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About John Wesley Hardin
John Wesley “Wes” Hardin (1853-1895), son of James “Gip” Gibson Hardin (1823 – 1876) and Mary Elizabeth Dixon (1826 – 1885), was a notorious outlaw and gunfighter in nineteenth-century Texas. He was said to be “the meanest man alive”, having once killed a man just for snoring. Years later, Hardin referred 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."
Hardin's criminal career resulted not only in the deaths of his victims but also in the deaths of his brother Joseph and two cousins who were hanged by a lynch mob seeking revenge for a Hardin killing. Captured by Texas Rangers John Armstrong and John Riley Duncan in 1877, he was released in 1894 after eighteen years in prison. Just one year later, Hardin was shot and killed from behind on August 19, 1895 by John Henry Selman. Selman, an outlaw-turned-lawman had a grudge against Hardin and surprised him in El Paso’s Acme Saloon. John Selman was himself, gunned down just a year later. Hardin is buried at the Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas. Ironically, Hardin's killer, John Selman, is buried just a few feet away.
Marriages and Children
- In 1871 Hardin married Jane Bowen (1856 – 1892). They had three children:
- John Wesley Hardin, Jr. (1876 - 1931)
- Jennie Hardin Lyons (1877 – 1931)
- Mary "Mollie" Elizabeth Hardin Billings
- On 9 January 1895 Hardin married 15 year-old Carolyn “Callie” Jane Lewis (1880 – 1963). They had no children.
Biography of a Legend
[Extracted from a biography by Kit and Morgan Benson]
Born in Bonham, Texas on 26 May 1853, John Wesley Hardin's father was a Methodist minister and circuit rider who named him for the founder of the Methodist Church. The second surviving son of ten children, Hardin was a direct descendant of Colonel Joseph Hardin, a legislator from North Carolina, the State of Franklin and the Southwest Territory, and a Revolutionary War hero. Hardin's father traveled over most of central Texas on his preaching circuit until 1869, eventually settling in Sumpter, Texas, in Trinity County, where he taught school, and established an institution that John Wesley and his brother, Joe, would later attend.
At that school a boy named Charles Sloter accused Hardin of scrawling some graffiti on the schoolhouse wall that was insulting to a girl in his class. Hardin denied it and accused the other boy of being the author. Sloter attacked Hardin with a knife, but before he could strike Hardin, Hardin drew his own pocket knife and stabbed Charles twice in the chest and throat, almost killing him. Hardin was nearly expelled over the incident, even though it was his father's institution.
At the age of 15, Hardin challenged Mage, an ex-slave of his uncle's, to a wrestling match. Hardin won, but badly scratched Mage's face. The following day a vengeful Mage hid by a path and attacked Hardin with a large stick as he rode past. Hardin drew his revolver and told Mage to back off, but Mage grabbed the reins of Hardin's horse and threatened to kill him. Hardin fired his revolver into Mage five times before he finally dropped the reins. Hardin then rode to get help for the wounded ex-slave, who ended up dying from these wounds three days later. The shooting could be claimed as a case of self-defense according to the laws of the day. However, Rev. James Hardin saw little chance of a fair hearing for his son.Texas was going through Reconstruction and as a "Johnny Reb" accused of killing a former slave in the Union-occupied state of Texas, where more than a third of the State Police were ex-slaves, the elder Hardin believed that his son had little hope of a fair trial; so he told John Wesley to go into hiding. The authorities eventually located Hardin, and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him. Despite being warned by his brother Joe, Hardin chose to stay and fight rather than run.
"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."
At age 17, while working as trail boss for a Texas cattle ranch, Hardin got into an argument with some Mexican cowboys when they tried to cut their herd in front of his. The argument soon got out of hand, and within minutes, he had killed six of the Mexicans. While at Abilene, Kansas, he made friends with the local sheriff, “Wild Bill” Hickok. The friendship ended when Hardin shot a hotel guest in the room next to him for snoring too loudly, thus waking him up. As Hickok came to arrest him for murder, Hardin stole a horse and escaped.
In 1871, he married his hometown sweetheart, Jane Bowen, a respectable girl whose father owned a general store in town. Mary Elizabeth Hardin described her mother as "blond, highly cultured, and charity predominated in her disposition." They had three children, John Wesley Hardin (born in 18760, Jennie Hardin (born in 1877), and Mary Elizabeth Hardin. Jane remained true to her husband despite his constant absences from home to avoid the law. After killing Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb (his 40th victim) in Comanche, Texas, Hardin and his wife left Texas. They hid in Florida under an alias of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Swain for two years before Pinkerton detectives found them. This time they fled to Alabama, where Hardin was finally caught in 1877. Tried in Austin, Texas for the death of Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Jane died in 1892 while Hardin was still in prison. He was pardoned by Texas Governor Jim Hogg after serving 15 years of his sentence. Hardin was released from prison on February 17, 1894, and promptly returned to Gonzales, Texas. He was a 41-year-old widower who had three children who did not even know what he looked like. Having studied law in prison, Hardin opened a law practice in El Paso, Texas. On 9 January 1895 Hardin married 15 year-old Carolyn “Callie” Jane Lewis, although they quickly separated. Neither stated a reason for the sudden breakup of their marriage and they had no children.
When his friend, Mrs. McRose, widow of another outlaw, was arrested for illegally carrying a pistol, Hardin made threats against the arresting police officer, John Selman. Several days later, on 19 August 1895 Selman observed Hardin playing dice in the Acme Saloon with another man. Selman walked up behind Hardin and shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hardin was 42 years old.
As with many of his fellow outlaws, 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 a soldier killed in 1869 in Richland Bottom — there is no record of Hardin ever having been named as a suspect nor do accounts of the deaths agree with his claims.
- His claim that that after his 1871 arrest he escaped, killing a guard and three other men in Bell County, plus three more in Gonzalez County — although there is confirmation of shootings involving several of the men named by Hardin, there are no contemporary newspaper accounts from either county to confirm these killings
- 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 — the Pinkerton Detective Agency never tracked nor pursued John Wesley Hardin.
Legend and Legacy
Hardin's life as an outlaw has inspired many colorful characterizations in literature, film, television, and music.
- His autobiography was published posthumously in 1925 by printer, historian, and journalist J. Marvin Hunter, founder of Frontier Times magazine and Frontier Times Museum.
- Hardin has figured in various novels about the Old West such as Larry McMurtry's Streets of Laredo, J. T. Edson's "Floating Outfit", James Carlos Blake's The Pistoleer (1995), and “Four Sixes To Beat: The Tale of a Killer by Bruce N. Croft (2004).
- Many people came to know of Hardin through the television ad for Time-Life Books "Old West" series. During the description of the book The Gunfighters the famous claim is made, "John Wesley Hardin... by the time the Texas Rangers caught up with him, he'd killed forty-three men, one just for snoring too loud."
- Hardin has been portrayed on screen by John Dehner in the 1951 film The Texas Rangers; Rock Hudson in the 1953 film The Lawless Breed; Jack Elam in the 1970 film Dirty Dingus Magee; and Max Perlich in the 1994 film Maverick.
- Television: Randy Quaid played Hardin in the 1995 TV mini-series Streets of Laredo; Richard Webb played Hardin in a 1954 episode of Jim Davis' syndicated western television series Stories of the Century; and a 1959 episode of Maverick, "Duel at Sundown," shows Bart Maverick posing as John Wesley Hardin.
- Musically, country music singer Johnny Cash wrote and recorded a song about Hardin entitled "Hardin Wouldn't Run" released on his 1965 album Johnny Cash Sings the Ballads of the True West; folk rocker Bob Dylan named his 1967 album John Wesley Harding after the outlaw, although Hardin's name was misspelled; "Here's to John Wesley Hardin" is a song composed by former street musician Moondog, released on his album H'art Songs in 1979; singer-songwriter Wesley Stace uses the stage name 'John Wesley Harding', after Dylan's misspelling of the name; and Hardin is among the outlaws mentioned in the song "Rhymes of the Renegades," by western singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey.
Hardin's guns and effects
- In 2002 Greg Martin's auction house in San Francisco, California, auctioned several lots of John Wesley Hardin's personal effects:
- A deck of playing cards owned by Hardin, one of Hardin's business cards, and a newspaper account of Hardin's death sold for $15,250.
- The bullet that killed Hardin in the Acme saloon in El Paso sold for $80,000.
- Hardin was carrying a Colt Model 1877 "Lightning" revolver, serial number 84304, when he was shot and killed on August 19, 1895. This gun and its holster sold for $168,000.
- Another Colt 1877 revolver, known as a "Thunderer," in .41 caliber, owned by Hardin and used by him to rob the Gem Saloon, was sold at the same auction for $100,000.
Sources and Bibliography
- Hardin, John Wesley. The Life of John Wesley Hardin: As Written by Himself. Norman, Okla: University of Oklahoma, 2000. Print.
- Metz, Leon C. "HARDIN, JOHN WESLEY." The Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fha63>.
- Metz, Leon Claire. John Selman, Texas Gunfighter. New York: Hastings House, 1966. Print.
- Navarro County Historical Society. The 1860 - 1872 Period in Navarro County History. TXGenWeb. The TXGenWeb Project, Mar. 2009. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. link
- Nordyke, Lewis. John Wesley Hardin Texas Gunman. New York: William Morrow &, 1957. Print.
- Parsons, Chuck. The Capture of John Wesley Hardin. College Station, TX: Creative Pub., 1978. Print.
- Rose, Victor M. The Texas Vendetta, Or, The Sutton-Taylor Feud. New York: Printed by J.J. Little, 1880. Print.
- Smallwood, James. The Feud That Wasn't: the Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas. College Station: Texas A & M UP, 2008. Print.
- Sonnichsen, C. L. The Grave of John Wesley Hardin: Three Essays on Grassroots History. College Station: Texas A & M UP, 1979. Print.
- State of Texas. Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of Appeals of the State of Texas. St. Louis: Gilbert Book, 1877. Print. to e-Book
For Further Information
John Wesley "Wes" Hardin's Timeline
May 26, 1853
Bonham, Fannin, Texas, United States
February 29, 1872
February 6, 1873
Karnes, TX, USA
August 3, 1875
Texas, United States
July 15, 1877
Texas, United States
January 8, 1895
Junction, Kimble, Texas, United States
August 19, 1895
El Paso, El Paso, Texas, United States