Tom Horn Western Legend in Boulder

 Tom Horn is a western legend, so infamous that a classic western movie was made about him starring Steve McQueen.

While the 1980 vintage movie may not be one of McQueen’s most well-known roles, likewise, Tom Horn may not be one of America’s most well known western legends, yet he’s probably one of the most well know legends laid to rest in a Boulder cemetery.

Nonetheless, after spending many years as a civilian scout for the U.S. Cavalry, involved in the “Apache Wars”, participating on an expedition into Mexican territory working as a packer and interpreter, ultimately being one of a group tracking down Chief Geronimo in September 1886.

Eventually he began hiring out his skills with a gun in Arizona and other parts in the west during conflicts between cattlemen and sheepmen as well.

Eventually Tom Horn found himself back in Boulder, Colorado. He is

buried at Boulder’s Columbia / Pioneer Cemetery. While the marker indicates that Tom was born in 1861, his correct year of birth is 1860. His birthday, according to records is November 21, 1860.

Originally from a Missouri, and part of a large farming family, that lifestyle didn’t appeal much to Tom. He was known for sneaking out to hunt at a young age, rather than working on the family farm, or going to school. Legend also has it that Tom’s father was a rough sort, and Tom left home at the tender age of 13 years old.

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Tom also worked odd jobs, as you might imagine. He earned money as a railroad track laborer, a livery stable worker, stage driver, mule drover and by the middle of 1876 ended up at Beaver Head Station in Arizona Territory.

What brought Tom near Boulder was his work with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Tom worked for Pinkerton for a couple years in the early 1890’s and was involved in helping track down train robbers, the most widely known work of the Pinkerton Agency if you watch a lot of American western movies.

Tom was actually part of the famous Lincoln County War. While technically the cattlemen lost the ‘war’ they were not so easily put down. Tom Horn worked as a ‘deputy Sheriff’, Pinkerton agent, cattle detective and roamed all over Wyoming and Colorado for these duties.

Stories abound about Tom Horn, many of which essentially wind down to a time when cattlemen would report rustlers in an area, Tom would be hired to run off the rustlers using ‘whatever means possible’. It’s not clear if it was Tom Horn’s reputation, or his handy work with a rifle or handgun that did the trick. The work went on for about 10 years.

Although his official title was always “Range Detective,” he actually functioned as a killer for hire. In 1900, he was implicated in the murder of two known rustlers and robbery suspects in northwest Colorado. Just prior to the killings, Horn had begun working for the Swan Land and Cattle Company, He had killed the two rustlers, Matt Rash and Isom Dart, while he was following up on what became known as the Wilcox Train Robbery, and he was possibly working freelance for the Pinkerton Agency when he did so

Then while Tom was enlisted to help the cattlemen run off not only rustlers but the sheep which were encroaching on the cattle grazing in southern Wyoming, much controversy came about as the cattlemen realized that they were being called out for hiring the likes of Tom horn to do their dirty work for them.

A young man named Willie Nickell was killed. Tom was pegged for the crime, and Wyoming lawman Joe LeFors managed to get a confession from Tom, some say under questionable circumstances (he may have been drunk at the time). Tom Horn was quoted as saying during the confession, recorded by a stenographer who hid from Horn’s site, “It ws the best shot that I ever made and the dirtiest trick that I ever done”. It was rough on Tom during the two week trial in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and while there were no eye-witnesses to the crime, Tom was convicted and hung.

Tom’s brother Charles claimed his body and brought Tom to Boulder, Colorado after his hanging on the morning of November 20, 1903. Tom rests at the southern edge of the Columbia / Pioneer Cemetery (often known by many names such as Pioneer, Park, Masonic, Old, Boulder, and City Cemetery), which is located west of Ninth Street between Pleasant Street and College Avenue in Boulder.

In 1993, the case was retried in a mock trial in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Horn was acquitted.

Zachary Epps, GRI, ABR, REALTOR®, Eco-Broker®, full-time RE/MAX professional, and author of the

Boulder Real Estate and Neighborhood Guide

The Boulder Condo Guide

The Home Buyer’s Handbook

Call, text, or email me today!… I’d seriously enjoy having the opportunity to talk to you about your plans if you’re moving, or if you know someone who is considering a move, and needs some straight answers.


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