Tales from the Tread: Infamous hired killer: Tom Horn | SteamboatToday.com
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Tales from the Tread: Infamous hired killer: Tom Horn

Candice Bannister and Dan Davidson/For Steamboat Today
Steamboat's Buddy Werner will be the subject of a featured Legacy Lecture April 9 as part of Skiing History Week.
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If you go

What: Tread of Pioneers Museum’s History Happy Hour

When; 5:30 p.m. March 7

Where: Butcherknife Brewery

Cost: Free







An arrest has just been made in Cheyenne which may go far toward clearing up several mysteries connected with criminal matters. The man taken in charge is Tom Horn, stock detective …

— Routt County Sentinel, Jan. 17, 1902

Hear more about Tom Horn and his notorious career as the hired gun of the Old West at the Tread of Pioneers Museum’s History Happy Hour at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 7 at Butcherknife Brewery. The featured speaker will be Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig and a revered expert on Tom Horn.

If you go

What: Tread of Pioneers Museum’s History Happy Hour

When; 5:30 p.m. March 7

Where: Butcherknife Brewery

Cost: Free

Horn was hired by the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the 1890s to track down and capture — violently if necessary — western outlaws who were interfering with Pinkerton clients, such as banks and railroads that could afford to pay for private law enforcement in the relatively ungoverned Old West.

He then became a hired killer with the Wyoming Cattlemen’s Association, which had been fighting in Johnson County against a diverse group of small farmers, sheep ranchers, and rustlers who resented their domination. The ranchers hired Horn to use his keen marksmanship to ambush and murder any man the ranchers marked as a troublemaker.

In 1900, at the age of 39, Horn visited Northwestern Colorado under the alias, “Tom Hicks.” Before the year was out, western Routt County, which later became Moffat County, had lived through a reign of terror. Two men were killed in cold blood, and several more left the area, never to return. Rugged, sheltered Brown’s Park and its families were forever changed.

On Oct. 22, 1903, Horn was hanged for the murder of 14-year-old Willie Nickell, son of a Wyoming ranchman. Though historians still debate whether Horn really killed the boy, none could dispute that he was a hired killer and responsible for many other deaths.

Horn was suspected of other murders, notably those of alleged cattle rustlers Fred Powell and William Lewis, in Iron Mountain country, and of cattlemen Matt Rash and Isom Dart, from the Brown’s Park area.

Horn typified the clash between the Old West, where might made right, and the emerging West, where the rule of law was beginning to change the landscape. Who was Tom Horn, and what forces turned him into a cold-blooded killer? This region left its own mark on Horn and started him on the path toward his execution by the new rule of law.

Hear more about Horn’s raucous and violent ways at the March 7 History Happy Hour at Butcherknife Brewery.

Sources: Routt County Sentinel and Steamboat Pilot

Candice Bannister is executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum. Dan Davidson is executive director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado.


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