A gunfight in Hemphillby
deep roots in East Texas, John
Wesley Hardin was our most famous outlaw and gunfighter, but many of his raids
and shootings in the pineywoods have remained unchronicled.|
incident in which he won a gunfight with a Sabine County deputy sheriff at Hemphill
is found in two autobiographies, one by Hardin himself and another by John Allen
Veatch, a Hemphill newspaper editor.
On July 26, 1872, after winning a
considerable sum of money at a Nacogdoches
horse race while riding his favorite mount Coaly, Hardin came to Hemphill,
near the Sabine River, to promote another race. He was accompanied by John and
The trio spent the night with Dr. D. M. Cooper and the next
morning Hardin placed his horse in Cooper’s livestock pen and walked to Hemphill
to promote the race. Standing in front of the courthouse, Hardin
overheard Deputy Sheriff Sonny Speights cursing a young boy.
spoke up, “That boy is too small for you to talk to in such fashion. Curse somebody
who is your own size and see how far you will get with it.”
the challenge and both men reached for their pistols. But before Speights could
fire, Hardin sent a bullet from a derringer spiraling through the deputy’s right
wrist. The lawman’s gun fell to the ground and exploded.
“I could just
easily have shot him through the heart and dropped him dead, but I had no wish
to kill him. I only wanted to defend myself and teach him a lesson in the use
of firearms,” said Hardin.
Sheriff Elmore Harper heard the shots from the courthouse, he rushed outside.
But recognizing Hardin,
Harper backed away long enough to allow Hardin to mount a horse owned by Bill
Fullen, who watched the shooting.
spurred the horse and raced from Hemphill with Fullen screaming, “That damn horse
thief stole my mare right before my eyes.”
Returning to the home of Dr.
abandoned the stolen horse and jumped on his own horse, which had been saddled
by the Harper brothers when they heard the gunshots in town. Knowing Hardin and
his propensity for gunfights, they were sure he was involved.
the Harpers tried to remove the gate bars to the lot where Coaly had been penned,
the bars were stuck. Looking down the road, Hardin
saw Sheriff Harper and another deputy, Jap Smith, approaching the Cooper home.
The outcome was reminiscent of a dime western novel. Hardin
spurred his horse and encouraged him to jump over the fence. Just as he cleared
the fence, Deputy Smith fired two blasts from a shotgun. The blasts missed Hardin,
but pieces of buckshot hit his horse in the neck, inflicting no serious injury.
“Down the road, the racer sped like a black shadow out of hades, and was
out of sight before the people could recover their breaths and speak. The last
seen of John Wesley
Hardin, he was waving his hand back to those behind him in a most friendly
manner. No attempt was made to follow him,” wrote Veatch. Hardin’s
brief visit to Hemphill was
talked about for years and left Deputy Sonny Speights with a unique legacy. He
was the first man shot in Hemphill
and, considering Hardin’s
reputation, he was lucky to be alive.
Town Sagas | Outlaws