Childhood & Early Life
John Wesley Hardin was born in Bonham, Fannin County, Texas on May 26, 1853, to James Gibson Hardin and Mary Elizabeth Dixson.
Hardin was the second surviving son of 10 children. His father was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher, lawyer and teacher, who named his son after John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
Hardin’s father moved their family frequently during his childhood. In 1855, they lived in Moscow, Polk County. In 1859, they moved to Sumpter, Trinity County, where J.G. Hardin taught at a school.
In 1861, Hardin's father passed the bar exam, and his family moved to Livingston, Polk County, Texas. His father practiced law there, in addition to teaching at a school. His family returned to Sumpter in 1865 after the American Civil war.
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As a Fugitive
John Wesley Hardin was teased by a bigger boy in 1867 for vandalizing the school’s wall. Hardin attacked his schoolmate with a knife, but the boy survived.
In 1868, when Hardin was 15, he killed his first victim, Mage, a former slave. He first got into a wrestling match with him and then shot him dead.
After the Civil war, Texas was under the Union Army occupation. Hardin thought he would not receive a fair trial for his 1868 murder, so he decided to run from the law. He first went to live in Pisgah, Navarra County.
On January 5, 1870, Hardin killed Benjamin Bradley in Towash, Hill Country, Texas, after playing cards with him. On January 20, 1870, he killed another man in a gunfight at a circus in Horn Hill, Limestone County, after an argument broke out between them.
On January 6, 1871, he was arrested for the murder of Waco Texas Town Marshal Laban John Hoffman. But he denied committing the crime. He was held temporarily in jail in Marshall while he was awaiting his trial. In the jail, he bought a revolver from another prisoner.
On January 22, he killed Texas State police officer Jim Smalley, who was escorting him to Waco for trial, and made an escape using Smalley's horse.
While driving cattle to Abilene, Kansas, Hardin killed three Mexican cowboys in June 1871. In Abilene, he briefly became friends with Town Marshal Wild Bill Hickok. Wild Bill had earned a formidable reputation for killings several people. Hardin was proud to be associated with a celebrated gunfighter.
On August 6, 1871, Hardin, his cousin Gip Clements and their rancher friend Charles Couger were staying at the American House Hotel after an evening of gambling and heavy drinking. Hardin was awakened and irritated by Couger's loud snoring. He shot the man dead immediately. This got him the reputation of being a ‘mean man’.
Hickok arrived with four policemen to arrest him. Hardin knew that Hickok was going to kill him to add to his reputation. So, he escaped through the window, hid in a haystack and left for Texas the next day. He never set foot in Abilene again. In October 1871, Hardin got into a fight with two Texas Special Policemen, and he killed one of them.
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On August 7, 1872, Hardin was injured by a shotgun after a gambling dispute in Trinity, Texas. While he was recuperating from his wounds, he decided to surrender. In September 1872, he surrendered to Sheriff Reagan of Cherokee County, Texas.
When Hardin learnt that he would be charged for all the murders he had committed, he changed his mind. On November 19, 1872, he escaped from Gonzales County jail.On May 17, 1873, Hardin killed DeWitt County Deputy Sheriff J.B. Morgan and County Sheriff Jack Helm. He was on the run again. He relocated to Florida and renamed himself ‘Swain’.
On May 26, 1874, while Hardin was celebrating his 21st birthday in a saloon in Comanche, Texas, he saw Brown Country Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. Hardin killed him right there, but the sheriff’s death created a lot of problems for him.
On January 20, 1875, Texas Governor announced a reward of $4,000 for his arrest. Jack Duncan, an undercover Texas ranger, discovered that Hardin was hiding near Alabama-Florida border.
On August 24, 1877, local authorities and rangers confronted Hardin on a train in Pensacola, Florida. They knocked him unconscious and arrested him. He was wanted in three Texas counties for murder and two Texas counties for assault with intent to murder.
Life After Trial
On June 5, 1878, John Wesley Hardin was tried for killing Brown Country Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. He was awarded a prison sentence of 25 years. He made several attempts to escape from Huntsville prison. Finally, he adapted to prison life.
Hardin read theological literature and studied law in prison. He served his prison sentence for 15 years and 5 months. He was pardoned by Texas Governor Jim Hogg in 1894 for good behavior.
Hardin returned to Gonzales, Texas, after being pardoned on March 16, 1894. He passed the bar exam on July 21 and obtained a license to practice law.
In 1895, Hardin went to El Paso to testify for the defense in a murder trial. Then he relocated to El Paso and set up a law practice there. He began to court McRose, wife of another outlaw.
McRose was arrested by police officer John Selman for carrying a pistol illegally. Hardin threatened the police officer in public for arresting McRose. On August 19, 1895, while Hardin was playing dice in Acme Saloon, Selman walked up behind him and shot him in the back of his head.
Family & Personal Life
John Wesley Hardin married his childhood sweetheart Jane Bowen on February 29, 1872. Their first child Mary Elizabeth Hardin was born on February 6, 1873, followed by the births of John Wesley Hardin Jr. on August 3, 1875, and Jane Martina on July 15, 1877.
Hardin's wife Jane died on November 6, 1892, while he was serving his sentence in Huntsville prison.
On January 9, 1895, Hardin married a 15-year-old girl named Callie Lewis. The marriage ended quickly after she left him.
John Wesley Hardin was shot and killed by police officer John Selman in a saloon in El Paso on August 19, 1895.