John Wesley Hardin

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For the Bob Dylan album, see John Wesley Harding (album).
John Wesley Hardin, Sr.
John Wesley Hardin.gif
This ferrotype photograph is a mirror image of John Wesley Hardin.
Born (1853-05-26)May 26, 1853
Bonham, Texas, U.S.[1]
Died August 19, 1895(1895-08-19) (aged 42)
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
Other names
  • "Little Arkansas"
  • "Wesley Clements"
  • "J.H. Swain"
Occupation gambling/card sharp, cowboy, cattle rustler, lawyer
Known for very young outlaw and prolific gunfighter
  • Jane Bowen
  • Carolyn Jane "Callie" Lewis
Parent(s) James Gibson "Gip" Hardin
Mary Elizabeth Dixson

John Wesley Hardin (May 26, 1853 – August 19, 1895) was an American Old West outlaw, gunfighter, and controversial folk icon. From an early age, Hardin often got himself in trouble with the law. He often hid from the law at the homes of family and friends. He was pursued by lawmen for most of his life until he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for murder in 1877. When he was sent to prison, Hardin claimed to have killed 42 men,[2] but newspapers of the day attributed only 27 murders to him.[3] While in prison, Hardin wrote a biased autobiography and studied law. He was released in 1894. In August 1895, Hardin was shot to death by Constable John Selman, Sr. in an El Paso saloon.

Early life[edit]

Hardin was born in 1853 near Bonham, Texas, to Methodist preacher and circuit rider James "Gip" Hardin, and Mary Elizabeth Dixson.[1][4] He was named after John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination of the Christian church.[5] In his autobiography, Hardin described his mother as "blond, highly cultured... [while] charity predominated in her disposition".[6]:5 Hardin's father traveled 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 established and taught the school that John Hardin and his siblings attended.

Hardin was the second surviving son of 10 children.[7][page needed] In 1862, at age nine, Hardin tried to run away and join the Confederate army.[6]:10–11

Hardin wrote an autobiography while in prison which is the source for many stories about him. However, he was well known for wildly exaggerating or completely making up stories about his life. A number of his stories in which he claimed to have been involved in events cannot be confirmed nor have they been proven unreliable. For example, Hardin wrote that he was first exposed to violence in 1861 when he saw a man named Turner Evans stabbed by John Ruff. Evans died of his injuries and Ruff was jailed. Hardin wrote, "...Readers you see what drink and passion will do. If you wish to be successful in life, be temperate and control your passions; if you don't, ruin and death is the result."[6]:10–11

Trouble at school[edit]

While attending his father's school, Hardin was taunted by another student, Charles Sloter. Sloter accused Hardin of being the author of graffiti on the schoolhouse wall that insulted a girl in his class. Hardin denied writing the poetry, claiming in turn that Sloter was the author.[7] Sloter charged at Hardin with a knife but Hardin stabbed him with a knife of his own, almost killing him.[4][8] Hardin was nearly expelled over the incident.[7]

First killing[edit]

In November 1868, when he was 15, Hardin challenged his uncle Holshousen's former slave, Major "Maje" Holshousen, to a wrestling match, which Hardin won.[2] According to Hardin, the following day, Maje "ambushed" him as he rode past. Hardin drew his revolver and shot Maje five times. Hardin wrote in his autobiography that he rode to get help for the wounded man, but he died three days later.[6]:13[notes 1][9] He further wrote that his father did not believe he would receive a fair hearing in the Union-occupied state (where more than a third of the state police[notes 2] were former slaves), so his father ordered him into hiding.[2] Hardin claimed that the authorities eventually discovered his location and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him, at which time he "chose to confront his pursuers" despite having been warned of their approach by older brother Joseph:[10][11]

...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.[6]:14

Fugitive from justice[edit]

Hardin knew he could not return home. As a fugitive, he initially traveled with outlaw Frank Polk in the Pisgah area of Navarro County, Texas. Polk had killed a man named Tom Brady and a detachment of soldiers sent from Corsicana, Texas, pursued the duo.[12] Hardin escaped the troops but Polk was captured.[6]:16 Hardin also briefly taught school in Pisgah. While there, he claimed he shot a man's eye out to win a bottle of whiskey in a bet.[6]:16 Hardin also claimed that he and his cousin, "Simp" Dixon, encountered a group of soldiers and each killed a man.[6]:17 Allegedly, Hardin killed a black man in Leon County, Texas.[13]

On January 5, 1870, Hardin was playing cards with Benjamin Bradley in Towash, Hill County, Texas. Hardin was winning almost every hand, which angered Bradley so he threatened to "cut out his liver" if he won again. Bradley drew a knife and a six-shooter. Hardin said he was unarmed and excused himself but claims that later that night, Bradley came looking for him. Bradley allegedly fired a shot at Hardin and missed; Hardin drew both his pistols and returned fire, one shot striking Bradley in the head and the other in his chest.[6]:20 Dozens of people saw this fight, and from them there is a good record of how Hardin had used his guns. His holsters were sewn into his vest so that the butts of his pistols 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. A man called "Judge Moore", who held Hardin's stakes of money and a pistol, but refused to give them up without Bradley's consent, later "vanished".[6]:20[14][15] Hardin eventually admitted killing two men in Hill County.[16]

After killing Bradley, Hardin claimed that when a posse of fifteen men came after him, he captured two of them and took a shotgun, two six-shooters, a rifle, and two derringers from his captives. He then ordered the two men to join the other members of the posse at Jim Page's and wait for him to come along-"...I reckon they are waiting for me yet.."[6]:22

Later that month, on January 20, in Horn Hill, Limestone County, Texas, Hardin claimed he killed a man in a gunfight after an argument at the circus.[6]:23 Less than a week after this incident, in nearby Kosse, Hardin was accompanying a saloon girl home when they were accosted by her pimp, who demanded money. Hardin threw money on the ground and shot the would-be thief when he bent over to pick it up.[6]:24[10]

Arrest and escape[edit]

In January 1871, Hardin was arrested for the murder of the Waco, Texas city marshal, Laban John Hoffman. He he denied having committed this crime.[6]:30 Following his arrest, 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. Two Texas state policemen, Captain Edward T. Stakes and an officer named Jim Smalley, were assigned to escort Hardin to Waco for trial. According to Hardin, they tied him on a horse with no saddle for the trip. While making camp along the way, Hardin escaped when Stakes went to procure fodder for the horses. He claims 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 says he feigned crying and huddled against his pony's flank. Hidden by the animal, he pulled out a gun, fatally shot Smalley, and used his horse to escape.[6]:30–32

After this incident, Hardin found refuge with his cousins, the Clements, who were then living in Gonzales, in south Texas. They suggested he could make money by driving cattle to Kansas as a cowboy. Thinking he could get out of Texas long enough for his pursuers to lose interest, Hardin worked with his cousins, rustling cattle for Jake Johnson and Columbus Carol.[17][18] Hardin writes that he was made trail boss for the herd.

In February 1871, while the herd was being collected 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 may have wounded three Mexicans in an argument over a Three-card Monte card game, pistol-whipping one man over the head, shooting one man in the arm and the third man in the lung.[6]:33–34

While driving cattle on the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas, in the summer of 1871, Hardin is reputed to have fought Mexican vaqueros and cattle rustlers.[10] Towards 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. The Mexican fired his gun at Hardin, putting a hole through Hardin's hat. Hardin found that his own weapon, a worn out cap-and-ball pistol with a loose cylinder that would not fire. He dismounted and managed to discharge the gun by steadying the cylinder with one hand and pulling the trigger with the other. He hit the Mexican in the thigh. A truce was declared and both parties went their separate ways. However, Hardin borrowed a pistol from a friend and went looking for the Mexican, this time fatally shooting him through the head. A firefight between the rival camps ensued. Hardin claimed six vaqueros died in the exchanges (five of them reportedly shot by him)[5][6]:39–42[19] although this claim appears exaggerated—only three Mexican vaqueros were killed.[20][21] Hardin also claimed to have killed two Indians in separate gunfights on the same cattle drive. The first instance was when an Indian tried to shoot an arrow at him on the South Canadian River. Hardin shot him and then had the body buried to avoid retribution from the man's tribe. The second incident, at Bluff Creek, Kansas, was when Indians wanted to collect a "tax" on the cattle, He hit an Indian over the head who Hardin claimed had stolen a silver bridle from him and then forced a war party to flee after Hardin shot a second Indian who killed a beef cow.[6]:28–37

After arriving in Abilene, Hardin claimed that he and a companion named Pain got into an argument in a restaurant with an anti-Texan, which left Pain wounded in one arm and the stranger shot in the mouth by Hardin's bullet. Hardin fled Abilene to the Cottonwood Trail.[6]:46

On July 4, 1871, a Texas trail boss named William Cohron,[22] was killed on the Cottonwood Trail (40 miles south of Abilene) by an unnamed Mexican, who "fled south"[23] and was subsequently killed by two cowboys in a Sumner County, Kansas, restaurant on July 20.[24][25] Hardin admitted to being involved in the shooting of the Mexican.[6]:46–49[26]

A Texas Historical Marker notes that in the 1870s, Hardin hid out in the vicinity of Pilgrim, Texas.[27]

Encounters with "Wild Bill" Hickok[edit]

Ben Thompson,as Austin City Marshal 1881–1882
J.B. "Wild Bill" Hickok

The Bull's Head Tavern, in Abilene, had been established as a partnership between ex-lawman Ben Thompson and gambler Phil Coe. The two entrepreneurs had painted a picture of a bull with a large erect penis on the side of their establishment as an advertisement. Citizens complained to town marshal "Wild Bill" Hickok. When Thompson and Coe refused his request to remove the bull, Hickok altered it himself. Infuriated, Thompson tried to incite his new acquaintance, Hardin, by exclaiming to him: "He's a damn Yankee. Picks on Rebels, especially Texans, to kill." Hardin, then under the assumed name "Wesley Clemmons" (but better known to the townspeople by the alias "Little Arkansaw"), seemed to have had respect for Hickok, and replied, "If Bill needs killing why don't you kill him yourself?"[6]:44 Later that night, Hardin was confronted by Hickok, who told him to hand over his guns, which he did.[28] Hickok had no knowledge that Hardin was a wanted man, and he advised Hardin to avoid problems while in Abilene.

Hardin again met up with Hickok while on a cattle drive in August 1871. This time, Hickok allowed Hardin to carry his pistols into town - something he had never allowed others to do. For his part, Hardin (still using his alias) was fascinated by Wild Bill and reveled at being seen on intimate terms with such a celebrated gunfighter.[6]:50–51 Hardin alleged that when his cousin, Mannen Clements, was jailed for the killing of two cowhands Joe and Dolph Shadden in July 1871, Hickok – at Hardin's request – arranged for his escape.[6]:pp.54–56[29]

Kills man for snoring[edit]

Later that month on August 6, 1871, Hardin, his cousin Gip Clements, and a rancher friend named Charles Couger put up for the night at the American House Hotel after an evening of gambling. Clements and Hardin shared one room, with Couger in the adjacent room. All three had been drinking heavily. Sometime during the evening, Hardin was awakened by loud snoring coming from Couger's room. He first shouted several times for the man to "roll over" and then, irritated by the lack of response, drunkenly fired several bullets through the shared wall in an apparent effort to awaken him. Couger was hit in the head by the second bullet as he lay in bed, and was killed instantly. Although Hardin may not have intended to kill Cougar, he had violated an ordinance prohibiting firing a gun within the city limits. Half-dressed and still drunk, he and Clements exited through a second-story window onto the roof of the hotel. He saw Hickok arrive with four policemen. "Now, I believed," 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."[6]:45–58[30] A newspaper reported, "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."[31] Hardin leapt from the roof into the street and hid in a haystack for the rest of the night. He then stole a horse and rode to the cow camp 35 miles outside town. Hardin claimed he ambushed lawman, Tom Carson, and two other deputies there. According to Hardin, he did not kill them but forced them to remove all their clothing and walk back to Abilene.[6]:60 Carson denied the incident ever took place. The next day, Hardin left for Texas, never to return to Abilene.

The incident earned Hardin a reputation as a man "so mean, he once shot a man for snoring".[32] 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."[5] Later, in his contradictory 1896 autobiography, Hardin completely omitted the "snoring man" from the story, as he related not only a wrong date (July 7 instead of August 6) but claimed the shooting was a case of self-defense, saying that the man he killed had first tried to stab him with a dirk[6]:58 and was a burglar who tried to make off with Hardin's pants.[33]

Gunfight with the Texas Special Police[edit]

In October 1871, Hardin was involved in a gunfight with two Texas Special Policemen, Private Green Paramore and John Lackey, in which Paramore was killed and Lackey wounded. Following this, Hardin claimed that about 45 miles outside Corpus Christi, Texas, he was followed by two Mexicans, and that he shot one off his horse while the other "quit the fight".[6]:63–65

Sutton-Taylor feud[edit]

Main article: Sutton–Taylor feud

In early 1872, Hardin was in south-central Texas, in the area around Gonzales County. It was about this time that Hardin married Jane Bowen and started to keep regular company with her brother, cattle rustler Robert Bowen. While in the area, he also renewed acquaintance with some of his cousins who were allied with a local family, the Taylors (who had been feuding with the rival Sutton faction for several years).

On August 7, 1872, Hardin was wounded by a shotgun blast in a gambling dispute at the Gates Saloon in Trinity, Texas. He was shot by Phil Sublett, who had lost money to Hardin in a poker game. Two buckshot pellets penetrated Hardin's kidney and for a time it looked as if he would die.

While recuperating from his wounds, Hardin decided he wanted to settle down. After surrendering to Sheriff Reagan (brother of John Henninger Reagan) of Cherokee County, Texas, he was wounded in the right knee by an accidental gunshot from a nervous deputy. "[6]:73 Hardin made a sick-bed surrender to authorities, handing over his guns to Sheriff Reagan and asking to be tried for his past crimes in order "to clear the slate". When Hardin learned of how many murders Reagan was going to charge him with, however, he changed his mind. A relative smuggled a hacksaw to Hardin, who escaped after cutting through the bars of a prison window.[34]

On May 15, 1873, Jim Cox and Jake Christman were killed by the Taylor faction at Tomlinson Creek. Hardin, having by then recovered from the injuries sustained in 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."[6]:81

Yet Hardin's main notoriety in the Sutton-Taylor feud came from his part in the killing of two lawmen known to be Sutton family allies. In Cuero, Texas, on May 17, 1873, Hardin killed DeWitt County Deputy Sheriff J.B. Morgan, who served under County Sheriff Jack Helm (a former captain in the Texas State Police and leader of the Sutton force at that time).[6]:79[35]:30 Later that day, Hardin killed Helm in the town square of Albuquerque, Texas.[36][37][38]

The feud intensified when Jim and Bill Taylor gunned down Billy Sutton and Gabriel Slaughter[39] as they waited on a steamboat platform in Indianola, Texas, on March 11, 1874. Tired of the feuding, the two were planning to leave the area for good. Hardin admitted that he and his brother, Joseph, had been involved (along with both Taylors) in the killings.[6]:86–87

After a brief visit to Florida with his wife, Jane, and their young daughter, who he had relocated under the assumed name "Swain," Hardin met up with his "gang" on May 26, 1874, in a Comanche saloon to celebrate his 21st birthday. Hardin spotted Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb entering the premises. He 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 out a warning.[6]:92 In the ensuing gunfight, Webb was shot dead. It was reported at the time that Webb was shot as he was pulling out an arrest warrant for one of Hardin's group.[40] Two of Hardin's accomplices in the shooting were cousin Bud Dixon and Jim Taylor.[6]:92

The death of the popular Webb resulted in the quick formation of a lynch mob. Hardin's parents and wife were taken into protective custody, while his brother Joe and two cousins, brothers Bud and Tom Dixon, were arrested on outstanding warrants. A group of local men broke into the jail in July 1874 and hanged Joe, Bud, and Tom.[6]:101[41] After this, Hardin and Jim Taylor parted ways for good. Hardin claimed that he twice drove away men connected to the feud who had come after him, killing a man in each encounter.[6]:105–107

Captured and tried[edit]

John Barclay Armstrong

On January 20, 1875, the Texas Legislature authorized Governor Richard B. Hubbard to offer a $4,000 reward for Hardin's arrest.[42] An undercover Texas Ranger named Jack Duncan intercepted a letter sent to Hardin's father-in-law by his brother-in-law, Joshua Robert "Brown" Bowen. The letter mentioned that Hardin was hiding out on the Alabama-Florida border using the name "James W. Swain". Two former slaves of his father's, "Jake" Menzel and Robert Borup, tried to capture Hardin in Gainesville, Florida in the middle of 1877. Hardin killed one and blinded the other.[43]

On August 24, 1877,[3] Rangers and local authorities confronted Hardin on a train in Pensacola, Florida. Hardin attempted to draw a .44 Colt cap-and-ball pistol but it got caught up in his suspenders. The officers knocked Hardin unconscious. They arrested two of his companions and Ranger John B. Armstrong killed a third, a man named Mann, who had a pistol in his hand.[44] [45] Hardin wrote that he was captured while smoking his pipe and Duncan only found Hardin's pistol under his shirt after his arrest.[6]:119

Trial and imprisonment[edit]

Hardin was tried for the killing of Webb and on June 5, 1878, was sentenced to serve 25 years in Huntsville Prison. In 1879, Hardin and other convicts were stopped while attempting to steal guns from the prison armory.[46] Hardin also made several attempts to escape.[47] During his prison term, on February 14, 1892, he was convicted of another manslaughter charge for the earlier shooting of J.B. Morgan and given a two-year sentence to be served concurrently with his unexpired 25-year sentence.[48][49]

Hardin eventually adapted to prison life. While there, he read theological books, becoming the superintendent of the prison Sunday School. He also studied law. He was plagued by recurring poor health in prison, especially when the wound he had received from Sublett became re-infected in 1883, causing Hardin to be bedridden for almost two years. In 1892, Hardin was described as being 5 feet 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes, dark hair, and wound scars on his right knee, left thigh, right side, hip, elbow, shoulder, and back. During Hardin's stay in prison, his first wife, Jane, died, on November 6, 1892.[50]

After prison[edit]

Hardin was released from prison on February 17, 1894, having served seventeen years of his twenty-five year sentence.[43] He was forty years old when he returned to Gonzales, Texas. Later that year, on March 16, Hardin was pardoned, and, on July 21, he passed the state's bar examination, obtaining his license to practice law.[7] According to a newspaper article in 1900, 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.[43]

On January 9, 1895, Hardin married a 15-year-old girl named Callie Lewis. The marriage ended quickly, although it was never legally dissolved.[7]:214–217 Afterward, Hardin moved to El Paso, Texas.


Hardin's post mortem photo

An El Paso lawman, John Selman, Jr., arrested Hardin's acquaintance and part-time prostitute, the "widow" M'Rose (or Mroz), for "brandishing a gun in public". Hardin confronted Selman and the two men argued with some accounts stating that Hardin pistol-whipped the younger man. Selman's 56-year-old father, Constable John Selman, Sr. (himself a notorious gunman and former outlaw), approached Hardin on the afternoon of August 19, 1895, and the two men exchanged heated words.[43] That night, Hardin went to the Acme Saloon, where he began playing dice. Shortly before midnight, Selman Sr. entered the saloon, walked up to Hardin from behind, and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. As Hardin lay on the floor, Selman fired three more shots into him.[51] Selman Sr. was arrested for murder and stood trial. He claimed self-defense, stating that he witnessed Hardin attempting to draw his pistol upon seeing him enter the saloon, and a hung jury resulted in his being released on bond, pending retrial. However, before the retrial could be organized, Selman was killed in a shootout with US Marshal George Scarborough on April 6, 1896 during an argument following a card game.[52]

Hardin was buried the following day[53] in Concordia Cemetery, in El Paso.[54]

Reburial controversy[edit]

The grave of John Wesley Hardin

A century later, on August 27, 1995, there was a confrontation between two groups at the site of Hardin's grave. One group, representing several great-grandchildren of Hardin, sought to relocate Hardin's body to Nixon, Texas, to be interred next to the grave of Hardin's first wife, Jane. The other group, consisting of locals from El Paso, sought to prevent the move. At the cemetery, the group representing Hardin's descendants presented a disinterment permit for the body, while the El Pasoans presented a court order prohibiting its removal. Both sides accused the other parties of seeking the tourist revenue generated by the location of the body. A subsequent lawsuit ruled in favor of keeping the body in El Paso.[53]

Known contacts with the law[edit]

Hardin had numerous confirmed clashes with the law:

  • January 9, 1871: Arrested by Constable E.T. Stakes and 12 citizens in Harrison County, Texas on a charge of four murders and one horse theft.[55]
  • January 22, 1871: Hardin killed Texas State Police officer Jim Smalley and escaped.[56] Up to November 13, 1872, the Grand Jury of Freestone County, Texas had not filed an indictment against Hardin for the killing of Smalley.[57]
  • August 6, 1871: In Abilene, Dickinson County, Kansas, Charles Cougar was killed in the American House Hotel. Hardin, aka "Wesley Clemens", was found guilty by a coroner's jury of the killing.[58]
  • October 6, 1871: In Gonzales County, Texas, Texas Special Policemen Green Paramore and John Lackey tried to arrest Hardin. Paramore was killed and Lackey wounded.
  • July 26, 1872: Texas State Policeman Sonny Speights was wounded in the shoulder by Hardin in Hemphill, Texas[6]:65–67[57]
  • September 1872: Hardin surrendered to Sheriff Reagan, but escaped in October 1872.[59]
  • November 19, 1872: Hardin mysteriously escaped from the sheriff of Gonzales County, Texas, despite a guard of six men. A reward of $100 was offered for his re-capture.[57]
  • May 1873: Hardin was involved in the killing of Deputy Sheriff J.B. Morgan of Cuero, Texas, and on July 25, 1873, of DeWitt County Sheriff Jack Helm. These killings were during the Sutton-Taylor feud.
  • June 17, 1873: Hardin assisted in the escape of outlaw Joshua "Brown" Bowen, his brother-in-law, from the Gonzales County jail. Bowen had been charged with the December 17, 1872 killing of Thomas Holderman. After Bowen's execution in the summer of 1878, Hardin was implicated in Holderman's death as well.[60]
  • October 1873: Hardin was indicted in Hill County, Texas, for the 1870 death of Benjamin Bradley, but was never tried.[61][62]
  • May 26, 1874: Hardin killed Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Comanche, Texas.[63]
  • November 1876: Hardin (under the alias of "Swain") and Gus Kennedy were arrested in Mobile, Alabama and ordered to leave town.[64][65]
  • August 1877: 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.[57]
  • July 1895: Fined $25 for gaming after using a pistol to get back money (a result of losing $100 at the Gem Saloon some weeks before).[66] His gun was confiscated.[67]

Unconfirmed claims[edit]

Hardin is well known for exaggerating or entirely fabricating many of his famous exploits. In his autobiography, he made several claims of having been involved in events which cannot be confirmed or which have proven unreliable. Countless folk historians have since added their own apocryphal stories, compounding the difficulty in separating fact from fiction.[citation needed]

  • Hardin claimed that after killing Maje, he shot three Union soldiers of the U.S. 4th Cavalry Regiment. at a creek crossing at Logallis Prairie (now Nogalus Prairie, Trinity County, Texas).[6]:14 None of the military records name Hardin as a suspect, nor do any facts agree with his claims.[68] Circumstantial evidence is that a murder was committed here, but the names and numbers of victims are unknown.[69]
  • 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.[6]:17 [70] Records indicate that a Sgt. J.F. Leonard of Company B, 6th U.S. Cavalry, was wounded at Livingston, Texas, on May 7, 1869.[71]
  • Hardin claimed in January 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 conclude the way Hardin claimed it did.[72] A few days later Hardin also claimed to have killed a man in Kosse Texas; there are no contemporary newspapers to confirm this second shooting, although there is slight evidence this could have happened.[73]
  • Hardin claimed that during his January 1871 escape from Stakes and Smalley, he killed a Mr. Smith, a Mr. Jones, and a Mr. Davis in Bell County, Texas.[6]:32 No contemporary newspaper accounts from Bell County confirm these additional killings.[citation needed]
  • Another claim was that he killed a man in Abilene, Kansas, in the summer of 1871. No contemporary newspaper accounts with evidence of such a killing exist-although a 1924 account does report a saloon shooting in some respects similar to Hardin's version.[74][75] Hardin also claimed to have outdrawn "Wild Bill" Hickok. Again, no contemporary newspaper accounts confirm this, but another report suggests that it was Hickok who made Hardin put up his guns.[76]
  • He claimed that after killing Green Paramore in October 1871, he forced an African-American posse to flee after killing three of them.[6]:63 There are no contemporary accounts to confirm this claim.[citation needed]
  • Hardin claimed that on June 19, 1872, in Willis, Texas, some men tried to arrest him for carrying a pistol, "...but they got the contents instead".[6]:63–65 Hardin was involved in a gunfight around this time and wounded, but records indicate the fight occurred between himself and one other man.[77]
  • After being wounded by Sublett in August 1872, Hardin claimed that in September he either killed, or drove off, one or two members of the Texas State Police in Trinity, Texas.[6]:72 Hardin gave different versions of the event at different times. Although he had killed two members and wounded two members of the Texas State Police, these shootings had not occurred in Trinity County. In 1877, however, Hardin was indicted for an August 1872 murder in Trinity County.[78]
  • In May 1874, while in Gainesville, Florida, Hardin confessed to having knocked down a black man and shooting another one during a disturbance outside the Alachua County jail. A black prisoner named "Eli" - who was held on a charge of attempted assault of a white woman - was lynched when the jail was burned down by a mob. Hardin claimed to have been part of the mob, as was the county coroner, who afterward rendered a verdict that "Eli" had died after setting fire to the jail himself.[6]:110 No contemporary newspaper accounts support this, except one suggesting that the first Alachua County jail suffered a "demise".[79]
  • Hardin claimed that on July 1, 1874, he drove off 17 Texas Rangers that had been trailing him, and killed one of them.[6]:107 This alleged shooting happened after a triple lynching of Hardin's cousin and two ranch hands. He also claimed to have driven off another group of men after killing one of them. There are no contemporary reports to confirm these stories. However, on June 1, 1874, a Texas Rangers company did kill Hardin's cousins, Alexander Barekman and Alexander Anderson, in a gunfight and claimed to have wounded Hardin as well. Hardin wrote about the killings of his cousins but does not confirm that he was wounded at all and claimed to have heard about their deaths later.[6]:102
  • Later, Hardin and Mac Young were supposedly stopped near Belleville, Texas, by a posse under Sheriff Charles Langhammer of Austin on suspicion of being horse thieves. Hardin pulled his guns on Langhammer but did not shoot him, fleeing instead; Young was arrested and fined $100 for having a concealed pistol.[6]:107–108
  • Hardin 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.[6]:111 This confrontation is pure fiction, as the Pinkerton Detective Agency never pursued Hardin. However in March 1876 it was alleged Hardin, aka Swain, had wounded W.C. Overbey, who had tried to act as a mediator between Hardin and another person.[80]
  • Hardin claimed that in a saloon on election night in November 1876, Hardin {under the alias of "Swain"} and a companion, Jacksonville 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 and later released.[6]:111–112 This appears to be another case of an encounter (which resulted in Hardin and Kennedy being arrested and driven out of town for cheating at cards)[81] in which Hardin's version does not fit contemporary records.[65]
  • Hardin also claimed to have met two fellow outlaws during his life: in 1870, he supposedly gambled with Bill Longley.[6]:25–27 It is possible they could have met; after both were sentenced for their crimes—Hardin receiving 25 years and Longley execution—Longley, who boasted of having killed as many men as Hardin, was outraged at the different degrees of sentencing.[82] After being sentenced in September 1878, Hardin also supposedly met fellow convict Johnny Ringo[6]:125 in an Austin, Texas jail; in fact, Ringo had been acquitted in May 1877.


The memorable circumstances and sheer number of Hardin's notorious crimes, real or exaggerated, quickly made him a legend of the Old West and an icon of American folklore. His autobiography was published posthumously in 1925 by Bandera publisher, historian, and journalist J. Marvin Hunter, founder of Frontier Times magazine and the Frontier Times Museum.[83]

Hardin's weapons of choice and several of his personal effects have been well documented and auctioned to private collectors. Court records show that John Wesley Hardin carried a Colt "Lightning" revolver at the time of his death.[84] He also carried an Elgin watch[85] when he was shot and killed. The revolver and the watch had been presented to Hardin in appreciation for his legal efforts on behalf of Jim Miller at Miller's trial for the killing of ex-sheriff George "Bud" Frazer. The Colt (with a .38-caliber, 2 12" barrel) is nickel-plated, with blued hammer, trigger, and screws. It features mother-of-pearl grips, and the back-strap is hand-engraved "J.B.M. TO J.W.H.". This gun and its holster were once sold at auction for $168,000. Another Colt revolver (known as a .41-caliber "Thunderer"), which was owned by Hardin and used by him to rob the Gem Saloon, was sold at the same auction for $100,000.[67][86]

In 2002, an auction house in San Francisco, California, auctioned three lots of John Wesley Hardin's personal effects. One lot sold for $15,250, containing a deck of his playing cards, one of his business cards, and a contemporary newspaper account of his death. The bullet that killed Hardin sold for $80,000.[87]


  1. ^ On December 9, 1868, Lt Charles Schmidt, the Freeman's Bureau agent based in Sumpter, Texas reported Maje's death to the Assistant Adj. General of the Freeman's Bureau in a report the titled "Criminal offenses" : "John Hardin (white) – Major Holshousen (fr[eeman]), Murder." Quote: "Hardin, a mere lad shot him without cause as the latter did not like the abuse of Hardin. He shot him five times every wound dangerous. No action taken by civil authorities. Hardin left the county. He lived at Sumpter, Trinity Co ,Texas." Additional: In the margin under the date December 9, 1868 is written the following postscript: "Murder was committed in Polk Co, Texas about ten 10 miles from Moscow"
  2. ^ The Texas State Police was not formed until 1870.


  1. ^ a b 1860 U S Census of Free Inhabitants; Subdivision No. 25-Sumpter, Trinity County, Texas; 12 June 1860; P.O. at Sumpter; p: 1; Dwelling 6, Family 6.
  2. ^ a b c Marohn, Richard C. (Jun 1995). The Last Gunfighter: John Wesley Hardin (third printing). Creative Publishing Company; College Station, TX. ISBN 978-0-932702-99-9. 
  3. ^ a b "Hardin credited with 27 killings";August 30, 1877 article; The Wichita City Eagle; p. 2, col 6 (in which his arrest was reported); Transcription: Whiting, Ala., August 21. To-day as a train was leaving Pensacola, the sheriff, with a posse, boarded the cars to assist Texan officers to arrest the notorious John Wesley Hardin, who is said to have committed twenty-seven murders, and for whose body $1,000 reward has been offered by an act of the Legislature of Texas. His last murder in Texas was the killing of the sheriff of Comanche county. He has lived in Florida for several years under the name of John Swain. About twenty shots were fired in making the arrest, and Hardin's companion, named Mann, who had a pistol in his hand, was killed.
  4. ^ a b Metz, Leon Claire (2003). The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters. Checkmark Books. pp. 108–110. ISBN 0-8160-4543-7. 
  5. ^ a b c Trachtman, Paul (1974). Old West: The Gunfighters. New York: Time Life. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-8094-1481-9. ; During the description of one book in the series, The Gunfighters, the well-known claim is made: "John Wesley Hardin, so mean, he once shot a man just for snoring too loud."
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay Hardin, John Wesley (1896). The Life of John Wesley Hardin: As Written By Himself. Seguin, Texas: Smith & Moore. ISBN 978-0-8061-1051-6. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Metz, Leon Claire (Sep 1996). John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas. (First Edition), Mangan Books, El Paso, Texas. ISBN 0-930208-35-8. Retrieved 2013-04-25. 
  8. ^ O'Neal, Bill (1979). Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 126–131. ISBN 0-8061-1508-4. 
  9. ^ [ Criminal Offenses Texas, Freedmen's Bureau ...Office Records, 1865-1870, Sumpter, Roll 26, Letters sent, vol (158), June-Dec 1867, Apr-Dec 1868 .p.112 Image 60
  10. ^ a b c James, Garry (1975). Guns of the Gunfighters. Peterson Textbook Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-8227-0095-1. 
  11. ^ Pryor, Alton (2001). Outlaws and Gunslingers. Stagecoach Publishing. ISBN 0-9660053-6-8. 
  12. ^ Texas Historical Marker; Flickr submission; accessed ???.
  13. ^ [Article] "Dallas Morning News" August 31, 1895 p. 1;
  14. ^ [Article"Dallas Morning News;" Match 6, 1892 .p.3
  15. ^ [Article] "Dallas Morning News" August 31, 1895 .p.1
  16. ^ Article plate; August 30, 1877 article; Dallas Democratic Statesman; at Find a Grave; accessed .
  17. ^ Article plate; August 30, 1877 article; Dallas Democratic Statesman; at Find a Grave; no access date. The Statesman reported that Hardin rustled cattle to sell in Kansas, and that a brother in "Commanche" [sic] helped by preparing false bills of sale.
  18. ^ The Texas Civil Appeals Reports: Cases Argued and Determined...; Volume 29; 1903; p. 352; accessed ???. Note: Joseph Hardin was indeed found to have had State Seals in his possession after his lynching.
  19. ^ In Hardin's autobiographical version of the gunfight, he claims the first fatality was the Mexican he had previously wounded, "Hosea", and that he was the boss vaquero. He wrote that he and Jim Clements prevented the rest of the vaqueros – aside from those who were already killed – from firing on them by deliberately stampeding the Mexican herd.
  20. ^ Article from he Wichita Tribune June 1, 1871, which reports 3 cattle herders killed at Park City, Shedgwick Co Kansas C/o researcher Tucker of the Wichita Public Library
  21. ^ Article; from the Saline County Journal; June 8, 1871; p. 3, Col. 2; at Chronicling America; accessed ???. Report Which confirms that the week before, three Mexican herders were killed at Park City, Shedgwick County, Kansas.
  22. ^ William Cohron memorial
  23. ^ "Article; July 20, 1871 article; Abilene–White Cloud–Kansas Chief newspaper; p. 3; col. 4; at Chronicling America; accessed .
  24. ^ "Article; July 27, 1871 article; Abilene–White–Cloud, Kansas Chief; p. 2; col. 4; at Chronicling America; accessed .
  25. ^ "Article image; August 17, 1871 article; Abilene Daily Chronicle; accessed .
  26. ^ Note: In Hardin's version of this killing, he calls the murdered cattleman "Billy Coran" and the Mexican "Bideno".
  27. ^ Marker; Texas Handbook online; accessed August 2015.
  28. ^ Dallas Daily Statesmanplate; August 30, 1877
  29. ^ John Wesley Hardin Collection Texas State University.
  30. ^ Article; August 9, 1871 Kansas Daily Commonwealth
  31. ^ Article; August 10, 1871; Saline County Journal; p. 3; col. 1
  32. ^ Trachtman, Paul (1974). Old West: The Gunfighters. New York: Time Life. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-8094-1481-9.; During the description of one book in the series, The Gunfighters, the well-known claim is made.
  33. ^ Metz, Leon Claire; The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters; "Hardin, John Wesley"; p. 109; ISBN 0816045437
  34. ^ Wesley Hardin & The Shootist Archetype; Legends of America; accessed August 2015.
  35. ^ The Texas Vendetta, or, the Sutton-Taylor Feud. J.J. Little & Co. 1880. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  36. ^ Article; Handbook of Texas on-line; accessed September 2015.
  37. ^ article; Texas State Historical Association on-line; accessed September 2015.
  38. ^ Image 1; July 31, 1873 article; Weekly Democratic Statesman; pg. ; Chronicling America; Note: misspells Hardin's name as "Harden".
  39. ^ Image 2; March 21, 1874 article; The Dallas Weekly Herald files at Library of Congress; Chronicling America; accessed ???.
  40. ^ tribune Article image; October 14, 1900; P. 9; image [#39]; New York Tribune at the Library of Congress; from Chronicling America; accessed August 2015
  41. ^ Joseph Hardin; June 9, 1874 article; The Waco Daily Examiner; p. 3, col.1; at Chronicling America; accessed August 2015; Note:It is reported that the hanging ropes were deliberately left too long (in order to cause death through slow strangulation), as grass was found between their toes.
  42. ^ Laws passed by the Legislature of Texas 1875; p. 189; accessed August 2015.
  43. ^ a b c d Article; October 14, 1900 article; New York Tribune; p. 39
  44. ^ Wise, Ken (March 2012). Hunter, Michelle, ed. "The Trial of John Wesley Hardin". Texas Bar Journal (Austin, TX: State Bar of Texas) 75 (9): 202. Retrieved March 4, 2015. 
  45. ^ Hardin; September 1, 1877 article; The Iola Register filed at the Library of Congress.
  46. ^ San Marcos Free Press; January 18, 1879; Library of Congress (at Chronicling America online); p. 4; accessed December 2013.
  47. ^ Brenhan Weekly Banner; December 27, 1878; Library of Congress (at Chronicling American onlin) e; p. 2; accessed December 2013.
  48. ^ Texas Convict Ledgers and Conduct Registries, 1849-1970;
  49. ^ Hardin Biography
  50. ^ Article; November 21, 1892 article; The Daily Herald News; p. 2 col. 2; at Chronicling America; accessed .
  51. ^ Article; August 30, 1895 article; Graham Guardian; p. 1; accessed .
  52. ^ Scarborough; April 6, 1896 article; Salt Lake Herald; p. 2; Chronicling America; accessed .
  53. ^ a b Billings v. Concordia Heritage Association, Inc.; Find Law online; accessed August 19, 2014.
  54. ^ John W Hardin; 1853–1895; gravestone; Concordia Heritage Association online; accessed August 19, 2014.
  55. ^ Texas State Police arrest reports for 1870—1871;he is listed as "Hardin, J.R."
  56. ^ Dallas Herald March 11, 1871 {Library of Congress}
  57. ^ a b c d "Daily Democrat Statesman"; August 30, 1877 article; Find-a-Grave online
  58. ^ "Abilene Daily Chronicle" August 10, 1871
  59. ^ Article; Handbook of Texas on-line; accessed .
  60. ^ Brenham Weekly Banner; June 13, 1879; p. 1 col. 3; Chronicling America online
  61. ^ [Article Dallas Mourning News March 6, 1892 .p.3
  62. ^ [Article "Dallas Morning News" August 31, 1895 .p.1
  63. ^ Hardin vs The State Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Court of Appeals of the State of Texas..., Volume 4
  64. ^ [Article "A Brace of Swindlers" Mobile Daily Register; November 12, 1876 p. 1 Col. 2;
  65. ^ a b See A.J.Wright "A Gunfighters Southern Vacation" Quarterly of the National Association and Center for Outlaw History" Vol VII #3 Autumn 1982, pp. 13–14 at [1] for difference between Hardin's version and contemporary accounts.
  66. ^ The Daily Herald; July 9, 1895; p. 4; at Chronicling America online
  67. ^ a b Herring, Hal (2008). Famous Firearms of the Old West: From Wild Bill Hickok's Colt Revolvers to Geronimo's Winchester, Twelve Guns That Shaped Our History. TwoDot. p. 224. ISBN 0-7627-4508-8. 
  68. ^ "Executive Documents Printed by order of the House of Representatives, 1868–1869"; Summary of Reports for the Fifth Military District, August 1867–September 1868; reporting four soldiers killed and four wounded from the U.S. 6th Cavalry Regiment
  69. ^ Nogalus Prairie, Texas
  70. ^ Hardin claimed that Dixon's mother, sisters, and brother had been tortured and killed by Union soldiers during the Civil War. In fact, Dixon's mother had been divorced in 1851, and a brother was killed, but in 1868 during the Lee-Peacock feud.
  71. ^ "Executive Documents Printed by order of the House of Representatives, 1868–1869"; Summary of Reports for the Fifth Military District, August 1867–September 1868, March 1868 supplement; a report against Lee's band.
  72. ^ "The Orton Brothers Circus had a "cleaning" match on Jan 21st at Union Hill, Texas. Some roughs tried to pass into the show without paying, but the canvas boys went for the crowd and "cleaned" them. After the concert at eight three roughs returned and commenced firing on the canvasmen. None of the circus boys were hurt, but one of the roughs was reported to have died the following day." {New York Clipper February 12, 1870 .p.359 col. 4.
  73. ^ query
  74. ^ Note: Although there are no contemporary newspaper reports of this shooting, this killing is mentioned in a 1924 account by Texas cattleman George N. Steen, who reported: While we were there one night, a man was drinking at a bar in a saloon, and somebody fired in from outside, the bullet striking him in the mouth and instantly killing him...; from The Trail Drivers of Texas, Part One; pub. 1924; Hunter, J. Marvin; p. 140.
  75. ^ Of interest is the fact that the "Abilene Chronicle" of June 22, 1871 reported a shooting fray involving two unnamed men in which however there was no killing-one man was wounded in the shoulder and one man wounded in the wrist-it is unknown if this refers to the Hardin Abilene shooting episode- see Hickcock footnote # 16
  76. ^ "Border Roll"
  77. ^ See summary on p. 4
  78. ^ "Daily Democratic Statesman" plate; August 30, 1877
  79. ^ .p.22
  80. ^ Gainesville Sun October 12, 1986 quoting the Gainsville Times Sept 1, 1877
  81. ^ Mobile Daily Register [Article; November 12, 1876 newspaper
  82. ^ Longley letter
  83. ^ "Wayne Gard, "John Marvin Hunter"". Handbook of Texas On-line ( Retrieved July 8, 2009. 
  84. ^ Note: The Colt's serial number was 84304: the Lightning was recorded in Colt factory ledgers as shipped on July 16, 1891, to Hartley & Graham, New York City. The Colt was accompanied by a tooled leather holster, marked with a barely visible stamp of an El Paso maker.
  85. ^ serial number 4069110
  86. ^ Spangenberge, Phil; "Hardin’s Hardware: The Texas 'shootist' loved his Colts and Smith & Wessons"; True West Magazine; Vol. ; Number ; Retrieved 07/01/2006
  87. ^ Nolte, Carl.(2002). Fastest draw at the auction house: Collectors snap up antique firearms, Old West memorabilia; San Francisco Chronicle; June 4, 2002


Further reading[edit]

  • Bourne, McNeal. "Keeping Score on John Wesley Hardin." NOLA Quarterly, Vol. X, No. 4, Spring 1986.
  • DeMattos, Jack. "Gunfighters of the Real West: John Wesley Hardin." Real West, April 1984.
  • Ellison, Douglas W. "Rivals in Texas: Hardin and Longley." NOLA Quarterly, Vol. XII, No. 4, Spring 1988.
  • Hardin, John Wesley, The Life of John Wesley Hardin, from the Original Manuscript as Written by Himself. Seguin, Texas: Smith & Moore, 1896.
  • Marohn, Richard C., The Last Gunfighter: John Wesley Hardin. College Station, Texas: Creative Publishing Company, 1995. ISBN 0-932702-99-6
  • Metz, Leon, John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas. El Paso, Texas: Mangan Books, 1996. ISBN 0-930208-35-8
  • Nordyke, Lewis, John Wesley Hardin: Texas Gunman. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1957.
  • Parsons, Chuck. "John Wesley Hardin and the Texas Rangers." NOLA Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 1, Spring 1975.
  • Parsons, Chuck, The Capture of John Wesley Hardin. College Station, Texas: Creative Publishing Company, 1978 ISBN 0-932702-01-5.
  • Parsons,Chuck. "Destroying the Hardin Gang." NOLA Quarterly, Vol. V, No. 4, April 1980.
  • Parsons, Chuck and Brown, Norman Wayne, A Lawless Breed: John Wesley Hardin, Texas Reconstruction, and Violence in the Wild West. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1-57441-505-6.
  • Whittington, Michael. "Six Telegrams That Tell a Story: The Arrest of John Wesley Hardin." NOLA Quarterly, Vol. XI, No. 2, Fall 1986.

External links[edit]