John Wesley Hardin
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Old West outlaw and gunslinger John Wesley Hardin was born May 26, 1853, in Bonham, Texas. Rumored to be so mean he once shot a man for snoring, Hardin was shot to death in El Paso on August 19, 1895, by a man he had hired to kill someone else.
John's father, James G. Hardin, was a Methodist preacher, lawyer, schoolteacher and circuit rider. His mother was Elizabeth Hardin. At age fourteen, John stabbed a schoolmate. At age fifteen, he shot a black man to death in Polk County. While fleeing from the law following that murder, he killed at least one, and possibly four Union soldiers who were attempting to apprehend him.
As a cowboy on the Chisolm Trail in 1871, Hardin killed seven people. He killed three more upon arriving in Abilene, Kansas. Back in Texas, following a run-in with the State Police back in Gonzales County, Hardin got married, settled down and had three children. But he soon resumed his murder spree, killing 4 more times before surrendering to the Cherokee County sheriff in September 1872. He broke out of jail after a couple of weeks, however.
Hardin next killed Jack Helm, a former State Police captain, who led the fight against the anti-Reconstructionist forces of Jim Taylor in the Sutton-Taylor Feud. Hardin had become a supporter of Taylor's from 1873 to 1874.
In May 1874, Hardin killed a deputy sheriff in Brown County while visiting the town of Comanche. Fleeing to Florida with his family, Hardin was captured by Texas Rangers in Pensacola on July 23, 1877. During that flight, he killed at least one, and perhaps as many as five more victims.
On September 28, 1878, Hardin was sentenced to twenty-five years for the Brown County deputy's murder. He was pardoned on March 16, 1894. Having studied law while in prison, Hardin was admitted to the Texas bar soon after his release.
In 1895, Hardin went to El Paso to testify for the defense in a murder trial. Following the trial, he stayed and established a law practice. Just when he seemed to finally be going straight, Hardin began an affair with one of his married female clients. Her husband found out about the affair and Hardin hired some law officials to kill him. One of the hired gunmen, however, Constable John Selman, shot Hardin instead.
Legend has it that his last words were, "Four sixes to beat, Henry." When killed, Hardin was shooting dice with local furniture dealer Henry Brown at the Acme saloon in El Paso. Thus ended the life and career of one of Texas deadliest gunslingers. Despite his killing of over thirty people, Hardin had a reputation as a gentleman among those who knew him, and he always claimed he never killed anyone who didn't need killing.
Bibliography: Wendy Brabner, ed., Texas Monthly Texas Characters Datebook 1985 (Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, 1984). Ron Tyler, ed., The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 3 (Austin, Texas: Texas State Historical Association, 1996) pp. 454-55.