A Pinkerton’s Agent

This post is a part of our series on Tom Horn – full collection of links at the bottom of the page.

“not the type of man one liked to argue with.”

It wasn’t long before more adventure seemed to seek Tom Horn out.

Late in 1890 C. W. “Doc” Shores, a deputy U.S. marshal, sheriff of Gunnison County, Colorado, and part-time Pinkerton agent, was on the trail of thieves that had driven stolen Colorado horses into Arizona. In December he received a letter from the postmaster of Solomonville, in southeastern Arizona. The postmaster and his brother owned the Dunlap Brothers’ Ranch, where Tom Horn was foreman. Both he and Horn had seen the thieves who had been described on a “Wanted” poster that had been distributed in the region. Shores said, “Being in the cattle business himself [the postmaster] appreciated what I was doing and would have his foreman appointed as deputy sheriff to assist… in making the arrests. He praised Tom Horn highly as a capable cattleman, rodeo star, and a former Indian Scout.”

Shores answered Dunlap’s letter, and arranged to meet Tom at Willcox, forty miles south of Solomonville. They met in the lobby of the hotel where the Colorado sheriff stayed after arriving, and he described his new acquaintance as “a tall, dark?complected man with a black mustache…. He was around thirty years of age and presented an imposing figure of a man ?? deep?chested, lean?loined, and arrow?straight. He was wearing a plaid shirt, woolen trousers and high-heeled boots. A wide-brimmed sombrero covered his head.” Shores also said Horn had “black, shifty eyes.”

As they traveled by buckboard to the location where the horse thieves had been seen, the two lawmen became engaged in discussions on various matter. Shores further described his partner as an “interesting conversationalist… [but] not the type of man one liked to argue with.”
After capturing the two robbers without trouble, the two men went their separate ways. Shores wrote a letter to James McParland, superintendent of the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency in Denver. He praised Horn’s work in helping him run down the horse thieves, and recommended that the Agency hire Tom as an agent.

Within months Tom Horn and his partners in an Arizona silver mine sold out. He went to Denver and, as he said, was “initiated into the mysteries of the Pinkerton institution.” His superintendent, McParland, asked him what he would do if he were put on a train robbery case. Tom told him simply that if he had the help of another good man, he would catch the robbers.
Around midnight on August 31, 1891, a train was robbed on the Denver and Rio Grande Railway between Cotopaxi and Texas Creek, roughly midway between Salida and Canon City on the Arkansas River. Horn was sent out on the job, and was told that his partner would be none other than “Doc” Shores. When Shores caught up with him, he:

… asked me how I was getting on. I told him I had struck the trail, but there were so many men scouring the country that I myself was being held up all the time; that I had been arrested twice in two days and taken in to Salida to be identified.
Eventually all the sheriff’s posses quit, and then Mr. W. A. Pinkerton and Mr. McParland told Shores and me to go at ’em. We took up the trail where I had left it several days before and we never left it till we got the robbers.

F. M. Ownbey, a Pinkerton’s who worked with Tom Horn (author’s photo, courtesy Al Carr).

The robbers went west across the Sangre de Cristo range in southern Colorado. They proceeded into an iron mining area and crossed back to the east side of the Sangre de Cristos at Mosca Pass, just southeast of present-day Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Horn and Shores then chased them through Huerfano Canon, out by Cucharas and east of Trinidad near the New Mexico line. The robbers dropped down into Clayton, N.M., and “got into a shooting scrape there in a gin mill. They then turned east again toward the ‘Neutral Strip’ and close to Beaver City, then across into… a place in Texas called Ochiltree” in the northeast part of the Texas Panhandle.

The robbers proceeded toward the Oklahoma Indian Territory, and entered it below Canadian City. They then came to the head of the Washita River and followed it downstream to their final destination.

The two Pinkertons men chased the robbers on horseback to Paul’s Valley, south of Oklahoma City, and more than three hundred miles from where they had first picked up the trail. At Washita station they located and captured one of them, Burt Curtis, in a house owned by a man named Wolfe. Shores hauled Curtis back to Denver, leaving Tom Horn to wait and see if the other would come back to Wolfe’s.

After several days of waiting on my part, he did come back, and as he came riding up to the house I stepped out and told him someone had come! He was ‘Peg Leg’ Watson, and considered by everyone in Colorado as a very desperate character. I had no trouble with him.

Early in the investigation, Horn and Shores had suspected that Joe McCoy, who was wanted in Canon City by the Fremont County, Colorado, sheriff for murder, was also a party to the Denver and Rio Grande robbery. That was not the case, but McCoy and his father, Dick, had been tried and convicted of murdering a stock detective. Joe escaped from jail before he was sentenced, and Dick was out on bail at the time of the Denver and Rio Grande incident. Dick’s ranch was across the river from the place where the train had been robbed, and it was natural that the lawmen would suspect him and his boys…

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)



“Bound To See Trouble”

A Pinkerton’s Agent

The Langhoff Gang

April, 1895

The Killing of William E. Lewis

Murder of Fred Powell

The Wilcox Train Robbery

Murder for Welfare

“More Trouble Ahead”

Killing of Willie Nickell

Glendolene M. Kimmell

Tom Horn Testifies

A Confession?

Tom Horn’s Trial

Tom Horn Hanged

About Chip Carlson (author)

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