Tom Horn 1860-1903  

Tom Horn, most famous of the west’s 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 Chief.
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 world’s 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 Pinkerton’s 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 Pinkerton’s 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, Horn’s 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.
Horn’s 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 man’s head.
In 1898, Horn again changed course by joining the cavalry in support of the Spanish – American War. He didn’t see much action, however, being put in charge of the pack trains of Teddy Roosevelt’s rough riders. He returned to Wyoming at war’s 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 with him.
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 to hang.
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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