This post is a part of our series on Tom Horn – full collection of links at the bottom of the page.
“no better man could be found for the work”
Frank M. Canton, who had himself been a deputy U.S. marshal and sheriff of Johnson County and who subsequently lost an election to rustler sympathizer William “Red” Angus, is believed to be the murderer of John Tisdale in Johnson County. Tisdale was gunned down in a wagon as he drove toward home in December 1891. He was an honest homesteader who had gone to Buffalo to handle some business matters and purchase Christmas gifts for his wife and children.
Canton participated in the Johnson County Invasion in April 1892, siding with the cattlemen. That alliance added to the enmity the homesteading community had already developed toward him. He then moved to Oklahoma which, in terms of geography, provided him with a measure of safety from the homesteader/rustler element in central Wyoming.
Canton was working as an undersheriff in Pawnee County, Oklahoma Indian Territory. In 1895 he was in pursuit of John “Jack Smith” Tregoning, who had escaped from the penitentiary in Laramie on November 15, 1894.
Canton wrote to William A. Pinkerton in Chicago on April 7, 1895, asking for help from Pinkertons in the form of a man who would be a good tracker and sleuth.
On April 12, William Pinkerton replied:
I am in receipt of your very full and complete letter of April 7th and note contents. As we have not got the right kind of man for this rough work out there, I have referred the matter to Supt. McParland at Denver, sending him a copy of your letter. I was greatly pleased to hear from you and did not know of your change of place. I imagine that whoever goes out on this work will find it rather difficult to do and we have not got at this office available such a man as I feel satisfied would fill the bill in every particular.
Tom Horn who used to be with our Denver office would be a good man for the place, and I will ask McParland to communicate with him and see if he cannot be got for the service and for the length of time you want him. He is not in our service now. You probably know of him. He is well acquainted all through the western country among cattle rustlers and all that class of men, and is a thorough horseman and plainsman in every sense of the word. I note particularly that you want to get Jack Treganing (sic.) who escaped from the Laramie penitentiary where you sent him for life and that he is down in that country. I should be very glad to hear of his capture….
James A. McParland wrote to Canton in Pawnee from Denver on April 13, discretely avoiding the mention of any names:
Yours of the 7th to Mr. W. A. Pinkerton has been forwarded to me with instructions that if any of the Operatives at this office who were capable of doing work of this kind were available that I should at once send him forward to you.
You are well aware that it will take a peculiar man to do this work, in fact a man as it were, to the Manor born. I have such men at this office but at the present time they are engaged on other operations. In fact I have three that could do this work or that I could detail upon it but at present they are unavailable and it is impossible for me to say when they would be at liberty. I know of a man although not working for me but I could recommend him as he formerly did work for me. I have not got his address at the present time but he is liable to write me at any time and as soon as he does I will suggest to him the fact that this matter is ready to be taken up and will have him communicate with you. I can guarantee the man. If he undertakes this matter no better man could be found for the work that you wish to have done. I, like you, would very much like to get hold of Tregoning as poor Henderson was an intimate friend of mine.
The “no better man” was, of course, Tom Horn.
This essay was originally published on Chip Carlson’s personal website, which has since expired, and is re-published here as a way to preserve some of the content of this historical figure. If you would like to continue learning about Tom Horn, please explore the links below. If you’d like to read the complete story, and help to support the author, his book can be purchased here.
More about Tom Horn:
Tom Horn (main page)
The Tom Horn Story (summary)