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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

The Hardin Brothers

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

More 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 never tried.

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.


All Things Historical >
July 10, 2006 Column.
Syndicated in over 70 newspapers
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association.)


More on John Wesley Hardin:

  • The Killing of John Wesley Hardin by Murray Montgomery
  • Hardinís East Texas Roots by Bob Bowman
  • John Wesley Hardin Slept Here by Mike Cox

  • More Columns by Bob Bowman
    Bob Bowman's East Texas >
    "All Things Historical" archive >

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