Although it's been about 113 years since his death, Tom Horn still remains a prominent figure in Old West history, particularly in regards to the state of Wyoming.
Hanged in 1903 for the shooting death of Willie Nickel, a 14-year old boy, Horn may have been another tragic victim of the incident, falsely convicted by the unethical and unscrupulous actions of a corrupt prosecutor.
Although Horn may have indeed been guilty, it is doubtful that he would have been convicted under today's standards of justice.
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We were privileged to see the curator of the museum open up a special exhibit of Tom Horn items just for our gathering in Cheyenne.
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Hanging Around the Memory of Tom Horn.
Perhaps no figure cuts a wider swath in their state's history than Tom Horn. Some might argue that his level of state notoriety is only surpassed by his national prominence in Old West lore.
I saw this truth play out recently on my first visit to the state of Wyoming with the Western Writers of America, when we visited the
Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum.
Yet these many years later, Tom Horn still lives!
Perhaps it is the conclusive truth of the story which still evades us today, and the never-ending debate which ensues over the facts, these are the items which keep a dead man alive in the annals of Old West lore.
I have always found it interesting that death sometimes has a strange way of granting immortality to its victims. Such was the case of Tom Horn.
Along with the hanged range detective, William Hickok, Billy the Kid, and Jesse James all achieved their legendary status in much the same way.
Maybe it is the manner of their deaths which also gives birth to their legend.
When youth and notoriety are joined with an unexpected, dramatic, or violent death, then a certain immortality is often bestowed upon that individual.
We've seen the same scenario play out in today's popular culture with the deaths of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston, and other famous celebrities and entertainers who died suddenly, under strange or unexpected circumstances.
In short, their legend lives on because they didn't. And like Tom Horn, all of them will remain forever young in our minds.
But returning to our discussion of Old West history, perhaps the only person who shares their same level of notoriety is Wyatt Earp, strangely enough, a man who didn't die young.
Earp became legendary, not only for his deeds--or some might say, his misdeeds--but also for the fact that this one man, often immersed in the violence of his times, did not ultimately succumb to the violence himself, surviving to a ripe, old age before he expired.
In all his time as a frontier lawman, and despite his participation in what was arguably the most well-known gunfight in our nation's history, which led to the death and dismemberment of two of his brothers, Earp emerged from all of these incidents unscathed.
As an author, I can tell you that notoriety is always a good thing. But my plan is to ultimately achieve it in a manner similar to Wyatt Earp, living to a ripe, old age, not dying like Tom Horn, dangling from the end of a hangman's noose.
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