Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tom Horn

Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr. (November 21, 1860 – November 20, 1903) was an American Old West lawman, scout, soldier, hired gunman, detective, outlaw and assassin. On the day before his 43rd birthday, he was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the murder of Willie Nickell.
On July 18, 1901, Horn was working near Iron Mountain when Willie Nickell, the 14-year-old son of a sheepherding rancher, was murdered. Horn was arrested for the murder after a questionable confession to Joe Lefors, an office deputy in the US Marshal's office, in 1902. The prosecutor in the case was Walter Stoll.
During Horn's trial, the prosecution introduced a vague confession by Horn to Lefors, taken while he was intoxicated. Only certain parts of Horn's statement were introduced, distorting the significance of the statement. Additionally, testimony by at least two witnesses, including lawman Lefors, was presented by the prosecution, as well as circumstantial evidence that only placed him in the general vicinity of the crime scene.
Glendolene M. Kimmell, a school teacher who knew the Miller family, testified that Jim Miller (no relation to the Texas outlaw Jim Miller) was nervous on the morning of the murder. Jim Miller and the Nickell boy's father had been in several disputes with each other over the Nickells' sheep grazing on Miller's land.
Starting on October 10, 1902, Horn’s trial went to the jury on October 23, and the jury 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. However, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the District Court and denied a new trial. Horn was given an execution date of November 20, l903, which was carried out in Cheyenne.
It is still debated whether Horn committed the murder. Some historians such as Chip Carlson believe he did not, while others like Dean Fenton Krakel believe that he did, but that he did not realize he was shooting a boy. Whatever the case, the consensus is that regardless of whether he committed that particular murder, he had certainly committed many others. Chip Carlson, who extensively researched the Wyoming v. Tom Horn prosecution, concluded that although Horn could have committed the murder of Willie Nickell, he probably did not. According to Carlson's book Tom Horn: Blood on the Moon, there was no actual evidence that Horn had committed the murder, he was last seen in the area the day before the murder, his alleged confession was valueless as evidence, and no efforts were made to investigate involvement by other possible suspects. In essence, Horn's reputation and history made him an easy target for the prosecution.
In 1993, the case was retried in a mock trial in Cheyenne and Horn was acquitted.
Tom Horn has the distinction of being one of the few people in the "Wild West" to have been hanged by an automated process. A Cheyenne, Wyoming architect named James P. Julian designed the contraption in 1892, earning the name "The Julian Gallows," which made the condemned man hang himself. The trap door was connected to a lever which pulled the plug out of a barrel of water. This would cause a lever with a counterweight to rise, pulling on the support beam under the gallows. When enough pressure was applied, this would cause the beam to break free, opening the trap and hanging the condemned man. Tom Horn was buried in the Columbia Cemetery in Boulder, Colorado.

“I helped Will Holmes pick up potatoes today.  Arthur Murman worked for me.  They had a digger and we got out about 3 ½ acres which finished their piece.”

“We finished digging our potatoes today.  We had the digger and Will and his man helped me.  We dug about 3 ½ acres.”

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