John Wesley Hardin


Preacher Hardin, a God-fearing circuit-riding man, had great expectations for his son, Wesley, named after a bishop of the Methodist Church, and born in 1853. Wesley served as a Sunday school superintendent for a while. But the times were ripe to change a man, and the northern bluecoats had made police of Negroes following the Civil War. In a burst of rage over an incident, Wes, at the age of 15, cut down his first man, a Negro, in Washington County, Texas, and also shot four more men who pursued him. Young Hardin was right handy with a six gun. He was in big trouble, too.

This mere boy in a big-rimmed hat, with a heavy cap-and-ball pistol dragging at his pants, had to have a drink of hard liquor, and while so doing ran afoul of an Arkansas gunslinger from Horn Hill. He beat Wes to the draw, but Wes was the better shot, and the gunslinger died with a look of agonized dismay on his face. Then young Hardin had to unlimber on a circus roustabout, outdraw, and hill him.
At Kosse, another hothead just asked to be cut down. Then in Waco, Wes became conscious of this special gift and outdrew another gunman. Then the law had him good, but Hardin escaped from jail, killing Deputy Jim Smolly.

Talent, indeed. Down the road to hell. With eight men dead, with nicer clothes on his broad shoulders, he cut a fine figure, gun belt and all. He went home to see his Pa, a man who knew what it was to carry a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other, as he had been a captain in the Civil War. He advised his son to go on down into Old Mexico until the trouble blew over. However, Wes was grabbed by state police between Belton and Waco. During dry camp that night, both men dropped off to sleep. Wes grabbed the shotgun and woke up every chicken within a mile when he blasted them into eternity.

Wes’s cousins Joe, Jim, Gyp, and Manning Clements, hard men of guns and cattle, were camped out in the wild mesquite jungle and ready for a big drive to Abilene, in 1871. Wes was welcome to come along, drive cattle, and fight off Mexicans and Indians on the Chisum Trail.

Mid-spring found them in the famed frontier town of Abilene, a bedlam of bawling cattle, rickety western clapboard buildings, and a seething mass of fun-seeking hell-raisers from Texas crowding into the saloons patrolled by the fancy dresser and killer, Marshal Wild Bill Hickok. Switch engines snorted and wheezed all night long, cattle bawled piano keys got mixed up in the welter of sound.

With hair clicked down, Wes and his ornery cousins cruised the town, lookin’ her over, and met the famed killer, Ben Thompson, all decked out in a high plug hat like an undertaker, telling Wes to kill the stuffed shirt Wild Bill, as he didn’t like lawmen in any form. Wes told Ben to do his own killing. A short time thereafter, Wes met Wild Bill and the two got on fine. Bill just couldn’t figure out this 18-year-old son-of-Satan who was growing in reputation. There is a tale abroad that Wes threw down on Hickok, but the wise wave it aside. Back at his hotel room, he caught a man rifling his pants and killed him.

In between shoot-outs in Texas, Wes found the girl of his heart, married her, then lit out again to cut down Sheriff Dick Reagon and famed gunslinging lawman, Sheriff Jack Helms.

Wes had killed about 40 men at this stage of his career, at 21 years of age, and although Charlie Webb took the risk and outdrew him, creasing his die, Wes whirled and killed him with a bullet in his eye. For this act, although the killer was gone, his brother Joe and his cousins, Bud and Tom Dixon, were caught and strung up.

He was not on the run, but not for long, for the Texas Rangers soon nabbed him at Pensacola Junction, Florida, in 1877. Tried and convicted, he was sentenced to 25 years in Huntsville Prison where Bill Longley, Mannen Clements and John Ringo made him company. Here, Wes studied law. In 1894 after serving 15 years, he was pardoned. On the outside now, he passed the bar and moved along to El Paso where he hung out his shingle. But he was no longer the same man. He strutted and bragged, he got drunk, and he pushed people around. It was only a matter of time.

Young John Selman got into an argument with Wes over a woman. Old John Selman, the young policeman’s father, feared for his son’s life. Wes was shot down while he rolled dice in the Acme Saloon with his back to the door where Selman stood, took careful aim and cut him down. Wes died as he had lived – by the gun.