BY TOM HORN
Originally published in 1904
(The conclusion of Life of Tom Horn)
Early in April of 1887, some of the boys came down from the Pleasant Valley, where there was a big rustler war going on and the rustlers were getting the best of the game. I was tired of the mine and willing to go, and so away we went. Things were in a pretty bad condition. It was war to the knife between cow boys and rustlers, and there was a battle every time the two outfits ran together. A great many men were killed in the war. Old man Blevins and his three sons, three of the Grahams, a Bill Jacobs, Jim Payne, Al Rose, John Tewkesbury, Stolt, Scott, and a man named “Big Jeff” were hung on the Apache and Gila County line. Others were killed, but I do not remember their names now.
I was the mediator, and was deputy sheriff under Bucky O’Neil, of Yavapai County, under Commodore Owens, of Apache County, and Glenn Reynolds, of Gila County. I was still a deputy for Reynolds a year later when he was killed by the Apache Kid, in 1888.
After this war in the Pleasant Valley I again went back to my mine and went to work, but it was too slow, and I could not stay at it. I was just getting ready to go to Mexico and was going down to clean out the spring at the mine one evening. I turned my saddle horse loose and let him graze up the cañon. After I got the spring cleaned out I went up the cañon to find my horse and I saw a moccasin track covering the trail made by the rope my horse was dragging. That meant to go back, but I did not go back. I cut up the side of the mountain and found the trail where my horse had gone out. It ran into the trail of several more horses and they were all headed south. I went down to the ranch, got another horse and rode over to the [San Carlos] Agency, about thirty miles, to get an Indian or two to go with me to see what I could learn about this bunch of Indians.
I got to the Agency about 2 o’clock in the morning and found that there had been an outbreak and mutiny among Sieber’s police. It was like this: Sieber [former Chief of Scouts under whom Horn had served while dealing with Geronimo] had raised a young Indian he always called “the Kid,” and now known as the “Apache Kid.” This kid was the son of old Chief Toga-de-chuz, a San Carlos Apache. At a big dance on the Gila at old Toga-de-chuz’s camp everybody got drunk and when morning came old Toga was found dead from a knife thrust. An old hunter belonging to another tribe of Indians and called “Rip,” was accused of doing the job, but from what Sieber could learn, as he afterwards told me, everybody was too drunk to know how the thing did happen. The wound was given in a very skillful manner and as it split open old Toga’s heart it was supposed to be given by one who knew where the heart lay.
Toga and old Rip had had a row over a girl about forty years before, (they were both about sixty at this time), and Toga had gotten the best of the row and the girl to boot. Some say that an Indian will forget and forgive the same as a white man. I say no. Here had elapsed forty years between the row and the time old Toga was killed.
Rip had not turned his horse loose in the evening before the killing, so it was supposed he had come there with the express intention of killing old Toga.
Any way the Kid was the oldest son of Toga-de-chuz and he must revenge the death of his father. He must, according to all Indian laws and customs, kill old Rip. Sieber knew this and cautioned the Kid about doing anything to old Rip. The Kid never said a word to Sieber as to what he would do. The Kid was First Sergeant of the agency scouts. The Interior Department had given the agency over to the military and there were no more police, but scouts instead.
Shortly after this killing, Sieber and Captain Pierce, the agent, went up to Camp Apache to see about the distribution of some annuities to the Indians there, and the Kid, as First Sergeant of the scouts, was left in charge of the peace of the agency.
No sooner did Sieber and Captain Pierce get started than the Kid took five of his men and went over on the Aravaipo [River], where old Rip lived, and shot him. That evened up their account and the Kid went back to where his band was living up above the agency. Sieber heard of this and he and Pierce immediately started to San Carlos.
When they got there they found no one in command of the scouts. Sieber sent word up to the camp where the Kid’s people lived to tell the Kid to come down. This he did escorted by the whole band of bucks.
Sieber, when they drew up in front of his tent, went out and spoke to the Kid and told him to get off his horse, and this the Kid did. Sieber then told him to take the arms of the other four or five men who had Government rifles. This also the Kid did. He took their guns and belts and then Sieber told him to take off his own belt and put down his gun and take the other deserters and go to the guard house.
Some of the bucks with the Kid, (those who were not soldiers), said to the Kid to fight, and in a second they were at it, eleven bucks against Sieber alone. It did not make any particular difference to Sieber about being outnumbered. His rifle was in his tent. He jumped back and got it, and at the first shot he killed one Indian. All the other Indians fired at him as he came to the door of his tent, but only one bullet struck him; that hit him on the shin and shattered his leg all to pieces. He fell and the Indian ran away.
This was what Sieber told me when I got to the Agency. And then I knew it was the Kid who had my horse and outfit. Soldiers were already on his trail.
From where he had stolen my horse, he and his band crossed over the mountain to the Table Mountain district, and there stole a lot of Bill Atchley’s saddle horses.
A few miles further on they killed Bill Dihl, then headed on up through the San Pedro country, turned down the Sonoita River, and there they killed Mike Grace; then they were turned back north again by some of the cavalry that was after them.
They struck back north, and Lieutenant Johnson got after them about Pontaw, overtook them in the Rincon Mountains, and had a fight, killing a couple of them, and put all the rest of them afoot. My horse was captured unwounded, and as the soldiers knew him, he was taken to the San Pedro and left there; they sent word to me, and eventually I got him, though he was pretty badly used up.
That was the way the Kid came to break out. He went back to the Reservation, and later on he surren- dered. He was tried for desertion, and given a long time by the Federal Courts, but was pardoned by Presi- dent Cleveland, after having served a short term.
During the time the Kid and his associates were hiding around on the Reservation, previous to his first arrest, he and his men had killed a freighter, or he may have been only a whiskey peddler. Anyway, he was killed twelve miles above San Carlos, on the San Carlos River, by the Kid’s outfit, and when the Kid returned to the Agency after he had done his short term, and had been pardoned by the President, he was re-arrested by the civil authorities of Gila County, Arizona, to be tried for the killing of this man at the Twelve Mile Pole.
This was in the fall of 1888. I was deputy sheriff of Gila County at that time, and as it was a new county, Reynolds was the first sheriff. I was to be the interpreter at the Kid’s trial, but on July 4th, of 1888, I had won the prize at Globe [Arizona] for tying down a steer, and there was a county rivalry among the cow boys all over the Territory as to who was the quickest man at that business. One Charley Meadows (whose father and brother were before mentioned as being killed by the Cibicus on their raid), was making a big talk that he could beat me tying at the Territorial Fair, at Phoenix. Our boys concluded I must go to the fair and make a trial for the Territorial prize, and take it out of Meadows. I had known Meadows for years, and I thought I could beat him, and so did my friends.
The fair came off at the same time as did court in our new county, and since I could not very well be at both places, and, as they said, could not miss the fair, I was not at the trial.
While I was at Phoenix the trial came off and several of the Indians told him about the killing. (There were six on trial), and they were all sentenced to the penitentiary at Yuma, Arizona, for life. Reynolds and “Hunky Dory” Holmes started to take them to Yuma. There were the six Indians and a Mexican sent up for one year, for horse stealing. The Indians had their hands coupled together, so that there were three in each of the two bunches.
Where the stage road from Globe to Casa Grande (the railroad station on the Southern Pacific railroad) crosses the Gila River there is a very steep sand wash, up which the stage road winds. Going up this Reynolds took his prisoners out and they were all walking behind the stage. The Mexican was handcuffed and inside the stage. Holmes got ahead of Reynolds some little distance. Holmes had three Indians and Reynolds had three.
Just as Holmes turned a short bend in the road and got behind a point of rocks and out of sight of Reynolds, at a given signal, each bunch of prisoners turned on their guard and grappled with them. Holmes was soon down and they killed him. The three that had tackled Rey- nolds were not doing so well, but the ones that had killed Holmes got his rifle and pistol and went to the aid of the ones grappling Reynolds. These three were holding his arms so he could not get his gun. The ones that came up killed him, took his keys, unlocked the cuffs and they were free.
Gene Livingston was driving the stage, and he looked around the side of the stage to see what the shooting was about. One of the desperados took a shot at him, striking him over the eye, and down he came. The Kid and his men then took the stage horses and tried to ride them, but there was only one of the four that they could ride.
The Kid remained an outlaw after that, till he died a couple of years ago of consumption. The Mexican, after the Kid and his men left the stage (they had taken off his handcuffs), struck out for Florence and notified the authorities. The driver was only stunned by the shot over the eye and is today a resident and business man of Globe.
Had I not been urged to go to the fair at Phoenix, this would never have happened, as the Kid and his comrades just walked along and put up the job in their own language, which no one there could understand but themselves. Had I not gone to the fair I would have been with Reynolds, and could have understood what they said and it would never have happened. I won the prize roping at the fair, but it was at a very heavy cost.
At this point in [the] story, I wish to insert a clipping which I have been fortunate enough to secure. It is from the Philadelphia Times, of 27th, 1895, and is timely just here.
“In Arizona and New Mexico, roping contests used to be held as a kind of annual tournament, in Au- gust, to the fair, or else as a special entertainment, often comprising, among other features, horse racing, a bull fight, baile [dance in Spanish] and fiesta. Roping contests are generally held in a large field or enclosure such as the interior of a race course. Inside this compound is built a small corral, in which are confined wild beef cattle, usually three- year-old steers, just rounded up off the range.
“The contest is a time race, to see who can overtake, lasso, throw and tie hard and fast the feet of a steer in the shortest period. The record was made at Phoenix, Arizona, in 1891. The contestants were, Charlie Meadows, Bill McCann, George Iago, Ramon Barca and Tom Horn, all well-known vaqueros of the Mexican-Arizona border. Tom Horn won the contest. Time, 49 seconds, which I do not think has since been lowered.
“Two parallel lines, about as far apart as the ends of a polo court, were marked by banderoles or guidons [a small flag]. A steer was let out of the corral and driven at a run in a direction at right angles to the lines marked. As the steer crossed the second line, a banderole was dropped, which was the signal for a vaquero to start from the first line, thus giving the beef a running start of 250 yards. The horses used were all large, fleet animals, wonderfully well trained, and swooped for their prey at full speed and by the shortest route, turning without a touch of the rein to follow the steer, often anticipating his turns by a shorter cut. When the vaquero got within fifty yards of his beef the loop of his riata was swinging in a sharp, crisp circle about his right arm, raised high to his right and rear, and when twenty yards closer, it shot forward, hovered for an instant, and then descended above the horns of its victim, which a moment later would land a somersault. Before the beef could recover his surprise or wind he would have a half hitch about his fore legs, a second about his hind legs, and a third found all four a snug little bunch, hard and fast.
“The rope, of course, is not taken from the head; it is all one rope, the slack being successively used. Some- times the vaqueros used foot-roping instead of head. It requires more skill and is practiced more by the Mexicans, who think it a good method with large-horned cattle while in herd, where heads are so little separated that a lasso would fall on horns not wanted. In foot-roping the noose is thrown lower and a bit in front of the beef, so that at his next step he will put his foot into the noose before it strikes the ground. If the noose falls too quickly for this, it is jerked sharply upward just as the foot is raised above it.
“I have seen men so skillful at this that they would bet even money on roping an animal on a single throw, naming the foot that they would secure, as right hind, left fore, and so forth. As regards the lash end of the riata, two methods in this contest were also used. In the ‘Texas style, the lash of the riata is made hard and fast to the horn of the saddle. The instant the rope ‘holds,’ a pony who understands his work plants his fore feet forward and checks suddenly, giving the steer a header. His rider dismounts quickly, runs to the beef, which the pony keeps down by holding the rope taut.
“As soon as the vaquero faces the pony and grasps the rope near the beef, the pony moves forward, and with the slack of the rope the beef is secured. While the beef is plunging or wheeling on the rope the pony is careful to keep his head toward the beef, or, as the sailor would say, he goes ‘bow on.’
“The Texas method is best adapted to loose ground, where it is much easier on the vaquero, but it is utterly unsuited for mountain work or steep hillsides, as the pony would lose his footing and land up in the bottom of a cañon.
“For such country, the California style is used. Here the lash is not made fast; a few trapping turns are made about the horn, and the rider uses his weight and a checking of the pony to throw the beef. When he dismounts, he carries the lash end forward, keeping it taut, toward the beef, taking up the slack and coils it as he goes, and with it secures the beef. The pony is free after the steer is thrown. It is the more rapid method. Tom Horn used it in the contest won, when he made his record. With it the vaquero has free use of his riata for securing the beef. But it is a hard method, and plains men prefer letting Mr. Bronco take the brunt of it.
“Tom Horn is well known all along the border. He served as government guide, packer, scout and as chief of Indian scouts, which latter position he held with Captain Crawford at the time the Mexicans killed him in the Sierra Madre Mountains. He is the hero referred to ‘in the story of ‘The Killing of the Captain,’ by John Heard, Sr., published some months ago in the Cosmopolitan Magazine.”
(Horn’s narrative is now resumed.)
In the winter I again went home and in the following spring I went to work on my mine. Worked along pretty steady on it for a year, and in 1890 we sold it to a party of New Yorkers. We got $8,000 for it.
We were negotiating for this sale, and at the same time the Pinkerton National Detective Agency at Denver, Colorado, was writing to me to get me to come to Denver and go to work for them. I thought it would be a good thing to do, and as soon as all the arrangements for the sale of the mine were made I came to Denver and was initiated into the mysteries of the Pinkerton institution.
My work for them was not the kind that exactly suited my disposition; too tame for me. There were a good many instructions and a good deal of talk given to the operative regarding the things to do and the things that had been done.
James McParland, the superintendent, asked me what I would do if I were put on a train robbery case. I told him if I had a good man with me I could catch up to them.
Well, on the last night of August, that year, at about midnight, a train was robbed on the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, between Cotopaxi and Texas Creek. I was sent out there, and was told that C.W. Shores would be along in a day or so. He came on time and asked me how I was getting on. I told him I had struck the trail, but there were so many men scouring the country that I, myself, was being held up all the time; that I had been arrested twice in two days and taken in to Salida to be identified!
Eventually all the sheriffs’ posses quit and then Mr. W.A. Pinkerton and Mr. McParland told Shores and me to go at ’em. We took up the trail where I had left it several days before and we never left it till we got the robbers.
They had crossed the Sangre de Cristo range, come down by the Villa Grove iron mines, and crossed back to the east side of the Sangre de Cristos at Mosca pass, then on down through the Huerfano Cañon, out by Cucharas, thence down east of Trinidad. They had dropped into Clayton, N.M., .and got into a shooting scrape there in a gin mill. They then turned east again toward the “Neutral Strip” and close to Beaver City, then across into the “Pan Handle” by a place in Texas called Ochiltree, the county seat of Ochiltree county. They then headed toward the Indian Territory, and crossed into it below Canadian City. They then swung in on the head of the Washita River in the Territory, and kept down this river for a long distance.
We finally saw that we were getting close to them, as we got in the neighborhood of Paul’s Valley. At Washita station we located one of them in the house of a man by the name of Wolfe. The robber’s name was Burt Curtis. Shores took this one and came on back to Denver, leaving me to get the other one if ever he came back to Wolfe’s.
After several days of waiting on my part, he did come back, and as he came riding up to the house I stepped out and told him some one had come! He was “Peg Leg” Watson, and considered by every one in Colorado as a very desperate character. I had no trouble with him.
We had an idea that Joe McCoy, also, was in the robbery, but “Peg” said he was not, and gave me in-formation enough so that I located him. He was wanted very badly by the sheriff of Fremont county, Colorado, for a murder scrape. He and his father had been tried previous to this for murder, had been found guilty and were remanded to jail to wait sentence, but before Joe was sentenced he had escaped. The old man McCoy got a new trial, and at the new trial was sentenced to eighteen years in the Canyon City, Colorado, penitentiary.
When I captured my man, got to a telegraph station and wired Mr. McParland that I had the notorious “Peg,” the superintendent wired back: “Good! Old man McCoy got eighteen years today!” This train had been robbed in order to get money to carry McCoy’s case up to the Supreme Court, or rather to pay the attorneys (Macons & Son), who had carried the case up.
Later on I told Mr. McParland that I could locate Joe McCoy and he communicated with Stewart, the sheriff, who came to Denver and made arrangements for me to go with him and try to get McCoy.
We left Denver Christmas eve and went direct to Rifle, from there to Meeker and on down White River. When we got to where McCoy had been we learned he had gone to Ashley, in Utah, for the Christmas festivities. We pushed on over there, reaching the town late at night, and could not locate our man. Next morning I learned where he got his meals and as he went in to get his breakfast I arrested him. He had a big Colt’s pistol, but did not shoot me. We took him out by Fort Duchesne, Utah, and caught the D.&R.G. train at Price station.
The judge under whom he had been tried had left the bench when McCoy finally was landed back in jail, and it would have required a new trial before he could be sen- tenced by another judge; he consented to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, and took six years in the Canyon City pen. He was pardoned out in three years, I believe.
Peg Leg Watson and Burt Curtis were tried in the United States court for robbing the United States mails on the high way, and were sentenced for life in the Detroit federal prison. In robbing the train they had first made the fireman break into the mail compartment of the compartment car. They then saw their mistake, and did not even take the amount of a one-cent postage stamp, but went and made the fireman break into the rear compartment, where they found the express matter and took it. But the authorities proved that it was mail robbery and their sentence was life.
While Pinkerton’s is one of the greatest institutions of the kind in existence, I never did like the work, so I left them in 1894.
I then came to Wyoming and went to work for the Swan Land and Cattle Company, since which time everybody else has been more familiar with my life and business than I have been myself.
And I think that since my coming here the yellow journal reporters are better equipped to write my his- tory than am I, myself!
[Editor’s note: So ends Life of Tom Horn, a Vindication. Horn, though, in publishing this account, seeking to vindicate himself (for his conviction of having murdered Willie Nickell, the 14-year-old son of a southern Wyoming sheep rancher), avoids addressing the murder and related circumstances, offering no explanation to his whereabouts, or even any mention of the charges, except through letters (from jail, post conviction) that follow his descriptive account, a few of which we provide here. Horn also skips over his service as a Pinkerton stock detective, which surely involved killings, yet maintains that he was innocent of the crime for which he was hanged on October 22, 1903, in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Historians speculate as to whether Horn was guilty of killing the 14-year-old (shooting from a long distance, Horn would have mistaken the boy for a rustler), and it was Horn’s alleged drunken confession to a detective that put him away. At trial, witnesses testified Horn could not have committed the crime. Yet it is undisputed that he was a hired gun, serving the Pinkertons and ranching interests, who killed many men, the reason perhaps that he avoids the subject and concentrates on his meritorious exploits.
Cheyenne, Wyo., October 12, 1903. John C. Coble, Esq.,
I have written you a couple of letters, and also several to Judge Burke, but so far have not heard a word from any one.
I think that if you would go to Denver and see Billy Loomis that he could get an affidavit from Frank W. Mulock and those other two men with him, showing that he came here hired to swear to anything that was put into his mouth, and that Stoll and La Fors hired him to do so. It is certainly worth while to make the attempt.
Try and find out from Burke and Lacey if such an affidavit would do any good. I have written Burke sev- eral times in the last week, asking him if such an affidavit would do any good, but so far have been unable to get a reply of any kind from him. He does not answer my letters, or even acknowledge the receipt of them. Of course, it is not worth while to get them if they will do no good, but where there is absolute perjury shown, and it is also shown that these men were paid to swear falsely, it would certainly cut some figure with the governor.
I wrote Ohnhaus a letter and asked him to come up and tell the truth and save my life; this I did on the 4th of this month, and I have not heard from him yet. Last night Proctor brought me word that Burke said it would be a good idea to write a letter to Mulock and see if he would come out and tell the truth, but no word can I get saying what good it would do.
Of course, with Ohnhaus it is different; for he took down the conversation in shorthand and then changed it at the instigation of some one. He can tell the whole job, and that would get me a pardon, but he will probably refuse to do so.
Anyhow, everything should be tried. You know that, there is no time to spare if this thing is to be brought around.
Burke has got too much to do to attend to this, and if you will give it your personal attention, I feel sure you can accomplish something.
I have today written to Billy Loomis at Denver, to see Mulock and see if anything can be done in the matter, and told him to communicate with you in regard to the matter; also told him to write Burke.
Johnnie, drop me a line as soon as you get this, so I can tell if you are getting my letters. How are everybody and everything? I hear beef prices are way down.
If you go to Denver and can get this affidavit from this man, get him to tell, also, who told him what to swear to.
Let me hear from you soon.
Cheyenne, Wyo., October 31, 1903. John C. Coble,
Dear Johnnie :
I had a long talk today with Judge Burke, and he spoke as though it would help my case if it was proven I was not present when Nickell was shot so many times.
The night before Nickell was shot I was at Alex Seller’s ranch, and went away in the morning (the morning Nickell was shot), and came back to his ranch in the evening. When I got back to Seller’s ranch, Jack Linscott was there and stayed all night and left the next morning, going somewhere up on the North Laramie River. I left the ranch also, the same day, and came back to Seller’s ranch again in the evening, and Jack Linscott also came back to Seller’s ranch, and as Linscott and I both got in about the same time, Sellers was telling both of us about Nickell being shot the day before, and Jack said he did not hear of it at R. R. before he left.
I then told both of them all about the sheep business, and the Nickell and Miller war, and about the Nickell boy being killed a short time before, which they had heard. There was a good deal of talk about it, so they will remember it well.
There were also several men there working at putting up hay. I don’t know their names, but think one of them was a Newell.
Linscott was driving a buggy. I still stayed on at Seller’s for a couple of nights more after Linscott left. I was at Seller’s ranch for two nights before Nickell was shot, and two or three nights after. Now, Sellers has sold out and I don’t know where he is. You might look him up and show him this letter, and he can not help but recall the whole circumstance.
I will write Linscott at Rock Eiver and see if he will come in and see Judge Burke and make an affidavit to these facts.