Tom Horn and the newfangled repeatin’ pistol, Wyoming, 1903.
In the later days of the Old West Tom Horn was a hired gun and lawman who made a living by killing cattle rustlers. Hired by wealthy cattle barons in Wyoming, Tom Horn was a merciless man who tended to shoot before asking questions. With the title of “Range Detective” he was essentially a hired killer. He rarely brought cattle rustlers in, preferring to simply ambush them and gun them down. Later, as firearms become more accurate with smokeless powder and high velocity ammunition, Horn preferred to shoot cattle rustlers with a .30-30 rifle from a safe distance.
On July 18th, 1901 Horn was working near Iron Mountain, Wyoming when the son of a sheep rancher named Willie Nickel was found murdered. Horn was brought in by US Marshal Joe Lefors, a hardened lawman who was so feared that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled to Bolivia to escape him. Lefors had no evidence to arrest Horn, and it is unknown whether Horn accidentally shot him (mistaken identity), intentionally shot him, or had anything to do with the murder whatsoever. However Horn was drunk, and Lefors was able to coax a vague and questionable confession. The confession was introduced at the trial, conventionally edited to contain only the self-incriminating parts. The jury declared Horn guilty and he was sentenced to be executed by hanging.
Horn was locked up in jail at Cheyenne under the custody of Sheriff Dick Proctor. The jail had two cells, but interestingly the mechanism to open his neighbors cell opened Horn’s cell as well. When Sheriff Proctor opened his neighbors cell one day, Horn jumped him and tied him up with window cord. Horn stole the Sheriff’s gun and made for the streets as an alarm was sounded and sheriff’s deputies marshaled to apprehend Horn. When the deputies opened fire on him, Horn tried to return fire with Proctors gun, but the dang pistol wouldn’t go off!
Unknown to Horn, Sheriff Proctor’s pistol was an FN Model 1903 semi-automatic, one of those newfangled automatic pistols invented by John Browning and made in Belgium. At that time, most pistols were single action revolvers, which meant one had to cock the hammer with each shot. The Model 1903 had no hammer. To load an automatic pistol, one must chamber a cartridge by wracking the slide, which takes a cartridge from a detachable magazine and loads it into the chamber. Horn had no concept of this as he was used to simply cocking and firing a revolver. Furthermore most automatic pistols have a safety catch. The type of revolver that Horn was used to firing didn’t have a safety.
The result was that Horn awkwardly fumbled with the newfangled repeatin’ pistol in the streets as Proctor’s deputies chased him down. They tackled Horn, clubbed him on the back of the head, clapped him in irons, and locked him back in his cell. To further prevent the possibility of his escape armed troops and deputies surrounded the prison. He was hanged 20th of November, 1903.
Today the FN Model 1903 pistol is in the possession of Richard Proctor, grandson of Sheriff Dick Proctor.