Sunday, June 26, 2011

Analyzing Tom Horn

Tom Horn. 

A simple name for a man yet it appears he lived a very complex life.  In fact, Tom Horn himself said of his life, “I have lived about fifteen ordinary lives.  I would like to have had somebody who saw my past and could picture it to the public.  It would be the most interesting reading in the country.”

Once guilty, now innocent, but still dead – the description the New York Times gave Tom Horn in 1993.
A man Steve McQueen chose to portray in a movie – though historians have several issues with the treatment’s accuracy.

Tom Horn is an excellent historical figure for students to analyze while learning a little about the American Southwest during the late 19th Century.   The details surrounding his life, the historical events swirling around him, and the issue of right and wrong regarding those events in relation to Mr. Horn’s actions could lead to a classroom of very engaged students on various levels.

Upon running away from home at the age of 16 Horn headed for the American Southwest.  He became involved with the Apache Wars and was hired by the U.S. Cavalry as a civilian scout.   He was a member of the party who captured Geronimo.

He became a hired gunman and took part in the Pleasant Valley War between cattle ranchers and sheep men in.

He also took a position for a time as a deputy sheriff in Arizona and later in 1899 or 1890 was an employee of the Pinkerton Detective Agency.   However, he was a suspect in a couple of killings and Horn and the agency parted ways in 1894.  Horn hired himself out as a range deputy and detective for various wealthy ranchers in Wyoming and Colorado mainly during the Johnson County War where he became involved with a few other questionable murders.  Many sources regarding Horn’s life define Horn’s job as a range deputy essentially as a killer for hire.

During the Spanish American War he served as a soldier for a brief time before coming down with malaria and returned home.

In 1901 he began working for John C. Coble, a cattle baron.   On July 18, 1901 Horn was working near Iron Mountain when a sheepherder’s son, 14-year-old Willie Nickell, was murdered.   Horn was arrested, tried, and convicted.  He was hanged for the crime in 1903 using “The Julian Gallows”, which made the condemned man actually hang himself.   It is said that Horn made the rope that was used to hang him.
Following the Nickell murder and subsequent Horn trial the cattle barons in Wyoming had less influence legally and politically.

Two great sites to visit for more regarding Tom Horn can be found here and here.

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