Saturday, May 4, 2013

John Wesley Hardin - The True Prince of Pistoleers

In his last year of life, it's said that he put on a number of shooting exhibitions during which he shot holes in playing cards. He'd then signed them and gave them away as souvenirs.

One of his last guns was a Model 1877 Colt Double Action “Lightning” with mother-of-pearl grips, with a 2½-inch barrel, in .38 caliber. Besides being nickel-plated, the hammer, trigger and screws were blued. Its back-strap was hand-engraved: "J.B.M. TO J.W.H."

This gun and its holster were once sold at auction for $168,000. That six-shooter was presented to him, along with an engraved and gold-filled Elgin pocket watch, a watch chain and coin watch fob from his cousin by marriage, “Killer” Jim Miller, for representing him in a legal dispute.

He also owned two .41 Long Colt-chambered 1877 Colt Double Action "Thunderers." One of those had a 4½-inch barreled, ivory grips and nickel plated pocket revolver. The other had a 5" barrel and was nickel plated and ornately engraved with mother-of-pearl grips. He used a .41 caliber "Thunderer" to rob the Gem Saloon. It was sold at the same auction for $100,000.

He owned an ivory-griped, 4¾-inch barreled, 1873 .45 Colt Single Action Army in nickel finish. That pistol had its ejector housing removed for an easier and faster draw from his pocket. His 1873 Peacemaker and one of his .41 Long Colt 1877 Colts are on display at the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California.

In 2002, an auction house in San Francisco, California, auctioned off three lots of John Wesley Hardin's personal effects. The lot containing a deck of his playing cards, one of his business cards, and a contemporary newspaper account of his death sold for $15,250. In that same auction, the bullet that killed him sold for $80,000.

It should be noted that at the time of his death, the 42-year-old killer was packing a Smith & Wesson Double Action “Frontier” in .44-40 with black factory hard rubber grips. On that day, the El Paso police found his unfinished autobiography in the house that he had rented in town.

The unfinished manuscript was handed over to his children. The book entitled Life of John Wesley Hardin as Written by Himself was published in 1896. A lot of what we know about him, away from his murderous ways that was printed in the court records and newspapers of the times, comes from the autobiography that he started while in prison. A lot of Old West historians put a lot of credence into what he wrote, even though he was a psychopath and compulsive liar.

His name was John Wesley Hardin. And yes, his name alone struck terror in folks wherever he traveled. He was a bona fide snake, a Texas rattler, a true sidewinder in the shape of a man, a killer who was an expert with his six-guns.

Yes, John Wesley Hardin was indeed a bona fide killer, an outlaw, a cold blooded murderer, a psychopath. And while some call him a psychopath, others call him a sociopath because the two share similar traits. He was a man who wrote his own autobiography in prison, practiced law after his release, and even became a sort of folk hero to some in the Old West. Yes, John Wesley Hardin is the truest example of an Old West gunfighter and outlaw killer.

Because of his expertise with his six-guns and the many times he used them compared to others in his time, I believe John Wesley Hardin was the true prince of the pistoleers.

Hardin was named after John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination of the Christian church. He was born in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas, on May 26th, 1853. His father was James "Gip" Hardin. He was a Methodist preacher and circuit rider. His mother was Mary Elizabeth Dixson. Hardin described his mother as "blond, highly cultured, charity predominated in her disposition."

Hardin's father traveled all over much of central Texas on his preaching circuit until, in 1859, he and his family settled in Sumpter, Trinity County, Texas. There, Joseph Hardin taught school. In fact, he established the school that young John Wesley and his siblings attended.

John Wesley Hardin was the second surviving son of 10 children. His brother, Joseph Gibson Hardin, was three years his senior. The Hardins were direct descendants of Revolutionary War hero Col. Joseph Hardin who was a legislator from North Carolina, the "lost" State of Franklin, and the Southwest Territory.

According to his autobiography, while attending his father's school, John Wesley was taunted by another student. That kid was Charles Sloter. Sloter accused John Wesley of being the author of graffiti on the schoolhouse wall that insulted a girl in his class. John Wesley  denied it and accused Sloter of doing it.

Sloter produced a knife and charged at John Wesley, but he turned the knife on Sloter stabbing him almost killing him. John Wesley  was nearly expelled over the incident. Of course, the problem with these sorts of stories is that there's no proof that ever happened as is the case with much of Hardin's autobiography.

This is the problem with Old West myths and legends. In a time when almost everything was chronicled in some way shape or form, there should be proof to back up his autobiography. Yet, there isn't. We forget that people wrote letters, kept diaries and journals, wrote to newspapers, newspapers themselves kept a pretty good track of even the slightest incidents, with court records, testimonies, and arrest records being kept as well, there is nothing to support most of what John Wesley Hardin wrote about.

But frankly, that doesn't matter to writer who write about thing that supposedly happened. Take for example the story of how John Wesley, at the age of 15, supposedly challenged his uncle Holshousen's former slave, Mage, to a wrestling match which John Wesley won. According to Hardin, the following day, Mage hid by a path and attacked him as he rode past. Hardin states that he drew his revolver and fired five shots into Mage.

Hardin claimed he then rode to get help for the wounded ex-slave, who died three days later. But because James Hardin did not believe his son would receive a fair hearing in the Union-occupied state where more than a third of the State Police were ex-slaves, supposedly he hid his son from the law.

Even though this event could have been deemed self-defense by Texas law, Hardin claims that the authorities eventually discovered his location, and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him.

The young Hardin chose to confront his pursuers despite having been warned of their approach by his older brother Joe.

He said later, "I waylaid them, as I had no mercy on men whom I knew only wanted to get my body to torture and kill. It was war to the knife for me, and I brought it on by opening the fight with a double-barreled shotgun and ended it with a cap and ball six-shooter. Thus it was by the fall of 1868, I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm."

Remember, there is no proof this ever happened. None. And supposedly after that, Hardin was a fugitive from justice and couldn't return home. As a fugitive, Hardin initially traveled with outlaw Frank Polk in the Pisgah, Navarro County, Texas area.

Frank Polk had killed a man named Tom Brady. A detachment of soldiers sent from Corsicana, Texas, chased the two with Hardin escaping the troops. Polk got caught.

Believe it or not, it is said that while at Pisgah, Texas, John Wesley Hardin briefly taught school. And yes, according to him, lie or not, he claimed that he shot a man's eye out just to win a bottle of whiskey in a bet.

On January 5th, 1870, Hardin was playing cards with Benjamin Bradley in Towash, Hill County, Texas. Supposedly Hardin was winning almost every hand, which angered Bradley, who then threatened to "cut out his liver" if he won again. Sore losers can be a handful and Bradley was no exception to the rule. So supposedly Bradley drew a knife and a six-shooter. Hardin, who was unarmed, simply excused himself and left.

Later that night, Bradley went looking for Hardin. Seeing him on Towash Street, Bradley allegedly fired a shot at Hardin, which missed. Hardin drew both his pistols and returned fire. One shot hit Bradley in the head and the other his chest.

On January 20th, 1870, in Horn Hill, Limestone County, Texas, Hardin reportedly killed a man in a gunfight after an argument at the circus. Yes, the circus. Less than a week after that, in nearby Kosse, he was supposedly escorting a saloon girl home when they were accosted by a man demanding money. Hardin threw his money on the ground; Hardin shot the would-be thief when he bent to pick it up.

John Wesley Hardin was arrested in January 1871 for the murder of Waco, Texas City Marshal, Laban John Hoffman. Hardin, who was known to be quite the bragger, is said to have actually denied having committed the killing of Marshal Hoffman. But because he was unable to persuade a judge of his innocence, he was held temporarily in a log jail in the town of Marshall, awaiting transfer to Waco for trial. While locked up, he bought a revolver from another prisoner.

How he did this is up for speculation. Or as some folks would say, "Who cares, everybody knows it's just a tall tale!"

According to Hardin, Texas State Policemen, Captain Edward T. Stakes and officer Jim Smalley, were assigned to escort Hardin to Waco for trial. They actually tied him on a horse with no saddle for the trip.

While making camp along the way, Hardin escaped when Stakes went to procure grass for the horses. Supposedly he was left alone with Smalley, who began to taunt and beat the then 17-year-old prisoner with the butt of a pistol, Hardin feigned crying and huddled against his pony's flank.

Hidden by the animal, Hardin finally pulled out his hidden gun and fatally shot Smalley before escaping on Stakes' horse. He later forced a blacksmith to remove his shackles. After this incident, he found refuge among his Clements cousins who were then gathering at Gonzales in South Texas.

They suggested he could make money by getting into the cattle market, which was then rapidly growing in Kansas, and which would allow him to get out of Texas long enough for his pursuers to lose interest. OK, so these guys think that Texas law enforcement is just going to forget about Marshal Hoffman and State Police Officer Smalley? If Hardin really believed that, then he was really not very bright.

Hardin worked with his cousins, rustling cattle for Jake Johnson and Columbus Carol. And supposedly, again with most of this coming from Hardin himself, he became Trail Boss for the herd.

In February of 1871, while the herd was being formed up for the drive to Kansas, a freedman, Bob King, attempted to cut a beef cow out of the herd. When he refused to obey Hardin's demand to stop, Hardin hit him over the head with his pistol. That same month, Hardin wounded three Mexicans in an argument over a Three-card Monte card game.

Then while driving cattle on the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas, Hardin was reputed to have fought Mexican vaqueros and cattle rustlers. Toward the end of the drive, a Mexican herd crowded in behind Hardin's and there was some trouble keeping the two herds apart. Hardin exchanged words with the man in charge of the other herd. Both men were on horseback.

Supposedly one of the Mexican vaqueros fired his pistol at Hardin, putting a hole through Hardin's hat. Hardin drew his worn-out cap-and-ball pistol and it would not fire. So instead, he dismounted and managed to discharge the gun by steadying its loose cylinder with one hand while pulling the trigger with the other hitting the vaquero in the thigh.

Supposedly a sort of truce was declared and both parties went their separate ways, but Hardin was not finished with it and borrowed a pistol from a friend and went looking for the vaquero. When he found him, this time he fatally shot him through the head.

A fire fight between the rival camps ensued, and Hardin later claimed that six more vaqueros died in the exchanges five of the six reportedly shot by Hardin. and of course, this claim, like others from the likes of Hardin, later appeared exaggerated. That was the same time period that Hardin also claimed to have killed two Indians in separate gunfights on the same cattle drive.

On July 4th, 1871, a Texas trail Boss named William Cohron was killed on the Cottonwood Trail about 40 miles south of Abilene by an unnamed Mexican who "fled south."

The Mexican man was subsequently killed by two cowboys in a Sumner City, Sumner County Kansas, restaurant on July 20, 1871. Hardin admitted to being involved in the shooting of the Mexican. A Texas Historical Marker notes that in the 1870s, Hardin would hide out not just in Gonzales County, but in the Pilgrim area specifically.

Now as for his supposed encounters with the by then sensationalized James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok. Well, again according to Hardin, it supposedly took place when he was on the run and using the alias "Wesley Clements."

So how did he settle on the alias of Wesley Clements? Well, Hardin was a wanted man. He was a fugitive on the run heading to Mexico when he stops off at the home of his Aunt Martha Hardin Clements. His cousins told him that he'll need traveling money and can have a share of what they get for driving a herd of cows up to Abilene, Kansas. His cousins were James, Mannen, Joseph, and Gip Clements.

With the name of John Wesley Hardin becoming very infamous very fast, they come up with the alias "Wesley Clements" for their cousin to use. So for months, John Wesley Hardin had disappeared. Wesley Clements took his place and joined the rest of the Clements crew to herd cattle. It was an alias that he used often afterwards. It was during his travel up along the Arkansas River that he picked up the nickname Little Arkansas on the way to Abilene to unload their beef.

Criminals use aliases to hide their identity, or to impersonate other persons, or entities in order to commit fraud. Aliases may also be used for purely personal reasons when an individual feels the context and content of the exchange offer no reason, legal or otherwise, to provide their legal or given name.

I think the whole myth of drawing down on Wild Bill Hickok while Hickok just stands there open mouthed and dumbfounded is pure fantasy. Just wishful thinking on the part of a young killer trying to make a name for himself.

If you'd like to read more about my take on that supposed incident, click here John Wesley Hardin versus "Wild Bill" Hickok

I think Hardin inflated his reputation for all the same reasons that Old West figures like Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp inflated their reputations - so people who think they were tougher or meaner than they really were. Because of my experience with those of that ilk, I put very little credence in what some criminal writes down in an autobiography. It has been my experience that they are all very full of themselves.

Now, as for the shooting of a "snoring" man. Hardin using the alias Wesley Clements (or Clemens) and others from his crew put up for the night at the "American House Hotel". Sometime during the evening, Hardin, and at least one other cow hand, began firing bullets through the bedroom wall and ceiling, in an attempt to stop the snoring which was coming from the next room. A sleeping stranger, Charles Cougar, was killed.

In Hardin's autobiography, he claimed he was shooting at a man who was in his room to rob or kill him, and that he did not realize they had accidentally killed a man in the other room until much later. Hardin realized he would be in trouble with Hickok for firing his gun within the city limits. Half-dressed, he and his men exited through a second story window and ran onto the roof of the hotel just in time to see Hickok arriving with four deputies.

"I believe," Hardin wrote later, "that if Wild Bill found me in a defenseless condition, he would take no explanation, but would kill me to add to his reputation".

There is one thing you can't take away from gunmen and outlaws, they do have huge egos. Fact is Hardin never mentioned that the flip side to his argument is true as well. That if he had killed Wild Bill Hickok, then he would have been the most famous killer in the West.

A contemporary newspaper report of the shooting demonstrates how no one knew Hardin was in town as it noted: "A man was killed in his bed at a hotel in Abilene, Monday night, by a desperado called 'Arkansas'. The murderer escaped. This was his sixth murder."

Supposedly Hardin leaped from the roof into the street and hid in a haystack for the rest of the night. He stole a horse and made his way back to the cow camp outside town. The next day, he left for Texas, never to return to Abilene.

Years later, Hardin made a casual reference to the episode: "They tell lots of lies about me," he complained, "They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain't true. I only killed one man for snoring."

We can agree that this took place because the incident was noted in the papers and in court records at the time. A man named "Wesley Clements" was arranged for the killing. This is part of the reason that I think no one knew that Wesley Clements was in actuality John Wesley Hardin. If Hickok or his deputies or the courts had known who Wesley Clements really was, why didn't they report it as such instead of using his alias in the court document? It goes to prove they didn't knew who he was.

In his autobiography, Hardin claimed that following this shooting, he ambushed lawman Tom Carson and two other deputies at a cowboy camp 35 miles outside of Abilene, but did not kill them, only forcing them to remove all their clothing and walk back to Abilene. This might be more Hardin fantasy as no one notes that this took place.

In October of 1871, Hardin was involved in a gunfight with Texas State Policemen, Green Paramore and John Lackey, in which Paramore was fatally wounded. After this, Hardin claimed that about 45 miles outside Corpus Christi, Texas he was being followed by two Mexicans, and that he shot one off his horse while the other "quit the fight."

In early 1872, Hardin was in south central Texas, in the area around Gonzales County. There, he reunited with some of his Clements cousins, who had become allied with the local Taylor family, which had been feuding with the rival Sutton family for several years.

In June of 1872, at Willis, Texas, Hardin claimed that some men tried to arrest him for carrying a pistol "...but they got the contents instead."

On August 7th, 1872, Hardin was wounded by a shotgun blast in a gambling dispute in Trinity, Texas. He was shot by Phil Sublett, after he had lost money to Hardin in a poker game. Two buckshot pellets injured Hardin's kidney, and for a time it looked like he would die.

While recuperating from his wounds, Hardin decided he wanted to settle down. He made a sick-bed surrender to law authorities, handing over his guns to Sheriff Reagan of Cherokee County, Texas, and asking to be tried for his past crimes "to clear the slate." But when Hardin learned of how many murders Reagan was going to charge him with, he changed his mind. A relative smuggled in a saw, and Hardin escaped after cutting through the bars of a prison window.

On May 15th, 1873, Jim Cox and Jake Christman were killed by the Taylor faction at Tomlinson Creek.

Hardin, having by then recovered from the injuries from Sublett's attack, admitted that there were reports that he had led the fights in which these men were killed, but would neither confirm nor deny his involvement: "...but as I have never pleaded to that case, I will at this time have little to say."

In Cuero, Texas in May of 1873, Hardin killed Dewitt County Deputy Sheriff, J.B. Morgan, who served under County Sheriff, Jack Helms (a former captain in the Texas State Police). Both were Sutton family allies.

Hardin's main notoriety in the Sutton-Taylor feud was his part in the assassination on the afternoon of May 17th, 1873, in Albuquerque, Texas of Sheriff Helms. The feud culminated with Jim and Bill Taylor gunning down Billy Sutton and Gabriel Slaughter as they waited on a steamboat platform, in Indianola, Texas, on March 11th, 1874, as the two were planning to leave the area for good.

Hardin admitted in his biography that he and his brother Joseph had been involved along with both Taylors in Sutton's killing. Hardin, who had re-settled his family living under the assumed name of "Swain" in Florida, later admitted that he had knocked a black man down and shot another during a disturbance outside the Alachua County jail on May 1, 1874, while he was in Gainesville, Florida.

A black prisoner named "Eli," who was held on a charge of attempted assault of a white woman, was killed when the jail was burned down by a mob. Hardin claimed to have been part of the mob.

On May 26th, 1874, in Comanche, Texas, Hardin returned to meet up with his cousins to celebrate his 21st birthday. Hardin was celebrating his 21st birthday with his cousins Bud Dixson and Jim Taylor when he spotted Brown County Deputy Sheriff, Charles Webb, entering the premises. Hardin asked Webb if he had come to arrest him. When Webb replied he had not, Hardin invited him into the hotel for a drink. As he followed Hardin inside, Hardin claimed Webb drew his gun, and one of Hardin's men yelled a warning. Hardin shot Webb dead. Then Hardin's cousins pumped more bullets into Webb's body as it slumped against a wall.

It was reported at the time that Webb was shot as he was pulling out an arrest warrant for one of Hardin's group. In the ensuing gunfight, Webb was shot dead. The death of the popular Sheriff resulted in the quick formation of a lynch mob. Hardin's parents and wife were taken into protective custody, and his brother Joe and two cousins, brothers Bud and Tom Dixson, were arrested on outstanding warrants.

An angry mob swelled on the street, clamoring for Hardin's blood. Shots were fired. Somebody said something about a rope. A group of local men broke into the jail in July of 1874. Hardin escaped, but some of his friends and relatives weren't so lucky. All told, three men were killed by vigilante justice. Vigilantes hanged Joe Hardin , Bud Dixson and Jim Taylor.

It is claimed that the hanging ropes were deliberately cut too long in order to cause death through slow strangulation. Believe it or not, grass was found between their toes. After this, Hardin and Jim Taylor parted ways for good.

After his brother's lynching, Hardin claimed that he twice drove away men who came after him after killing a man in both encounters.

Shortly afterward, Hardin and a new companion, Mac Young, were suspected of horse thievery, and were pursued by a posse near Bellville, in Austin County, Texas. Hardin pulled his pistols on Austin County Sheriff, Gustave Langhammer, but did not shoot him, while separately Young was arrested and fined $100 for carrying a pistol.

On January 20th, 1875 the Texas Legislature authorized Governor Richard B. Hubbard to offer a $4,000 reward for the apprehension of John Wesley Hardin.

The Texas Rangers finally caught up with Hardin when an undercover ranger, Jack Duncan, intercepted a letter that was sent to Hardin's father-in-law by his brother-in-law, the outlaw Joshua Robert "Brown" Bowen. The letter mentioned Hardin's whereabouts as being on the Alabama/Florida border under the assumed name of "James W. Swain".

Three years and at least a half dozen killings later, the Texas Rangers caught up with Hardin aboard a train in Florida. On August 24th, 1877, Hardin was arrested on a train in Pensacola, Florida, by Texas Rangers and local authorities.

The lawmen boarded the train to arrest Hardin. When Hardin realized what was going on, he attempted to draw a gun, but believe it or not his pistol hammer got caught in his suspenders. Hardin was knocked out, and two others arrested.

During the event, Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong shot and killed one of Hardin's companions, a man named Mann. Just prior to his capture, two black men and former slaves of his father, "Jake" Menzel and Robert Borup, had tried to capture Hardin in Gainsville, Florida. Hardin killed one and blinded the other.

In a highly publicized and controversial trial, Hardin was found guilty of second degree murder in the killing of Charles Webb. Many wanted to see Hardin walk the gallows and swing for the murder, but instead he was tried for the killing and only sentenced to 25 years in Huntsville Prison. Yes, even in the Old West they sometimes got it wrong. They should have hanged the bastard.

Hardin early on made several attempts to escape, but he eventually adapted to prison life. Then using prison as an opportunity to better himself, he read theological books, became superintendent of the prison Sunday school, started his autobiography, and studied law. Because of his recurring poor health in prison, especially when the wound he had received from Sublett became re-infected in 1883, Hardin would became bedridden for two years. During Hardin's stay in prison, his wife, Jane, died on November 6th, 1892.

Hardin was released from prison on February 17th, 1894, after serving seventeen years of his twenty-five year sentence. Yes, murderers didn't serve out their sentences even back then. After his release, he returned to Gonzales, Texas.

Later, on March 16th, Hardin received a full pardon from Governor Jim Hogg. Then on July 21, he passed the Texas state's bar examination, obtaining his license to practice law. Supposedly Hardin tried to go straight after prison, but after a while he took to heavy drinking and even extorted money from a few saloons after losing money in poker.

He was known to practice his fast-draw in front of a mirror. And after showing how good a shot he still was by shooting playing cards, he'd autograph the cards that he'd shot holes through. And though that sounds harmless enough, he was known for his violent temper and beating up a girlfriend.

He took to heavy drinking. And as always, being the braggart, he enjoyed bragging in public about those he'd killed. According to a newspaper article, shortly after being released from prison, Hardin committed "negligent homicide" when he made a $5 bet that he could "at the first shot" knock a Mexican man off the soap box on which he was "sunning" himself, winning the bet and leaving the man dead from the fall and not the gunshot.

On January 9, 1895, Hardin married a 15-year-old girl named Callie Lewis.The marriage ended quickly, although it was never legally dissolved. Afterward, Hardin moved to El Paso. An El Paso lawman, John Selman Jr., arrested Hardin's friend, a prostitute, for "brandishing a gun in public."

Hardin confronted Selman, and the two men argued. Selman's 56-year-old father, Constable John Selman, Sr., himself a well-known gunman, approached Hardin on the afternoon of August 19, 1895, and the two men exchanged heated words.

That night, around 11pm, August 19, 1895, John Wesley Hardin was playing dice with grocer H.S. Brown in the Acme Saloon in El Paso. Constable John Selman, himself a notorious gunmen, entered to Hardin's back. The other patrons in the saloon quit talking. The only sounds came from the two men shaking dice at 25 cents a throw.

Selman pointed his six-shooter at the back of Hardin's head.

"You have four sixes to beat," Hardin told the grocer.

Selman pulled the trigger. A hole at the corner of Hardin's left eye showed where the bullet that had passed through his brain and exited. Hardin fell to the floor. As Hardin lay on the floor, Selman is said to have fired three more shots into him. Selman's son, John, Jr., ran into the bar and took his father by the arm, saying, "Don't shoot him anymore. He's already dead."

Selman Sr. was arrested for murder and stood trial. He claimed he had fired in self defense, and a hung jury resulted in his being released on bond, pending retrial. But, before the retrial could be organized, on April 6, 1896, Selman was killed in a shootout with U.S. Marshal George Scarborough following a dispute during a card game.

As for John Wesley Hardin? He is buried in Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas.

The Real Tally!

Known contacts with the law, Hardin had several confirmed clashes with the law:
On January 9, 1871 he was arrested by Constable E.T. Stakes and 12 citizens in Harrison County, Texas on a charge of four murders and one horse theft.

On January 22, 1871, Hardin killed Texas State Police officer, Jim Smalley and escaped. Up to November 13, 1872, the Grand Jury of Freestone County, Texas had not filed an indictment against Hardin for the killing of Smalley.

On August 6, 1871, in Abilene, Dickinson County, Kansas Charles Cougar was killed in the American House Hotel. "Wesley Clements", aka Hardin, was found guilty by a coroner's jury of the killing.

On October 6, 1871, in Gonzales County, Texas State Policemen Green Paramore and John Lackey tried to arrest Hardin. Paramore was killed and Lackey wounded.

On July 26, 1872, Texas State Policeman Sonny Speights was wounded in the shoulder by Hardin in Hemphill, Texas.

In September 1872, Hardin surrendered to the Sheriff Reagan, but escaped in October 1872.

On November 19, 1872, Hardin, despite a guard of six men, mysteriously escaped from the sheriff of Gonzales County, Texas. A reward of $100.00 was offered for his re-capture.

In May 1873, Hardin was involved in the killing of Deputy Sheriff J.B. Morgan of Cuero, Texas; and on August 1, 1873, of Dewitt County Sheriff, John Helms. These killings were during the Sutton-Taylor Feud.

On June 17, 1873, outlaw, Joshua "Brown" Bowen was broken out of Gonzales County jail by his brother-in-law, John Wesley Hardin. (Bowen had been charged with the killing on December 17, 1872, of Thomas Holderman. Hardin was implicated in Holderman's death as well).

In October 1873, Hardin was indicted in Hill County, Texas, for the 1870 death of Benjamin Bradley, but was never tried.

On May 26, 1874, in Comanche, Texas, Hardin was celebrating his 21st birthday when he ran into a deputy sheriff named Charley Webb and shot him dead.

In November 1876, Hardin under the alias of "Swain", and Gus Kennedy were arrested in Mobile, Alabama and ordered to leave town.

In August 1877, Hardin was reported to have been under indictments in five Texas counties on three separate murder charges and two separate charges of assault with intent to murder.

In July 1895, he was fined $25.00 for gaming after using a pistol to get back money after losing $100.00 at the Gem saloon some weeks before. His gun was confiscated.

The Lies!

If there is one thing to understand about the 1800's and those who lived in the frontier period is the fact that whether it was in a small mining camp named Glencoe here in California, or a big cowtown like Abilene in Kansas, all of the comings and going were written down. Folks, as surprising as it might seem, they kept track of everything in those days. As I said earlier, in those days, people kept diaries and journals. And yes, newspaper accounts talk about every seemingly insignificant visit from everyone from everywhere. Whether it was someone famous such as Mark Twain or someone not so famous, today the local archives are full of examples of who visited who and for how long.

Not a big surprise to most, in his autobiography, Hardin made several claims to have been involved in events which either cannot be confirmed or which have proven to be completely false:
Hardin's claims to have shot three Union soldiers of the US 4th Cavalry in 1868. In none of the military records is Hardin named as a suspect; nor do any facts agree with his claims.

Hardin said he shot one of the two soldiers killed in 1869, in "Richland Bottom", the other having been shot by his cousin, Simp Dixson, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a man who hated Union soldiers. Hardin claims they each killed a soldier.

Hardin claimed in January of 1870 that he killed a circus hand at Horn Hill, Texas. A contemporary newspaper account did report a fight in Union Hill, Texas between Circus "canvasmen" and "roughs" who tried to get in without paying-although the outcome did not come out the way Hardin claimed it did.

Hardin claimed that during his January of 1871 escape from Stakes and Smalley, he also killed a Mr. Smith, a Mr. Jones, and a Mr. Davis in Bell County, Texas. No contemporary newspaper accounts from Bell County confirm these additional killings.

He claimed that after killing Paramour in October of 1871, he forced an African-American posse to flee after killing three of them. There are no contemporary newspaper, or other, accounts to confirm this claim.

After being wounded by Sublett in August of 1872, Hardin claimed that in September he either killed, or drove off, one or two members of the Texas State Police in Trinity, Texas. Hardin gave different versions of the event at different times.

Hardin claimed that on July 1, 1874, he drove off 17 Texas Rangers that had been trailing him, killing one of them. There are no contemporary reports to confirm this story.

He claimed to have been involved in the killing of two Pinkerton agents on the Florida/Georgia border sometime between April and November, 1876, after a gunfight with a "Pinkerton Gang" who had been tracking him from Jacksonville, Florida.

This confrontation never happened because the Pinkerton Detective Agency never ever pursued Hardin. Of course people forget that he was a first class liar when they reference his autobiography to give a look into his life.

Hardin claimed that in a saloon on election night of November 1876, he and a companion, Jacksonville, Florida policeman Gus Kennedy, were involved in a gunfight with Mobile, Alabama policemen in which one person was wounded and two killed. He further claims that he and Kennedy were arrested but later released. This encounter also never happened. Hardin and Kennedy were arrested and driven out of town simply for cheating at cards.

Hardin's autobiography was published posthumously in 1925 by the Bandera publisher, historian, and journalist, J. Marvin Hunter, who was the founder of Frontier Times magazine and the Frontier Times Museum.

Court records show John Wesley Hardin was carrying a Colt "Lightning" revolver and an Elgin watch when he was shot and killed on August 19, 1895. The revolver and the watch had been presented to Hardin in appreciation for his legal efforts on behalf of Killer Jim Miller at his trial for the killing of ex-sheriff, George "Bud" Frazer.

Early on in life, Hardin found himself in trouble with the law. Its said that he spent the majority of his life being pursued by both local lawmen and federal troops of the reconstruction era. He often used the residences of family and friends to hide out from the law. When he was finally captured and sent to prison in 1878, Hardin was 25 years old and he claimed to have already killed 42 men. Court records, newspapers and witness accounts have attributed 27 killings to him up to that point.

On August 19th, 1895, Hardin was shot to death by John Selman, Sr. in the Acme Saloon, in El Paso, Texas. Though Selman tried to say that he shot Hardin from the front, the coroner said that John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back of the head and the bullet exited his eye.

As for Selman's claims that he shot Hardin fact to face, the coroner is said to have replied something to the effect, "If he shot him from the front than that was a good shot, if he was shot from the back than that was good sense."

Hardin's death came as a huge sigh of relief to many in Texas. Of course, journalists ran with his death for all it was worth, just making him bigger than he was while making up things as they went along. Yes, journalists haven't changed much.

The death of Texas' most notorious gunfighter was not the only indicator that an era had truly passed into history. It's said that when law enforcement officials found a card on his body with the name of Hardin's closest friend, nobody had to saddle up and ride out to deliver the news. All they had to do by then was simply call him by telephone.

Tom Correa


  1. How much is an subpoena for John Wesley Hardin worth?

    1. Darn fine question. I wish I knew. It is definitely something for me to research. Thanks for visiting my website.


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