Bad Guys Gone Good... and Vice Versa - Part Three: Tom Horn (The True West - History that Helped Inspire Red Dead Redemption)

Posted on March 5 2010, 5:09pm | Author: R* Q | Filed Under: Games

(Marston escorted by Red Dead Redemption’s morally dubious government agents, Edgar Ross and Archer Fordham.)

In the dying West, the line between lawman and outlaw was a thin one, and no one walked that line more ambiguously than the subject of part three of our True West series of Red Dead Redemption historical research insights, Tom Horn – the man who infamously remarked, “Killing men is my speciality. I look at it as a business proposition, and I think I have a corner on the market.”

Tom Horn was born in 1860 to a Missouri farming family, and an abusive mother and father who routinely beat him to break him of what they called his “Indian ways.”  After a last world-class beating at his dad’s hands that left him in bed for a week, the teenager ran away from home to make his own way

Even as a child, Tom was a prodigious hunter of wild game; perhaps this explains how, after living on his own a while, he landed in the US Army as a teenaged army scout under the famous generals Nelson A. Miles and George Crook.  Rising through the ranks, he eventually played a lead role in the capture and surrender of legendary Apache leader and warrior, Geronimo.

(One of the Old West’s most infamous good guys gone bad.  Left: Tom Horn in his earlier, and more reputable years. [Wyoming State Archives, Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources]; Right: Horn’s conviction as it appeared on the front page of the Rocky Mountain News, October 25, 1902.)

Following a stint as a successful ranch hand and champion steer wrestler, Horn next worked as a deputy sheriff in either Colorado or Arizona (accounts differ) before being recruited by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, the fearsome organization that revolutionized modern law enforcement practices.  Cold, calm, efficient and unstoppable once on the trail of his targets, Horn was nevertheless pushed out of the Agency less than five years later due to his persistent habit of scandalous killings that made even the brutal and ruthless Pinkertons look bad.

By the turn of the century, Horn finally did away with any pretense of legal authority and began working as a freelance “Range Detective”—in reality, a hitman for hire—taking $500 (or what would be $13,000 in today’s dollars) from rich land and cattle barons in Wyoming to hunt down and kill any cattle rustlers or agitators they wanted to disappear.  Horn was said to stalk his targets for days, learning their habits and movements; posting up out of sight, Horn killed them with a single shot to the head, then left a rock under their head as his signature.  While there was indeed an ugly rash of cattle theft in Wyoming, Horn had an even uglier reputation as a stone-cold killer.  When Willie Nickell, the 14-year old son of a shepherd was found shot to death, Horn was fingered for the murder by a local deputy and quickly convicted by the outraged locals.  Horn was made to weave his own hanging rope during his last days.  His last words before being hung dead were said to be, “Hurry it up. I got nothing more to say.”

(Left: Outside his jail cell in a Wyoming prison; Right: Horn at the end of his own rope, awaiting execution. [Wyoming State Archives, Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources])

His legendary life and its corrupt end were immortalized on the big and small screen, first in the 1979 made-for-TV movie Mr. Horn (starring David Carradine as Horn) and the following year in the major motion picture Tom Horn, where Steve McQueen portrayed the detective-turned-hitman.  Historians still dispute the legitimacy of the conviction but all agree, Tom Horn was perfectly capable of such a killing and undoubtedly had committed other murders for which he went unpunished.

Coming Next: New Inventions Sweeping the Nation at the Turn of the 20th Century

Part Two: Pearl Hart
Part One: Frank James
Brand New Red Dead Redemption Video: The Law


  • BIGTIME213on May 14 2010, 8:34pmReplyFlag
    XBOX360 GAMER TAG............. BIGTIME 213 PLEASE ADD 4
    • DaFunnyMan69on May 8 2010, 6:01pmReplyFlag
      There will be swimming in RDR, but no deep sea stuff; Marston will drown.
      • Alliedwaron April 13 2010, 11:52amReplyFlag
        Can anyone confirm if swimming, bow and arrows, or sabres will be in this game?
        • VercettiGangon April 11 2010, 7:06amReplyFlag
          Rockstar Games release games wide apart, but in the long run, that is good, because you know they will be awesome.
          • NegativeFutureon April 8 2010, 3:27pmReplyFlag
            I love Rockstar Games
            • irinel1996on April 3 2010, 10:13amReplyFlag
              RockStar the beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeest companyyyyyyyyyy games. Rockstar North tooo...
              • JackassBoy300on March 30 2010, 9:24pmReplyFlag
                is this gonna be a 2-player game or is multiplayer gonna be online?
                • hjalmar000on March 30 2010, 12:00pmReplyFlag
                  Rockstar is the quality game maker !
                  • I3lackthornon March 26 2010, 7:58pmReplyFlag
                    The "True West series" are mags that I own. And there are write ups about Tom Horn. Can't wait for this game!!
                    • JakeDaBosson March 12 2010, 3:06pmReplyFlag
                      Byside "look at the lower right of the picture... is that a model T"

                      it looks like one. That would b cool if there was one
                      • Bysideon March 12 2010, 12:19pmReplyFlag
                        I hope we can drive a model T ? Hummm look at the lower right of the picture... is that a model T
                        • JakeDaBosson March 12 2010, 8:52amReplyFlag
                          This was posted March 5th.....its March 12. It has been a whole WEEK with NO news.
                          Come on R*
                          • Vozoneon March 12 2010, 8:29amReplyFlag

                            YESSS i was thinking about that the second i saw your avatar! Warriors kicked arse!! if there's two games that rockstar shoud re-release and make ps3 friendly its GTASA and the warriors! Ku- DOS!!!
                            • gtaofmarson March 12 2010, 5:56amReplyFlag
                              Rockstar you had said that this week there would be many information…
                              if today I do not see new information I would not buy your video game
                              on the part of a fan !
                              (you do not answer has our request besides the delay of the video game that becomes painful ...desolate of my poor English )
                              • TomMcDennemon March 12 2010, 3:02amReplyFlag
                                The week bends to the end and still none new news.
                                • gtaofmarson March 11 2010, 11:22pmReplyFlag
                                  who are the gits ?
                                  • 2KrazyHonkieon March 11 2010, 11:03pmReplyFlag
                                    do you guys realy need info on everything 24/7
                                    git off there nuts the have stuff to do obviusly
                                    • ccm731on March 11 2010, 10:41pmReplyFlag
                                      R* by all means take your time but um maybe one bit of info.
                                      • 2KrazyHonkieon March 11 2010, 9:58pmReplyFlag
                                        @R* Q/R*
                                        have you guys ever thought of remaking the warriors game becuase i thought i was a graet game and i think alot of people whould love it if you guys did...

                                        cant wait for Read dead redemption... sad the the release date was cut back to may 18
                                        i was realy looking forward to it coming out next month oh well.
                                        • TheJoker93xxon March 11 2010, 6:22pmReplyFlag
                                          wow its now thursday rockstar with no info
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