than 110 years have passed since East
Texas outlaw John
Wesley Hardin was shot down in an El
Paso saloon, but he remains one of the most intriguing badmen
in history. Almost lost in Hardin's history are his three brothers,
Joe, Jeff and Gip, whose lives were also singed with violence.
John Wesley, named for the founder of Methodism, was born at Bonham
in Fannin County
on May 26, 1853, the son of Methodist circuit rider James Gibson
Hardin. Another son, Joe Gibson, was born in 1850. Jefferson (Jeff)
Davis, named for the Confederate president, came into the world
in 1861, a few years after the Hardin family moved to Moscow
in Polk County and
then to Sumpter
in Trinity County.
James Barnett (Gip) Gibson was born in 1874.
In 1868, during the aftermath of the Civil War, John
Wesley shot and killed his first man, a free slave. While on
the run from Reconstruction
soldiers, Hardin and his brother Joe fled to Northeast
Texas and linked up with unrepentant Rebels during their raids
on Union Army troops.
Their stay in Northeast
Texas was short. So was Joe Hardin's life.
In May of 1874, while living in Brown
County, the Hardin brothers ran afoul of the law when John
Wesley killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. A warrant was issued
for Hardin and on June 1, Sheriff John Carnes and a squad of Texas
Rangers surprised and captured brother Joe and cousins Bud and Tom
Dixon. John Wesley
was nowhere around.
Joe and his cousins were placed in a rock building used as a jail,
but at midnight on June 1, a posse of men angry over Webb's death
disarmed the jail's guards, took the three prisoners, and hanged
them from the limbs of an oak tree a few miles south of Comanche.
Jefferson Davis Hardin, often known as "J.D.," also followed in
John Wesley's footsteps. He and his older brother shared horse race
bets, drank heavily and traded gunshots with more than a few men.
In June of 1874, John Wesley
sent 13-year-old Jeff to collect $500 at a stockyard in Kansas City,
which owed him money from the sale of cattle. John
Wesley used the money to flee to Florida, where he was arrested
on a railroad car at Pensacola in August of l877.
In May of 1900, while operating a saloon at Clairemont,
Texas, Jeff started arguing with customer John Snowden, but
the argument was broken up by bystanders. Hardin approached Snowden
again later in the evening, but was found dead with a bullet in
his heart. Snowden surrendered to the local sheriff, but he was
John Wesley's third
brother, Gip Hardin, was a teacher at Junction
in March of 1896 when he shot and killed a friend, deputy sheriff
John Turman, during a dinner argument. A jury found Gip guilty and
he was sentenced to 35 years in prison. But a new trial resulted
in a term of only two years.
After his release, Gip separated from his wife and two daughters.
During World War I,
he was working on a ship carrying horses to Europe for U.S. troops.
In 1918, somewhere off the coast of Florida, he was crushed to death
by two shifting boxcars.
Gip's death ended the violent legacy of the four Hardin brothers.
John Wesley also had
three sisters--Elizabeth, Martha and Nancy--but as far as we know,
none of them carried a gun.
Things Historical >
July 10, 2006 Column.
Syndicated in over 70 newspapers
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association.)