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.
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
Their stay in Northeast Texas was
short. So was Joe Hardin's life.
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
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 never tried.
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.
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
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
July 10, 2006 Column.
Syndicated in over 70 newspapers
the East Texas Historical Association..)