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Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

Hardinís East Texas Roots

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Most of us associate John Wesley Hardin--the man often called Texasí most famous gunfighter--with regions beyond East Texas, but the truth is that Hardin had deep roots in the pineywoods.

Born on May 26, 1853, at Bonham, Hardin was the son of John and Elizabeth Hardin. His father was a Methodist minister who named his son for the eighteenth century English religious leader, hoping that young John would become a preacher, too.

In 1861, while living with his parents at Sumpter in Trinity County, nine-year-old John Wesley first saw a man killed when John Rulf pulled a Bowie knife and slashed the jugular of Turner Evans during a property dispute.

Hardin later wrote about the incident: ďIf you wish to be successful in life, be temperate and control your passions.Ē

But, six years later in a Sumpter schoolyard, Hardinís own passions erupted when he stabbed a fellow student twice in the chest and back, claiming the boy had accused him of writing a line of doggerel about a female student.

A year later, Hardinís passions flared again during a fight with a black man named Mage at a sugar cane mill near Moscow. Onlookers broke up the fight, but Hardin later shot and killed Mage on a lonely road near Moscow.

Learning that soldiers from the post-Civil War reconstruction government were looking for him, Hardin decided to hunt down his accusers. He ambushed and killed three soldiers at a creek crossing in Trinity County. Thus, by the age of fifteen, Hardin had already killed four men.

In 1871 Hardin went up the Chisholm Trail as a cowboy and reportedly killed seven people on the trail and another three when he arrived in Abilene, Kansas. After allegedly backing down Wild Bill Hickok, Hardin returned to Texas.

Clinging to his East Texas roots, he came back to the pineywoods on numerous occasions.

On a visit to Polk County relatives, he and a cousin rode to Trinity County, where they got into a gambling argument. Hardin was badly wounded and his friends shuffled him around East Texas until they reached Redland, a community near Lufkin.

There, Hardin was to recover at a friendís house, but his stay was brief. Two lawmen surprised him and wounded him again, but he killed both men with a shotgun.

Hardin knew he could run no further and sent the word to Cherokee County Sheriff Richard Reagan, an old friend, that he would surrender only to the lawman.

The sheriff and four deputies arrived the next day. As Hardin gave up his pistol, Reaganís deputies thought he was drawing on the sheriff. A shot rang out and Hardin was wounded a third time. Reagan carried Hardin to his hotel in Rusk, where two weeks of nursing by the sheriffís family saved his life.

After killing a deputy sheriff in Brown County, Hardin was captured in Florida, tried for murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In prison, he studied the law, read theological books, and was superintendent of the prisonís Sunday School. When he was pardoned in 1894, he was admitted to practice law.

In 1895, he moved to El Paso, but his old habits were hard to break. He look as his lover the wife of a client, Martin Morose. When Morose found out about the affair, Hardin hired several men, including Constable John Selman, to assassinate him.

On a hot August day in 1894, Selman, shot Hardin in the Acme Saloon because he was never paid for murdering Morose.


© Bob Bowman August 22, 2011 Column
More Bob Bowman's East Texas
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers



More on John Wesley Hardin

  • The Hardin Brothers by Bob Bowman
  • The Killing of John Wesley Hardin by Murray Montgomery
  • John Wesley Hardin Slept Here by Mike Cox



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