Gunslinger Biography John Wesley Hardin

About the famous gunslinger John Wesley Hardin, history and biography, description and crimes, famous fights, favorite weapons, and how he died.


Name: JOHN WESLEY HARDIN, born in Bonham County, Tex., May 26, 1853; died in Elpaso, Tex., Aug. 19, 1895.

Description: Height 5 ft. 11 in.; slender, with black hair and mild blue eyes; a deceptively refined gentleman usually pictured in a suit, vest, and string tie.

Resume: Began his career at 12, with the murder of a slave. By the time he was 24, he had killed at least 23, and perhaps as many as 40, men.

In 1871 he was charged with a murder in Longview, Tex., which he insisted he had not committed. Hardin escaped from jail, killing his guard and three soldiers who took out after him.

He married his sweetheart, Jane Bowen, in 1872, and fathered two daughters and a son on rare visits home. Jane died in 1892.

For a short time Hardin lived in Abilene, Kans., and maintained a truce of strength with James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, the marshal. The truce ended when Hardin killed a man over a barroom comment.

On Aug. 23, 1877, Hardin was captured by Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong and a posse in the Pensacola, Fla., train station. He had fled to Florida after shooting a marshal in Brown County, Tex.

Back in Texas, an eloquent speech on his own behalf so affected the jury that he was convicted of second-degree murder, not first-degree. Sentence: 25 years at hard labor at Rusk Prison, Huntsville, Tex.

He was paroled in 1894 and went to El Paso to practice law, which he had taught himself in jail. He married a teenage girl, Callie Lewis, on New Year's Day, 1895. She left him soon after.

Favorite Weapon: Hardin used matched Colt .45s, which he kept in special chest pockets sewn into his vest or tucked into his waistband between his shirt and undershirt.

Speed on the Draw: No known measurement, but he had a trick so fast that he could outshoot a man who already held a gun on him. Hardin drew by crossing his arms to opposite sides and, in one graceful motion, pulling his guns from his vest pockets.

Victims: 1868: Mage, a black slave; the three soldiers who tried to track him. 1869: two soldiers and John Robinson, a circus hand. 1870: Jim Bradley, a gunfighter. 1871: a nameless robber in Kosse, Tex.; a guard and three soldiers who tried to track him after his escape from the Marshall, Tex., jail; gunfighter Juan Bideno, after Bideno shot his ranch boss; an unknown gunfighter in Abilene, Kans.; black policeman Green Paramour and three other black policemen who tried to track him down. 1873: Deputy Sheriff J. B. Morgan in Cuero, Tex.; Sheriff Jack Helm of De Witt County, Tex., and two members of the Sutton clan as a result of the Sutton-Taylor land feud. 1874: Sheriff Charles Webb of Brown County, Tex., the only murder for which Hardin was ever tried. Many other shootings are unverified.

Leading Fight: On May 26, 1874, after his family's horses had won hugely at a festival race day, a drunken Hardin was confronted by Brown County Sheriff Charles Webb. Webb said he came in peace, but as Hardin turned toward the bar, the sheriff began to draw. A bystander yelled and Hardin whirled and fired before Webb could get his gun from his holster.

Earnings: What little he had came from sporadic ranching, barkeeping, and sales of his autobiography.

How Died: While playing poker in the Acme Saloon in El Paso on Aug. 19, 1895, Hardin was shot in the back of the head by Old John Selman, a marshal, because of an insult. Hardin's last words were "Four sixes to beat."

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