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Deadliest Kid in the West: Outlaw John Wesley Hardin

Updated on June 26, 2015

On the evening of August 19, 1895 notorious outlaw, forty-two year old John Wesley Hardin swaggered into the Wigwam Saloon in El Paso, Texas. Hardin, part owner in the Wigwam, probably looked forward to his usual evening of gambling, drinking and hell-raising. But tonight would end differently. Since John Wesley Hardin was fifteen, he'd lurched from one violent incident to another; one murder after another. He was also handsome and considered "gentlemanly". A man who said he never killed anyone who did not need killing to and only shot to save his own life. He also killed at least thirty people his rather short life.

John Wesley Hardin

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Born in the north Texas town of Bonham on May 23, 1853, Hardin was one of ten children born to Mary Elizabeth and James "Gip" Hardin, a Methodist preacher, teacher, lawyer and circuit rider. His sons violent streak showed itself early, when Hardin stabbed a fellow student during an argument, nearly killing him. At age 15, he went on the run after he was accused of shooting an ex-slave, Maje, that had belonged to his uncle. After besting Maje in a wrestling match, which Hardin won, he said Maje ambushed the following day and shot the man five times in self-defense. Gip feared his son would be unable to receive a fair trial in Union occupied Texas-- Gip Hardin sent his son on the lamb. By the end of 1869, Hardin admitted he'd already killed six people.
Initially on the run with another outlaw Frank Polk , before Polk was captured, as he was also wanted for murder. Hardin ended up in Pisgah, Texas, where he taught school. He fled Pisgah because, during an argument over a bet, he shot a mans eye out. He also later professed killing at least three other men while on the run, all in self-defense. During this time he also discovered his other loves-- gambling, horse racing and booze.

Hoffman, a city Marshall. He escaped, killing Texas state policeman Jim Smalley in the process, and took refugee with his cousins in Gonzales, Texas. He begin working as a cattle driver and rustler ans along the Chisholm trail. In summer 1871, near Abilene, Kansas, Hardin fought the trail boss for another herd, shooting the man in the head even though a truce had been declared. A gunfight broke out between the two camps Following yet another gunfight, this one at a restaurant in Abilene, Hardin fled. He ended up hiding out for a while in Pilgrim, Texas,
Aug 6, 1871 Hardin shot a man for snoring.
Hardin, his cousin Gip Clements and friend Charles Cougar spent the night at the American House Hotel, Clements and Hardin in one room, Cougar in an adjoining room. They spent the evening gambling and drinking;. After Hardin finally stumbled to bed, apparently the sound of Cougar's snoring in the next kept him awake. After his calls for Cougar to" roll over" were ignored, the snoring grew louder and more pronounced. Hardin fired several shots through the wall into Cougars' hotel room, allegedly to wake the man up. Instead Cougar was hit in the head and died. instantly. Hardin quickly realized his mistake, even though he probably didn't know, or mean to, he'd killed his friend.This was J.B. "Wild Bill" Hickoks' town. Hickok had a zero tolerance for guns and soon arrived at the American, bringing along four policeman.

Wild Bill Hickok

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As Hardin later write in his autobiography ,"Now, I believed that if Wild Bill found me in a defenseless condition he would take no explanation, but would kill me to add to his reputation." Hardin and Clements stole a couple of horses and got the hell out of Abilene. 35 miles later, he claimed to ambush lawman Tom Carson and two deputies. He forced them to strip and walk back to Abilene The shooting of Charles Cougar made Hardin a outlaw legend, forever infamous as the man "so mean, he once shot a man for snoring." Hardin later lamented "They tell lots of lies about me...They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain't true. I only killed one man for snoring." Though as alleged it as, at various times, self-defense, there was no snorer, but a burglar trying to steal his pants.
In October, Hardin got into a gunfight with a pair of Texas Special Policemen, Green Paramore and John Lackey, killing Paramore and wounding Lackey. The following January, Hardin had mad it to south central Texas, to the town of Trinty. He found himself in a argument with Phil Sublett, who shot Hardin twice in the kidneys with buckshot. It nearly killed him and Hardin decided he was tried of being on the run. He surrendered to Sheriff Reagan of Cherokee County, Texas, though he was wounded in the knee by a nervous deputy

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At the hospital, Hardin officially surrendered to Sheriff Reagan, saying he wanted "to clear the slate" and due his time for his past crimes. He changed his mind however, when learned just how many crimes that would be. A cousin smuggled a hacksaw into the jail and Hardin escaped.

Jane Hardin

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On February 29, 1872, Hardin married Jane Bowen in Gonzales County, Texas. Jane knew full well who he was marring, his violent past and still married him, remaining loyal to him the rest of her days. A year later, February 6, 1973, their first child Mary Elizabeth was born. By April , he murdered J. B. Morgan in a barroom brawl, one of the two murders Hardin would ultimately be convinced of.
During this time, he also became deeply embroiled in the so-called Taylor-Sutton feud as "leader of the Taylor faction. " The Taylor-Sutton .one of the bloodiest, longest family feuds in Texas history, began in March 1868, over an alleged a stolen horse and would drag on until least 1877. In the end, the Taylors lost "some 22 lives compared to 13 fatalities among the Sutton faction. " Hardin, related to the Taylors through marriage, along with Jim Taylor .killed Sutton loyalist Jack Helm and in March 1874 Hardin also helped murder Sutton leader, Bill Sutton.
On the 26th of May, Hardin and some buddies were celebrating in a saloon, when they had a run in with sheriff Charles Webb and Webb ended up dead. The crowd in the bar turned on Hardin and his companions. "Hardin escaped but his father, brother Joseph, and other kinsmen were arrested." That night Joseph and two cousin were taken from the jail and lynched. Vowing vengeance, Hardin fled Texas, along with Jane and their daughter. They landed in Florida, living under the name Swain and staying with his wife's relatives. They later moved to Pollard, Alabama, where son, John Wesley Hardin, Jr. was born ,August 3, 1875 and their second daughter,Jennie, was born on July 15, 1877. He also killed at least five men during this time period.

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Meanwhile, in Texas, Reconstruction ended and in 1874 the Texas Rangers were re-established. They established a task force to end the Taylor-Sutton feud and in 1877 "John B. Armstrong, a second Lieutenant in the Special Force, requested that he be commissioned to find and arrest the fugitive Hardin." Through an undercover sting operation, they finally captured Hardin in a Pensacola, Florida train station on August 23, 1877. Under heavy guard from the Texas Rangers, he returned home, placed in an Austin jail.

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Convicted that September for the murder of Webb, they sentenced to twenty-five years in Huntsville state prison. After several unsuccessful escape attempts, Hardin settled into prison life. He completed his autobiography, "joined the debating society, attended Sunday school and studied law." In January 1892, he plead guilty to the murder J.B. Morgan,: Hardin plea bargained and received a two year concurrent sentence. Released from prison February 17, 1894, early for good behavior. He served fifteen years and five months. Jane had died on November 6, 1892 of consumption.
Hardin's attorney wrote the governor, asking for a full pardon for client based on his completing his sentence and that he was "behaving in an orderly manner." Governor Hogg granted the pardon on March 16, 1894. After, Hardin passed the bar, setting up his own law practice in Gonzales County, Texas. He came embroiled in a a controversy during the election of Gonzales County sheriff. W.E Jones ran for the position and Hardin supported his opponent. He charged that Jones aided in his 1872 escape from prison. Jones won anyway and Hardin left the county, joining his brother Jeff in Junction, establishing a new practice there. He also briefly married 15 year old Callie Lewis.
Hardin drifted from Junction to Pecos, Texas to El Paso. falling back into his old way of life. Once again, spending his days were spent frequenting saloons, where he "gambled, drank to excess and got into fights."

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John Selman

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August 1895, John Selman,an " outlaw -turned- lawman" arrested Hardins' girlfriend, Beluah Morose (aka M'Rose), for prostitution and "brandishing a gun in public.". He confronted Selman and the men argued. During the confrontation that was first a verbal argument, where he called Selman a "cowardly son-of-a-bitch" for arresting a women, turned violent when Hardin allegedly pistol-whipped Selman. A few days later,on August 19th, Hardin sat in Acme saloon throwing dice. Selman entered the the saloon shortly before midnight. his gun already drawn. He shot Hardin in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hardin fell to the floor and Selman shot him three more times. Arrested and charged with murder. Selman testified in his own defense,telling the jury that Hardin saw him in the mirror behind the bar and reached his gun, making the killing self-defense. The trial ended in a hung jury.
M'Rose, who fled to Phoenix upon release from jail, returned and paid the full cost,$77.50, of Hardin's funeral.Hardin is at buried at the Concordia Cemetery in El Paso; his killer is just a few feet away. Selman died on April 6, 1896, killed in a drunken shootout by US Marshal George Scarborough during an argument over a card game.
Hardin grave is a prime tourist attraction in El Paso; visitors leave behind not just flowers, but "decks of cards, toy six-shooters, dice, whiskey bottles (usually empty) and notes". M'rose is buried nearby.

The Grave of John Wesley Hardin

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Sources: Hardin, Jesse L. "John Wesley Hardin | Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murderers." John Wesley Hardin | Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murderers. Murderpedia, the Encyclopedia of Murderers, 2006. Web. 22 June 2015. <http://murderpedia.org/male.H/h/hardin-john-wesley.htm>
Metz, Leon Claire. John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1998. Print.
Montgomery, Murray. "The Killing of John Wesley Hardin." The Killing of John Wesley Hardin. N.p., May 2001. Web. 21 June 2015. <http://www.texasescapes.com/DEPARTMENTS/Guest_Columnists/Times_past/KillingOfJohnWesleyHardin1.htm

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