Friday, December 11, 2015


Tom Horn, 1894, inscription. South-central
Montana. Photograph by Timothy Urbaniak,
used by permission.

Periodically, I include historic inscriptions in RockArtBlog, not that they are art per se, but because they provide a direct link to the history of the Western US. This week I am illustrating the inscription pictured above, Tom Horn, 1894.

"Thomas "Tom" Horn, Jr. (November 21,1860 - November 20, 1903) was an American Old West scout, who carried out varied roles as hired gunman, Pinkerton range detective, cowboy, and soldier." (Wikipedia)

Tom Horn, photograph from internet.

"At Names Hill in western Wyoming, local ranchers continued to participate in the cultural tradition of inscribing at that site. During that time there (were) new threats coming to the cattle ranches across the Northern Plains in the form of rustlers. As part of an effort to control rustling, Wyoming ranchers from around Cheyenne hired Tom Horn as an enforcer. In 1894 he was brought in as a detective by the Swan Land & Cattle Company of Cheyenne. Reputed as a cold-blooded killer that liked to shoot from afar, the placement of an inscription reading "Tom Horn, 1894" (Figure 5.68) is placed high along sandstone rimrocks. An interesting note about the inscription site is that it is placed on a cliff at the top of a valley between Billings and Hardin, Montana, with an excellent vantage spot of the travel corridor, and a place in a break in the sandstone cliffs large enough to contain a horse and bedroll." (Urbaniak 2014:128)

"Believed to have committed 17 murders as a hured gunman in the West, in 1902 Horn was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Willie Nickell near Iron Mountain, Wyoming. The boy was the son of sheep rancher Kels Nickell, who had been involved in a range feud with neighbor and cattle rancher Jim Miller. On the day before his 43rd birthday, Horn was executed by hanging in Cheyenne Wyoming.
While in jail he wrote his autobiography, Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter (1904), which was published posthumously. Numerous editions have been published of this book since the late 20th century, and debate continues as to whether he was guilty of Nickell's murder." (Wikipedia)

Tom Horn presents us with an interesting and controversial case because, as noted above, historians of he are still argue over his guilt or innocence in that particular murder. Horn had reportedly confessed to it while drunk but the circumstances throw enough doubt on the case to keep the question open. Not that Horn did not deserve hanging. His career of murder as a hired gun certainly qualified him for capital punishment. Reportedly, when asked if he had any last request before his 1903 hanging Horn asked to have a friend of his in another cell sing him the song "Life's Railway to Heaven" or "Life is Like a Mountain Railway." This is also one of my favorite hymns.
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NOTE: Presented through the generosity of Tim Urbaniak, who compiled this material for his 2014 PhD thesis, HISTORIC INSCRIPTIONS OF THE NORTHERN PLAINS IDENTITY AND INFLUENCE IN THE RESIDUAL COMMUNICATION RECORD at the University of Montana, in Missoula.


Urbianik, Timothy Rostov,
2014    HISTORIC INSCRIPTIONS OF THE NORTHERN PLAINS IDENTITY AND INFLUENCE IN THE RESIDUAL COMMUNICATION, Dissertation Presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology The University of Montana Missoula, MT,  July 2014.


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