John Wesley Hardin

John Wesley Hardin

John Wesley Hardin (May 26, 1853August 19, 1895) was an outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West. He was born in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas. In the history of nineteenth century western America, Hardin was an especially brutal, prolific killer. Hardin shot a sheriff in the back (Hardin would later die the same way), murdered more than one man after declaring a truce, and even killed a man who was asleep. By the time he went to prison in 1878, he claimed to have killed 44 men. This cannot be verified however as Hardin was also a notorious liar who frequently altered his description of events in order to cast himself in a better light (which could have meant a bloodier light).Fact|date=August 2008 Hardin's criminal career resulted not only in the deaths of his victims but also in the deaths of several members of his own family who were killed by Texas Rangers seeking revenge.

Early life

His father, James G. Hardin was a Methodist preacher and circuit rider. His mother, Elizabeth, was described by him as being "blonde, highly cultured, and charity predominated in her disposition". Hardin's father travelled over most of central Texas on his preaching circuit until 1869. He eventually settled in Sumpter, Texas, in Trinity County. Here he taught school and established an institution that John Wesley and his brother Joe G. Hardin would later attend.

Hardin was born in Bonham, Texas in 1853, and was named after the founder of the Methodist faith. Hardin was rather slight of build and may have felt an early need to compensate for his diminutive stature with violence. Even in early adolescence, he revealed a capacity for stark, murderous fury. He was about 14 (some sources say 12) when another child taunted him as the author of some graffiti on the schoolhouse wall, a paean to a girl in his class. Hardin attacked the boy with a knife and before they could be separated, he stabbed the boy twice.

At the age of 15 Hardin challenged Mage, an ex slave of his uncle, to a wrestling match during which he badly scratched Mage's face. The following day Mage hid by a path and attacked Hardin with a large stick as he rode past. According to Hardin in his autobiography, he fired three warning shots but was then forced to shoot Mage. According to historians Hardin shot Mage three times in the chest after warning him to back off. Mage died three days later. Although the shooting was a clear case of self defense according to the laws of the day, the fact that more than a third of the State Police of Union-occupied Texas were ex-slaves and that a "Johnny Reb" had killed an ex-slave meant he had little hope of a fair trial. Hardin went into hiding. The authorities found where he was hiding and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him, however Hardin's brother Joe warned him. Instead of running Hardin chose to fight.cite book | first = George | last = Martin | coauthors = | title = Guns of the Gunfighters ISBN 0822700956| url = | work = Peterson Publishing Company | year = 1975 | accessdate = 2008-08-03] [Outlaws and Gunslingers By Alton Pryor. Stagecoach Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0966005368]

"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 barrelled 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."

Life on the run

As a fugitive, Hardin traveled throughout Texas evading the law. He was arrested several times, but managed to escape.

In an incident four weeks after fleeing, Hardin was playing cards with Jim Bradley in Towash. Hardin was winning almost every hand which angered Bradley who threatened to "cut out his Liver" if he won another. Hardin excused himself and left. Later that night Bradley went looking for Hardin and upon seeing him fired a shot which missed. Hardin drew both his pistols and fired, one shot striking Bradley's head and the other his chest. Dozens of people saw this fight and from them there is a good record of how Hardin used his guns; his holsters were sewn into his vest with the butts pointed inward across his chest. He crossed his arms to draw. Hardin claimed this was the fastest way to draw and he practiced every day.

Hardin's next fight was a month later in Horn Hill where he killed a man in a gunfight after an argument at the circus. Less than a week after this incident, in Kosse, Hardin was escorting a saloon girl home when he was accosted by a man demanding money. He threw his money on the ground and shot the thief when he bent to pick it up. It was to be a year before he killed again. After the last of these incidents, he found refuge among relatives, the Clements family. They informed him that by getting into the growing cattle market he could make money in Kansas. This would allow him to get out of Texas long enough for things to cool down. So Hardin took up work with the Clementses, gathering cattle for Jake Johnson and Columbus Carol. He would then begin his trip to Kansas. On his way, Hardin is reputed to have fought Mexican vaqueros, Indians, and cattle rustlers among others. At the end of his trip in Kansas came one of the most famous confrontations between Hardin and the law.

Arrest and escape

Hardin was arrested in January 1871 for the murder of Waco, Texas, City Marshal L.J Hoffman [] , which he claimed not to have committed. 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. While locked up, he bought two useful items from a fellow prisoner: an overcoat against the winter cold, and a revolver. Thus he was ready when a Captain Stokes of the state police and a guard named Jim Smolly tied him on a horse with no saddle to convey him to Waco for trial. Hardin was wearing the overcoat when they arrived. Under it, tied to his shoulder with twine, was the handgun.

One night while the three men were camping "en route", Stokes went to procure some fodder for the horses, and Hardin was left alone with Smolly. Smolly began to taunt his 17-year-old charge. Hardin then burst into tears and huddled against his pony's flank. Behind the pony, Hardin slipped his hand into his coat and untied the string that held his gun. He shot Smolly dead and ran. Later he "convinced" a blacksmith to remove his shackles.

A few days later, several of Hardin's relatives were gathering at Gonzales, in southern Texas, for a drive up the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas. They persuaded a rancher to hire Hardin as a trail boss for his herd. Toward the end of the drive, a Mexican herd crowded in behind Hardin's and there was some trouble keeping apart. Hardin exchanged words with the man in charge of the other herd. Both men were on horseback. The Mexican fired, putting a hole through John Wesley's hat. Swift to retaliate, Hardin found that his own weapon, a worn-out cap-and-ball pistol with a loose cylinder, would not fire; he dismounted, managed to discharge the gun by steadying the cylinder with one hand and pulling the trigger with the other, and hit the Mexican in the thigh. A truce was declared, but the murderous Hardin was not content with merely winging his opponent nor did he care about upholding his side of a deal. He borrowed a pistol from a friend and went after the Mexican again, and this time shot him through the head. A general fire fight between the rival camps ensued. The Mexicans suffered all the casualties. Six vaqueros died in the exchanges - five of them shot by Hardin.


The Bull's Head Tavern, in Abilene, Kansas, was established by gambler/gunman Ben Thompson with businessman and gambler Phil Coe. These two gamblers painted a picture of a bull with a large erect penis as an advertisement for their establishment. Then the citizens of the town (described by Dee Brown as "prudish") complained to Abilene's Marshal "Wild Bill" Hickok. When Thompson and Coe refused to take down the bull, Hickok altered it himself. Infuriated, Thompson exclaimed to Hardin, "He's a damn Yankee. Picks on Rebels, especially Texans, to kill." Hardin simply replied, "If Wild Bill needs killin', why don't you kill him yourself?".

By all accounts, despite Hardin's having been a dangerous man, he seemed to have, at the very least, respected Hickok. Later that night, Hardin was confronted by Hickok, who told Hardin to hand over his guns, which Hardin did. Hickok did not arrest Hardin, for reasons unknown, and it was later claimed that Hickok had no knowledge that Hardin was wanted. Hickok did advise Hardin to avoid problems while in Abilene.

econd encounter with "Wild Bill" Hickok

In Abilene, Kansas, Hardin met Wild Bill Hickok, at the time the cattle town's reigning peace officer. Hickok took an indulgently paternal attitude toward the young killer. He drank with Hardin, whored with him and gave him advice, and at one point, when a gang of Hardin's Texas pals and relatives got into trouble, disarmed them but left Hardin his weapon, presumably to allow him to either protect his friends or to keep them in line.

For his part, Hardin was fascinated by Wild Bill and glowed at being seen on intimate terms with such a celebrated gunfighter.

The climax for association came with one of Hardin's most callous crimes, so ignoble that even he showed some sign of shame and lying in an attempt to pass off as the justifiable shooting of a man who was trying to steal his pants. Actually, he had less excuse than that. At the American House Hotel, where Hardin had put up for the night, he began firing bullets through a bedroom wall simply to stop the snoring of a stranger in the next room. The first bullet merely woke the man; the second killed him. In the silence Hardin realized that he was about to plunge into deep trouble with Wild Bill Hickok. Still in his undershirt, he exited through a window and ran onto the roof of the hotel portico--just in time to see Hickok arriving with four policemen, having been alerted by other guests. "I believe," Hardin said 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."

Cat burglar style, the craven Hardin leaped from the roof into the street and hid in a haystack for the rest of the night. Towards dawn 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."

utton-Taylor feud

About this time Hardin turned up in southeastern Texas, in the area around Gonzales County, reuniting with his Clements cousins, who were allied with the local Taylor family, who had been feuding with the rival Sutton family for several years. Already notorious, Hardin was wounded by a shotgun blast in a Trinity City gambling dispute on August 7, 1872. After recovering, he resumed his depredations.

Hardin's main claim to fame in the Sutton-Taylor feud was the killing of Jack Helm, [] a former captain in the Texas State Police who was the sheriff of DeWitt County, Texas. For years, Helm had been allied with the Suttons. On the afternoon of May 17, 1873, in Albuquerque, Texas (Albukirk, Texas - in Wilson County), when Hardin and Jim Taylor were at the blacksmith having a horse shod, Helm advanced on Taylor with a knife, only to be cut down by a Hardin-administered shotgun blast from behind. [ "The Life Of John Wesley Hardin" by John Wesley Hardin] As Helm writhed on the ground, Taylor marched over with his pistol drawn and emptied it into Helm's head.

The next night, Hardin and other Taylor supporters surrounded the ranch house of Sutton ally Joe Tumlinson. A shouted truce was enacted and both sides signed a peace treaty in Clinton, Texas. Within the year, war once again broke out between the two sides, culminating when Jim and Bill Taylor gunned down Billy Sutton and Gabriel Slaughter as they waited on a steamboat platform in Indianola, Texas on March 11, 1874 (ironically, Sutton was set to leave the area forever at the time of his killing). {Allegedly Hardin was involved in these twin killings}.

urrender and escape

In August 1872, John Wesley was shot by Phil Sublett with a shotgun after Sublett had lost his money to Hardin in a poker game. Two buckshot had ripped through Hardin's kidney and it looked like he would die (this wound became infected in 1883 and Hardin was bedridden for two years). Hardin now decided he wanted to settle down and made a sickbed surrender in Gonzales, handing his guns to Sherriff Reagan and asking to be tried for his past crimes "to clear the slate". When Hardin learnt how many murders they wanted to charge him with he changed his mind. A relative smuggled in a saw and Hardin escaped after sawing through the bars of a window. [ [ Legends of America - John Wesley Hardin & The Shootist Archetype] ]

On May 26, 1874, Hardin, Jim Taylor, and others were celebrating Hardin's 21st birthday in Comanche, Texas when Hardin spotted Brown County Texas Deputy sheriff Charles Webb. Hardin asked Webb if he had come to arrest him and when Webb replied he hadn't, invited him into the hotel for a drink. As Webb followed Hardin inside he drew his gun, one of Hardins men yelled a warning and Hardin spun around while drawing his own guns. In the ensuing gunfight, Webb was shot dead. After a lynch mob was formed, Hardin's parents, wife, brother and cousins were immediately taken into protective custody, however a large group of Texas Rangers broke into the jail and hanged Hardin's brother Joe and seven of his cousins. It is claimed that the ropes were deliberately too long as grass was later found between their toes. Shortly after this he and Jim Taylor parted ways for the final time. {Jim Taylor was killed on December 27 1875}. William Taylor was found guilty of murder in the second degree in 1875 and sentenced to 10 years. [,M1] He escaped from Indianola during a September 17 1875 cyclone and was tried in Indianola and Texana twice on a charge of killing Sutton and was acquitted. [] On Nov 17, 1875 William Taylor shot and killed Cuero ex-town marshal Reuben Brown, who had once arrested Taylor. [ [ Handbook of Texas Online - BROWN, REUBEN H ] ]

Capture, later life, and death

Catching Hardin was no easy matter. The Texas Rangers caught up with Hardin by intercepting a letter that was sent to his father-in-law by his brother-in-law (outlaw Joshua Robert "Brown" Bowen). The letter mentioned Hardin's whereabouts as on the Alabama and Florida border under the assumed name of James W. Swain. Hardin was arrested on a train in Pensacola, Florida by Texas Rangers and a local authority. The lawmen went on board the train to effect Hardin's arrest. When Hardin realized what was going on, he attempted to draw his gun but got it tangled in his suspenders. Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong shot and killed one of Hardin's gang members, knocked out Hardin, and arrested two other gang members. Hardin's problems with his suspenders probably saved some lives that day including his own.

Hardin was tried and sentenced to prison but entered prison with a pre-law degree he had earned along with his brother. He finished his law degree while incarcerated. After serving 17 years in prison, Hardin was released, pardoned for any outstanding offenses, and began practicing law as an attorney in El Paso, Texas. Hardin's wife had waited for his release but died the following year. Despite his law practice, Hardin was frequently drunk and violent, often demanding his money back at gunpoint if he lost at cards. Rumor had it that he was haunted by past atrocities. In 1895 he began work on his autobiography. He also married again. []

On August 19,1895, El Paso lawman John Selman, Jr., arrested Hardin's mistress, the widow Monrose, for "brandishing a gun in public". Hardin confronted Selman, and the two men had a verbal dispute. On being told of the argument, John's 58 year old father John Selman, Sr., who was a constable, approached Hardin and the two men exchanged angry words. Hardin then went to the "Acme Saloon", where he began playing dice. Shortly before midnight, the elder Selman walked in and saw Hardin with his back to him. Drawing his gun, he put it to the back of Hardin's head and pulled the trigger, killing him instantly. As Hardin's body lay on the floor, Selman fired three more shots into him. Selman was arrested for the murder and stood trial where he claimed Hardin had seen him enter in the mirror behind the bar and he had fired in self defense. A hung jury resulted in his being released on bond. Selman was killed in a shootout several months later by US Marshal George Scarborough. Selman and Scarborough had been playing cards and got into an argument. Both exited to the alley and shot it out, after which Scarborough returned alone. Scarborough was arrested for murder as no gun was found on Selman. However, just before his trial a thief was arrested and it was discovered he had Selman's gun. He stated he had seen the shooting and stolen the gun before the crowd arrived. Scarborough was then released.

On April 5, 1900, exactly four years after he shot John Selman, Scarborough was mortally wounded in a gunfight with two robbers.

Hardin in popular culture

* A song was recorded by Bob Dylan as "John Wesley Harding" (with a "g" added to the name), the title song of one of his albums.

* Johnny Cash wrote and recorded a song about Hardin entitled "Hardin Wouldn't Run". It relates some of the true events of Hardin's life, including his murder at the Acme Saloon. Most song and movie accounts, though, go beyond the truths into myths or outright untruths in order to glamorize him or the gunfighter who kills him. For example, his character, with many of the myths intact as well as having some new myths created for sensationalism, has appeared in popular works, including a prominent role in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove sequel, Streets of Laredo. In the miniseries of the novel, Hardin was portrayed by actor Randy Quaid.

* Western novelist J. T. Edson uses Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton family theory to insert John Wesley Hardin into his novels as the paternal nephew of Ole Devil Hardin and cousin of Dusty Fog, the protagonist of Edson's "Floating Outfit".
* A 1959 episode of "Maverick", "Duel at Sundown", has the character of Brett Maverick and his brother, Bart, posing as "John Wesley Hardin" vs. Maverick to stage a fake gunfight and shootout in order to avoid a real gunfight with a pre-fame Clint Eastwood. As Brett and Bart ride out of town, they meet a stranger who wants directions to meet the "fake" John Wesley Hardin. The stranger is none other than the "real" John Wesley Hardin.

* In the Maverick Film, Johnny Hardin, played by Max Perlich, is one of the men that is playing poker at Maverick's first game.

* Rock Hudson starred in a 1953 very fictionalized version of John Wesley Hardin's life called "The Lawless Breed". At the end, he gets shot in a saloon in Texas, but unlike the real John Wesley Hardin, he survives.

* Hardin was briefly portrayed in two films: by Jack Elam in the 1970 film "Dirty Dingus Magee", and by Max Perlich in the 1994 film "Maverick" starring Mel Gibson.

* Many people came to know of Hardin through the TV ad for Time-Life Books "Old West" series.Or|date=December 2007 During the description of the book "The Gunfighters" the famous claim is made, "John Wesley the time the Texas Rangers caught up with him, he'd killed forty-three men, one just for snoring too loud."

* Hardin was among the outlaws mentioned in the song "Rhymes of the Renegades", by Michael Martin Murphey. []

* James Carlos Blake wrote "The Pistoleer," a novel about Hardin from 1995.

* "Four Sixes To Beat - The Tale of a Killer" by Bruce N. Croft is a historical fiction novel published in 2004. A fictional tour of Hardin's life in the wild west.

* "Here's to John Wesley Hardin" is a song composed by Moondog, released on his album "H'art Songs" from 1979.

* There is a musician who uses the pseudonym John Wesley Harding, which was Bob Dylan's misspelling of the name. []

Hardin and the law

Prior to his killing of Deputy Sheriff (and ex-Texas Ranger) Charles Webb] in May 26, 1874 [] and his arrest in July 23, 1877, Hardin had at least three confirmed clashes with the law:
* On January 9, 1871 he was arrested by Constable E.T. Stokes and twelve citizens in Harrison County, Texas on a charge of four murders and one horse theft. (In the Texas State Police arrest report for 1870–1871-he is listed as "Hardin, J.R.".) None of the victims are identified.
*In September 1872 he surrendered to the Sheriff of Cherokee County, Texas; he escaped in October 1872. []
*In May 1873 he was involved in the killing of Sheriff Jack Helms and a J.B. Morgan of Cuero, Texas. (Letter from DeWitt County, Texas Museum citing Metz's work). (These killings happened during the Sutton-Taylor Feud).
*In April 1895 Hardin believed he was being cheated in an El Paso dice game and took back the $95 he had lost at gunpoint. Two weeks later he surrendered and was charged with "unlawfully carrying a pistol", fined $25 and had the gun confiscated.
*At least three accomplices and two relatives of Hardin also had clashes with the law:
**On June 9 1874 an accomplice killed a Texas Deputy Sheriff. [ [ Deputy Sheriff Jabez C. Pierson, Bosque County Sheriff's Office ] ]
**On Feb 28, 1876 an accomplice {Taylor faction} killed a Texas Posseman. [ [, Dewitt County Sherriff;s Office] ]
**On Sept 23, 1878 a friend of Hardin killed a Texas City Marshall. [ [ City Marshal Charles Powers, Wortham Texas Police Department] ]
**On March 28 1898 Hardin's brother killed a Texas deputy sheriff. [ [ Deputy Sheriff John Turman, Kimble County Sheriff's Office ] ]
**On August 1 1906 Hardin's cousin by marriage killed a police officer. [ [ Police Officer Ben C. Collins, United States Department of the Interior - Bureau of Indian Affairs ] ]

Hardin and unconfirmed claims

Like his contemporary fellow outlaw Bill Longley, in several cases where Hardin claimed to have been involved in killings, the reports either cannot be confirmed or prove to be nonexistent. For example:
* His claims to have shot three Union soldiers in 1868 and one of two soldiers killed in 1869 in "Richland Bottom"-the other killed by his cousin "Simp Dixon"; [] see summary of Reports for the Fifth Military District August 1867-September 1868 in which four soldiers are killed and four are wounded from the U.S. 6th Cavalry Regiment from "Executive Documents Printed by order of the House of Representatives" 1868–1869, plus a reference to one soldier injured and a Deputy Sheriff killed in 1869 in the Lee-Peacock feud (see supplement in March 1868 report against Lee's band) +plus a report of 2 soldiers of the US 4th Cavalry killed 1867; in none of these records is Hardin named as a suspect nor do they agree with his claims. Likewise his cousin "Simp Dixon" was not killed by soldiers but was a victim of the "Lee-Peacock" feud. []
* His claim that after his 1871 arrest he escaped after killing a guard named Jim Smolly and in Bell County Texas killed three men named Smith, Jones, and Davis after being arrested by them for an alleged killing; he also made another claim that in September 1871 in Gonzales County Texas he killed one man named Green Paramour and wounded another man named John Lackey who tried to arrest him (these last six shootings allegedly were with African-American members of the Texas State Police) and then forced an African-American posse to flee back to Austin after he killed three of them when they came after him for the Paramour killing. There are no contemporary newspaper accounts from either Bell County (Letter from Bell County Texas Museum) or from Gonzales County to confirm these triple killings. He also claimed that after recovering in Trinity City Texas in July{?}/August 1872 after being wounded by Phil Sublette, he either, according to different versions he gave at different times, killed two members of the Texas State Police or drove them off. The only mention of Hardin in Texas State Police records is the arrest report. {Reportably the names of Paramour and Lackey were in a letter book-although not listed in Texas State Police records}.
* He claimed that May 1 1874 he knocked down a black man and shot another black man and then was part of a mob that burned a Texas jail where a black prisoner named "Eli" was killed.
* He claimed that after his brother had been Lynched after Sheriff Webb's killing that he drove off 17 Texas Rangers after having killed one of them on July 1 1874. The Roll of Honor for the Texas Rangers for 1874 -has 3 died-2 killed in a skirmish July 12 1874 with Native Americans and the other as having died 1874-no remarks on "how" or "where" he died.
* His alleged killing of two Pinkerton National Detective Agency 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. Hardin claimed that he had been tipped off to this "Pinkerton Gang" by Jacksonville local law officers. This never happened - the Pinkerton Detective Agency never tracked or pursued John Wesley Hardin. (Letter from Pinkerton National Detective Agency Archives)
* His claim that on election night, November, 1876 he and a Jacksonville, Florida policeman named Gus Kennedy were involved in a gunfight with Mobile, Alabama policemen in a saloon in which one was wounded and two killed; that Hardin and Kennedy were arrested but later released - this also never happened. (Letter from Mobile, Alabama library).

John Wesley Hardin in Movies

*1995 - Streets of Laredo - Randy Quaid
*1994 - Maverick - Max Perlich
*1970 - Dirty Dingus Magee - Jack Elam
*1953 - The Lawless Breed - Rock Hudson



*Handbook of Texas|id=HH/fha63|name=John Wesley Hardin
* [ Query with additional links on Hardin killings-Reference only]
*"Gunfighter: The Autobiography of John Wesley Hardin", by John Wesley Hardin, reprinted by Creation Books, 2001.
* [ John Wesley Hardin Collection] Texas State University
*"The Old West- The Gunfighters." by TIME-LIFE BOOKS with text by Paul Trachtman
*"The Feud that Wasn't" James Smallwood {2008 book on Sutton-Taylor Feud {Reference only

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