John Henry Selman

The El Paso Herald Post carried an article on November 1, 1973 telling of two pistols formerly belonging to outlaw John Wesley Hardin that would be on display in the lobby of the State National Bank for about two weeks.  One of the guns was a nickel plated Smith & Wesson D. A. Frontier pistol that Hardin was carrying when he died.  The second was a Colt “Thunderer” .41 caliber piston.  The latter was engraved with pearl grips.  This gun was taken from Hardin a few days earlier by Deputy Sheriff W. J. Ten Eyck after Hardin allegedly pulled the weapon and brandished it to take money he had lost in a crap game at the Gem Saloon, also called the Acme Saloon in other accounts.  The article continued to relate that Hardin had moved to El Paso in 1895 and set up a legal practice after studying the law while in prison and passing the Texas bar.  Hardin had reportedly killed as many as forty men, but was himself killed by John Henry Selman, a local constable.

An earlier article in the South Cache (Utah) Courier from 26 January 1945 related how Hardin had been sent to the penitentiary to serve fifteen years for the killing of Brown County, Texas Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb.  After his 1894 release, Hardin briefly practiced law in various Texas towns, finally settling in El Paso the following year.  Hardin had gotten into a dispute with a city policeman by the name of John Selman, son of Constable John Henry Selman.  The elder Selman would claim that Hardin had threatened the life of his son, leading to a confrontation in which Hardin was shot multiple times by the elder Selman.  John Henry Selman was tried for murder and accused of shooting Hardin in the back.  Selman testified that he looked Hardin straight in the eye and fired.  His attorney was Albert Bacon Fall, later to become a New Mexico senator and who was serving as Secretary of the Interior at the time of the so-called Teapot Dome Scandal.  Fall would be convicted of bribery in the Teapot Dome matter.  In an interview for a book, Fall would say that he had been impressed with Selman’s appearance and testimony.  (The trial apparently ended with a “hung jury” and a new trial was set.  However, Selman was killed before the second trial began.)  Fall later successfully defended the accused killer of Pat Garrett, Wayne Brazel.

John Henry Selman had been born in Arkansas in 1839.  Some time afterward, the family  moved to Grayson County, Texas.  His early history is somewhat sketchy, but included his serving in the 22nd Regiment of the Texas Cavalry at Fort Washita in what is now Oklahoma, immediately before the Civil War.  He is later known to have been a rancher in west Texas, near Albany.  By the late 1870s, he was living near Fort Griffin and serving as a deputy sheriff in Shackleford County.  While there, Selman and the sheriff, John Larn, were both accused of possessing stolen hides.  Larn was killed by vigilantes while in the local jail.  Selman was able to slip away with his family to New Mexico where he is known to have resided in Lincoln County during the so-called Lincoln County War.  No accounts seem to dispute that Selman was part of a small gang known as Selman’s Scouts for a time.  This group is said to have operated as outlaws or desperadoes in the 1870s, although references to them in digital newspaper archives are almost nonexistent.  The gang reportedly included John Henry Selman, his brother Tom Selman and several others.  They were apparently not directly involved with the Lincoln County conflict, but are said operated and committed violent crimes in the general Lincoln area.  Whatever crimes he and the others may have been accused of appear to have nullified under the amnesty granted by New Mexico territorial governor Lew Wallace.


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Selman had settled in the El Paso area by the late 1880s and had been serving as a constable.  He was injured in 1894 during an exchange of gunfire between himself and a former Texas Ranger named Bass Outlaw.  After this event, Selman’s night vision was said to be poor.  He also walked with a cane as the result of a gunshot wound from the shootout with Outlaw.  The later conflict between John Selman, Jr. and John Wesley Hardin apparently had stemmed from Selman, Jr.’s arrest of a client of Hardin, named Bessie Mrose.  On the afternoon of August 19, 1895, the elder Selman and Hardin were said to have argued on the street.  Selman found Hardin in the saloon that evening and shot him, although accounts vary as to the actual sequence of events of the shooting.

The old and often paraphrased Bible expression, “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword” (Matt. 26:52) was often played out in the history of the West.  Twenty-one year old John Selman, Jr., while still serving as an El Paso policeman, became romantically involved with an unnamed fifteen year old female, the daughter of a Mexican consular official.  The couple decided to elope to Mexico and get married in early April, 1896.  While in Juarez, the couple was discovered by Mexican authorities.  The girl was returned to her family, but the younger Selman was arrested in Juarez.  Back in El Paso, the elder Selman got into an argument with Deputy Marshal George Scarborough on the evening of April 5, 1896.  Selman had reportedly sought Scarborough’s assistance in getting his son released.  A shooting match began and John Henry Selman was shot four times at the hands of Scarborough.  John Henry Selman later died in a local hospital and is buried in Concordia Cemetery in El Paso.  Scarborough was tried and acquitted for the murder of Selman.

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