelts rough
riders. He returned to Wyoming at wars end where he resumed the
life of a hired killer. He killed several more rustlers, always in the
ambush style he had by now perfected, until the law finally caught up
In 1901, he was accused of ambushing and killing a 14 year old boy. The
boy was the son of a rancher who was trying to introduce sheep onto the
Wyoming cattle ranges. Horn had been hired to kill the father, but mistook
the son for him and killed him with two shots from long range. Horn was
arrested after bragging about the killing to the deputy U.S. Marshall
during a state of intoxication. He was convicted on the strength of his
own evidence, despite denying the charges vehemently. He was sentenced
Horn escaped from the Cheyenne jail but was promptly recaptured. The locals
had grown to hate him for his murderous ways. He then became resigned
to his fate. During his final months in jail he spent his time in weaving
the rope that would shortly hang him. His final words were, Hurry
it up. I got nothing more to say. Seconds later he was swinging
from a rope. Tom Horn died at the age 42. It is unknown how many men he
took to their graves.
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