John Wesley Hardin: Biography Of A Killer

John Wesley Hardin is one of the West's most notorious killers. Here is his biography.

John Wesley Hardin, killer of more than 40 men, was born in Bonham, Texas, in 1853. His father was a Methodist minister who named his boy after the founder of his religion. John grew to be a slightly built, good looking boy. It wasn't long, however, before he displayed the uncontrollable rage that would set his course as one of the West's most notorious gunfighters. At age 14 he got into a fight with a school mate, stabbing him twice with a knife. If he hadn't been pulled off the boy, young John would have started his killing spree there and then.

It wasn't long, however, before the killing did start. In the post-Civil War years, hatred was seething between the newly freed black people and the Southern whites. The fifteen year old Hardin became a staunch hater of black people. In 1868, he was visiting relatives in Moscow, Texas. There he got into a wrestling match with an ex-slave who went by the name of Mage. Apparently Hardin got the better of the fight. The next day Mage approached Hardin as he was riding out of town. He grabbed the horse's bridle and demanded a rematch. Hardin's response was to pull out his revolver and shoot Mage repeatedly until he fell dead.

Hardin went into hiding to escape the Northern justice that would have him put to death for killing a black man. He was never far from his home though, as there were plenty of relatives around Texas who were willing to take him in. In late 1868, he ambushed three Union soldiers who had learned were out to bring him in for Mage's killing. He killed all three of them.



In 1870 the law did catch up with Hardin. He was arrested in Marshall, Texas for a murder that he actually had nothing to do with. By the time that the State Police arrived to transport him to Waco for trial, he had managed to get a Colt revolver smuggled into his jail cell. He had it tied to his shoulder with twine and three days into the journey he shot one of his guards and fled to the shelter of relatives in Gonzales. There he joined a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail. Hardin ,however, just couldn't keep out of trouble. He got into a dispute with members of a Mexican drive who were following behind. Having shot one of them through the heart, Hardin became the catalyst for a general fire fight which saw him kill five more Mexicans.

Shortly thereafter Hardin met Wild Bill Hickock in Abilene. The two got on well, with the young killer somewhat overawed to be in the presence of the famed gunman. The split between them came when one night Hardin shot holes through the wall of his hotel room to get the man next door to stop snoring. The second bullet killed the man. Hardin now knew that Hickock would be out to get him. He fled his room and hid the rest of the night in a haystack. The next day he fled, determined to get as far away from Hickock as he could.

Back in Texas he married his long time love, Jane Bowen. Despite this, and the fact that she bore him two children, however, Hardin continued his life of wandering trouble maker. The murder that would finally see him brought to justice occurred on May 26, 1874 - his 21st birthday. He was in the town of Comanche, Texas. After winning big at the horse races that day, he set off on a celebratory round of the local saloons. Meanwhile a local Deputy, Charles Webb, was in town making it known that he was out to get Hardin. He caught up with Hardin at one of the Saloons at which point Hardin invited him to have a drink with him. The lawman, however, pulled his gun when Hardin's back was turned. The ensuing shot grazed Hardin but didn't prevent him from getting a shot off himself. The bullet smashed into Webb's face - killing him instantly.

Hardin high tailed it out of town. But the law was closing in. For two years they doggedly tracked him down. He managed to get to Florida where he took on a new identity. He was finally uncovered by Pinkerton agents who chased him to the Mexican border. He killed two of his pursuers and escaped, with his wife, to Alabama. On July 23, 1877 the game was finally up. Texas Rangers cornered him in the smoking car of a train at Pensacola, Florida. He was rushed by Rangers from all sides who soon had him pinned to the ground.

Hardin was convicted of the killing of Deputy Webb and sentenced to 25 years in jail. After several unsuccessful escape attempts, he settled down in Huntsville Prison where he studied theology and the law. In 1894 he was pardoned by the Governor of Texas.

He opened a Law practice in El Paso. Before long, however, he was again in trouble. He got in an argument with a policeman named John Selman. On August 19, 1895, Selman walked up behind Hardin in a saloon and shot him in the back. The worst killer of the times was dead, aged 42. Within that time he had taken 44 men to their graves.

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