Reported in the Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas Saturday August 25, 1877:
“A Texas Desperado
WHITING, -ALA, August 24. – Today, as the train was leaving Pensacola, the sheriff, with a posse, boarded the cars to assist two Texas officials to arrest the notorious John Wesley Hardin, who is said to have committed twenty-seven murders, and for whose body four thousand dollars has been offered by the Legislature of Texas. His last murder in Texas was the killing of the sheriff of Comanche County. He has lived in the State of Florida for years as John Swain. Being related to the county officers he has escaped arrest. About twenty shots were fired in making the arrest.
Hardin’s companion, named Mann, who held a pistol in his hand, was killed.”
John Wesley Hardin was born in Bonham, Texas (Fannin County) to James G. and Elizabeth Hardin on May 26, 1853. James was a Methodist preacher, schoolteacher and lawyer. It is said that Hardin’s career as an outlaw stared at age 11 when he stabbed another student in a schoolyard fight. At the age of 15, he shot and killed a Black resident of Polk County in a random argument. In the fall of 1868 he shot and killed three Union soldiers who tried to arrest him at his brother’s house in Sumpter, Texas, he claimed. Hardin also reportedly killed another soldier within a year at Richard Bottom. For a time he worked as a cowboy, riding the Chisolm Trail, during which time he reportedly killed seven people during a trail drive, followed by the killing of three more in Abilene, Kansas. He returned to Texas and married Jane Bowen with whom he had three children.
Before surrendering to the sheriff of Cherokee County in September 1872, he reportedly killed four more people. Shortly thereafter, he escaped jail and went back to ranching. He became involved in the Sutton-Taylor Feud in 1873-1874, siding with Jim Taylor resulting in the death of former State Police captain Jack Helm. In 1874, he started another cattle drive and while passing through Commanche, he killed Charles Webb, deputy sheriff of Brown County.
Following this event, he was actively pursued by the Texas Rangers, resulting in his flight to the southeast where he resided in Alabama and Florida. During this time, he reportedly killed another five people. He was captured by Lt. J. B. Armstrong of the Texas Rangers on August 23, 1877, as told below.
The State of Texas had issued a $4,000 reward for the capture of Hardin, dead or alive, which served to set numerous people looking for him. The reward also resulted in a number of false leads where persons were wrongly identified as Hardin. Even Armstrong had made an arrest of someone claiming to be Hardin who turned out to be an imposter making barroom boasts. Armstrong was intrigued by the case and asked Ranger Adjutant General Steele to be assigned to work on it. Armstrong was assisted by a detective, John “Jack” Duncan, who discovered during his investigation that Hardin was thought to be living in Alabama. He’d observed the address on an envelope at the residence of a one of Hardin’s relatives living in DeWitt County.
Hardin had boasted that he would never be taken alive. On August 18, 1877, Armstrong and Duncan left Austin for Pensacola Junction, Alabama (also known as Whiting), where Hardin had once lived. After they learned that Hardin had since moved to Pensacola, Florida, they were aided by W. D. Chipley, general manager of the Pensacola Railroad, who provided them with a special train. They were also assisted by Sheriff W. H. Hutchinson and his deputy A. J. Purdue of Escambia County, Florida. The lawmen discovered after they arrived in Pensacola that Hardin was aboard a train that was about to begin a run back to Whiting. Duncan knew Hardin by sight and took up a position on the opposite side of the smoking car Hardin was in to block his escape. Armstrong and Chipley entered the front of the car while the sheriff and deputy entered the rear of it. Hardin and Mann were sitting in a seat at the back of the car. Hardin saw Armstrong who had his pistol drawn and would have fired, but he was seized by the officers. Mann rose and fired three shots which all missed. The officers returned fire and Mann was fatally wounded as he jumped out the window of the car. Hardin, now captured by the officers, tried to bluff his way out of it by denying his identity, but was in custody.
After a short time, Hardin was extradited and transported back to Texas where he was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of deputy sheriff Charles Webb. At the time of his incarceration, he was only 25 years old.
In prison, after several unsuccessful escape attempts, he read theological books, studied law and even led the prison Sunday School. He was pardoned on March 16, 1894 and admitted to the Texas Bar. Following his release, he practiced law in El Paso until he got into an argument on August 19, 1895 with Constable John Selman over a gambling debt. There are differing reports of the confrontation, but after an exchange of gunfire in the Wigwam Saloon he partly owned, John Wesley Hardin would die at the age of 45, much as he had lived.
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