John Selman (November 16, 1839-April 6, 1896) was often discussed as an outlaw and was at times a working lawman of the Old West. He is best known as the man who shot outlaw John Wesley Hardin in the Acme Saloon in El Paso, Texas on August 19, 1895.
Early life, service with the Confederacy
Selman was born in Madison County, Arkansas. Although often rumored to be the son of an English father and an American mother, he was the son of Jeremiah Selman, a direct descendant of an Englishman named Jonathon Sellman, who arrived in Baltimore Maryland in the 1640's. The Selman family moved to Grayson County, Texas in 1858. After his father's death on December 16, 1861, Selman joined the 22nd Texas Cavalry and served in the Civil War. He deserted in April 1863.
Life as a lawman
On August 17, 1865, Selman married Edna Degraffenreid. Degraffenreid was a descendant of the original Landgrave of North Carolina, a titled Swiss national as well as in service to the English Crown. The couple eventually had four children. He and his family moved to Fort Griffin in Shackelford County, Texas, and in 1877 he became a deputy Inspector for hides working under fellow Inspector, ex-Shackleford County Sheriff John M. Larn. During this time he crossed paths with various notable Old West personalities. It is possible that in Fort Griffin, he may have met such notables as Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Dave Rudabaugh, and others who passed through Fort Griffin, as it was a popular watering hole for many who enjoyed gambling and other pursuits.typically connected to saloons.
Selman and Larn fought against rustlers and vigilante justice in the then very wild area of northwest Texas. The two were involved in several shootouts with bandits and outlaws during the period that followed. On June 24, 1878, vigilantes shot Larn to death in an Albany Texas jail cell. Larn had been arrested after six hides which did not belong to him had been found behind his house. Even though Selman was out of town at the time, he found himself a wanted man, and was being hunted by these same vigilantes, who were friends with several men who had previously been either arrested or killed by him. Such charges were very often questionable during that period, as local laws were often unclear and many made their living by collecting and selling cattle which had not been properly branded.
Life as an outlaw
Selman went into hiding during the time he was facing charges from the Confederate Army. It was during that period that Selman remained in Mexico. However, the end of the War Between the States and the resulting dissolutin of the Confederacy rendered any charges null, and Selman was then free to return to the United States.
Selman's wife died in 1879 after she had given birth to a stillborn child. The four children were placed in the custody of his wife's niece. Selman by this time was living in Lincoln County, New Mexico. There, he organized a band known as Selman's Scouts (also known as 'The Rustlers'). The group was later rumored to be accused of numerous acts of rape and murder in that area. However, no charges of rape were ever brought into any court, and no documentation of any such crime appears to exist. Charges of cattle rustling may have been rumored, but no charges were filed in any court related to such criminal acts, either.
During that period, definitions of ownership were subject to varying opinion, as well else widespread gossip and dramatic storytelling. In fact, during this particular period, such unrivaled Reconstruction Era events as the Lincoln County Wars, the HooDoo War, the Lee-Peacock Feud, the Taylor-Sutton Feud, and the El Paso Salt War made definitions of criminality and intent very much a matter of who was doing the name-calling. Certainly, most of these events were actually continuing guerilla warfare which went on for decades. Selman had both family and personal ties to participants in every one of these conflicts, making it far more likely that he was himself a participant. It would be almost impossible to cast either side of any of those conflicts as blameless, or without some criminal activity taking place in its name. Very often, it was common for Mexican bandits to come p over the border and drive away cattle belonging to others, and yet because of the longstanding enmity between the factions involved, any such losses would almost invariably be blamed on the other side in the local disputes.
By 1880, the band had been driven from Lincoln County, and began operating in Jeff Davis County, Texas. Selman was captur Texas Ranger Joe McKidrict ed shortly thereafter by Texas Rangers, and taken to Shackelford County for trial.
Escape and return to law enforcement
Selman escaped, and fled to Chihuahua, Mexico, where he hid out until around 1888, when his name was cleared and all charges against him were dropped. While in Mexico, he sent for his children. The two youngest boys joined their father, but the two oldest remained in Brown County, Texas never to see their father again. He then moved to El Paso, Texas, and on August 23, 1893, he married Romula Granadine. He began working as a constable, but also spent time gambling. On April 5, 1894, Selman killed a former Texas Ranger named Bass Outlaw. Outlaw had recently been terminated, due to his drinking problem and threats he had made against a judge. Selman, encountering Outlaw, had suggested that a very drunk Outlaw needed to go home at sleep it off. However, when Outlaw declined to go home, the two instead walked to 'Tillie Howard's', a local brothel favored by Outlaw. Outlaw proceded to create a great deal of disturbance at Howard's place, and shot Texas Ranger Joe McKidrict . He then drew on Selman, who he shot, wounding Selman twice in the thigh. Selman then shot and killed Outlaw. Selman was not arrested for the shooting, which was ruled justified.
Incident with John Wesley Hardin
El Paso Policeman and Selman's son, John Selman Jr arrested the mistress of gunman John Wesley Hardin, Beluah Morose (or "the widow M'Rose"), for "brandishing a gun in public". Hardin confronted Selman Jr., and the two men had a verbal dispute. In some accounts supported by members of Selman's family, Hardin actually pistol-whipped 'Young John' Selman and threatened his life. Upon being told of the argument, Selman Sr. approached Hardin on the afternoon of August 19, 1895, and the two exchanged angry words. That night, Hardin went to the Acme Saloon, where he began playing dice. Shortly before midnight, Selman Sr. walked into the saloon to confront Hardin. Drawing his gun at the door, he fired and hit Hardin in the head, killing him instantly as he went for his gun. As Hardin lay on the floor, Selman fired three more shots into him. Selman was arrested for murder and stood trial. Selman testified that he had observed that Hardin had seen him enter in the mirror and Hardin had gone for his gun. Selman swore he fired in self-defense, and a hung jury resulted in his being released on bond pending retrial.
On the night of April 5, 1896, Selman was killed in a shootout by US Marshal George Scarborough. The two men had been playing cards and gotten into an argument. It has been alleged that the argument that night was due to Scarborough having been good friends with Bass Outlaw, who was killed on that same date two years earlier by Selman. However, this is highly unlikely, as Scarborough and Selman had known one another for many years, and Outlaw was generally disliked by the other Rangers and was buried with no mourners present. Also, Selman had killed Hardin, who had in the past had serious disputes with Scarborough. Instead, it is far more likely that Scarborough's own testimony when he was tried for killing Selman was actually truthful. By this time, Young John had fallen in love with a Mexican girl, whose father, an ambassador, disapproved. He had the younger Selman jailed in Juarez.
On this particular night, Selman, who had also been drinking with Scarborough, had prevailed upon him to help spring Young John from the jail across the border. Scarborough, usually a far more cautious type, had tried to decline, stirring Selman's wrath. According to Scarborough, it was Selman who drew on him first, and Scarborough then killed Selman in self-defense. However, there were no actual witnesses to the shooting. According to Scarborough, both men exited to the alley and "shot it out", after which Scarborough returned alone. Scarborough was arrested for murder because it was found that Selman had no gun. Just before his trial, a thief was arrested and it was discovered he had Selman's gun. The thief stated he had seen the shooting and stolen the gun before the crowd arrived. Scarborough was acquitted on murder charges and released.
Of note, although he never released the identities of anyone involved, Young John Selman was assisted in escaped from the Mexican jail and returned to El Paso within days of his father's death. Selman's silence on the matter is rather interesting, as assisting in a jailbreak in Mexico would likely have resulted in no legal problems whatsoever for those who assisted - particularly as Selman himself was a law enforcement officer in Texas. Whether Scarborough broke down out of guilt and participated personally or not is probably a question that will never be resolved. Quite possibly, he did participate. And even more probably, he knew the other participants very well, as both Selman and Scarborough had longstanding ties and many mutual friends and acquaintances. The only thing that is clear is that Selman had at least several friends and supporters who were so loyal to him as to help him to escape back to Texas. Although both Selman and Scarborough had connections to people with enough political influence to potentially get Selman released back to the United States, either that option was not tried, or it was felt that simply escaping was the better, and quicker, option and would not risk any additional political tensions with Mexico.
John Henry Selman was originally buried in an unmarked grave (now marked) in the Catholic section of El Paso's Concordia Cemetery. Presumably, Selman had converted to Catholicism when he married Romula Grenadine, as the Selmans were generally Protestants and had been so for many generations prior to this point.
'The Selman Story", B.T. Selman, 1992, private publication