At the recent Western Writers of America convention, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I was pleased to meet historian & author Larry Ball. Larry’s book, TOM HORN: IN LIFE AND LEGEND, is a real dandy and a must-read for anyone interested in the Tom Horn story. Does Larry think that Tom Horn actually murdered the Nickell kid? Well, you’ll just have to read the book and find out.
Whenever I think of Tom Horn, I remember back a number of years when I was writing a magazine column about the frontiersman. I’ve got a lot of books on the topic and was checking my facts in them as I went along. I hit a real bump in my research when I saw written comments that Tom Horn used a Winchester Model 94 rifle, in .30 WCF caliber.
Now that was pure bull! I knew for a certainty that Tom Horn packed a Winchester Model 1876 rifle in a big-bore caliber. I’d seen the gun! It had very little bluing left, a crescent butt stock, and showed some wear. How could all of these authorities be so wrong???
The fact is that I wasted about two hours pouring through my research books for the mention of Tom’s big-bore rifle, or at least a photo. Zip, nada… I couldn’t find it anywhere.
Finally, it dawned on me. Tom Horn did, in fact, carry and use a Winchester Model 94 rifle in .30 WCF. It was Steve McQueen who used the Winchester Model 1876 gun that I could so vividly recall. Naturally, I’ve seen that movie 4-5 times.
For me, it is a good reminder of how movies effect our knowledge and misinformation, even subconsciously. And it is the reason that, to this day, I get pretty short tempered with folks who make movie responses to my historical posts. Movies are good entertainment… otherwise they aren’t worth crap!
So, did Tom Horn really kill Willie Nickell? Well, you’ll just have to get a copy of Larry Ball’s good, historical work on Horn and read his opinion and interpretation of the facts. Either way, you won’t be disappointed because it’s a darn good read.
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