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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

The Killing of
John Wesley Hardin

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

In the year 1895 the famous Texas badman, John Wesley Hardin, was part-owner of the Wigwam Saloon in El Paso. And as usual, he was up to his old habits of drinking, gambling, and raising hell.

According to The El Paso Times newspaper, Hardin was "... very quarrelsome and threatening." That paper also reported that he could not stand to lose money and on one occasion, "... pulled his pistol and compelled the dealer to hand him the money back."

On August 19, 1895, John W. Hardin finally met his match when he ran up against Constable John Selman. Harsh words between the two men led to gunfire and when the smoke cleared, "Wes" Hardin was dead.

There are several different versions as to how Hardin was killed. Some historians believe that Selman was no match for Hardin in a face-to-face gunfight. In his book; Texans, Guns, & History - Col. Charles Askins gives this account of the confrontation: "John Selman walked in and strode up behind Hardin .... When he was at arm's length he whipped out his .45 and shot Hardin in the back of the head."

The version that appeared in the Inquirer implied that Selman was "too quick" for Hardin. According to old newspaper stories, there was an autopsy performed and it showed Hardin was shot from behind. Regardless of which version is true, the fact remains that John Wesley Hardin died as he had lived - violently.

Whereas Gonzales County had been one of Hardin's old stompin' grounds, folks here were very familiar with his reputation. One can only wonder how they reacted when they heard the news of his death. Following are excerpts of the original article as it appeared in the Inquirer.

The Gonzales Inquirer, Thursday, August 22, 1895.
San Antonio Express.
El Paso, Tex., Aug. 19. - (Special) -

John Wesley Hardin, the noted Texas desperado, is no more. He was shot and instantly killed to-night about 11:30 o'clock in the Acme saloon by Constable John Sellman. Hardin threatened Sellman's life several times during the evening but on meeting, Sellman was too quick for him.

Sellman, who is very cool and deliberate, but at the same time very quick, has killed a number of bad men and Hardin reckoned without his host when he ran up against him. Hardin fell dead with his boots on before he could get a shot at Sellman.

Wes Hardin, as he was familiarly known over Southwest Texas, was especially the most noted of the living Texas desperadoes. Hardin's early career was spent in DeWitt county, and he was a terror in that section in the '70s, or until he was sent to the penitentiary.

He was sentenced to fifteen years, but got a time allowance for good conduct, which enabled him to secure his discharge eighteen months earlier than would have been the case had he been compelled to serve out his full time.

Hardin during his incarceration concluded that upon his release he would take to the practice of law, and so spent the latter part of the period of his confinement in studying the intricacies of jurisprudence. He gave his attention principally to the criminal law, in which he expected to figure with distinction.

After spending some time in Cuero and afterwards at Gonzales, where he nearly got into trouble in the excitement of the county election last year, he came to El Paso about three months ago.

Hardin was the son of a Methodist preacher, and was born in Trinity county being 45 years of age at the time of his death. He was sent to the penitentiary from Lampasas county in 1876 for the killing of the sheriff of Comanche county, who was attempting to arrest him.

He was released in 1894, and stood his last trial for murder in Cuero in the same year. [According to The El Paso Times, the Cuero case was dismissed.]

In personal appearance Hardin was as typical a Texas desperado of the earliest type as was ever portrayed in a dime novel. He was of medium weight, nearly six feet tall, straight as an arrow and dark complexioned, with an eye as keen as a hawk.

As an expert shot he was the peer of either King Fisher or Ben Thompson in their palmiest days. He could shoot as quickly and aim as straight as either of them. It was almost sure death for anyone who was in front of his gun when Hardin drew a bead.

Seventeen scalps are said to have dangled from his belt and it is likely that the number of human lives that he has taken will exceed that number.

The trouble which resulted in his death last night was brought on by his telling Constable Sellman, in the Acme saloon, he did not like his (Sellman's) son, who was one of the party of officers who had arrested him, a few nights before. One word brought on another and it ended by his telling Sellman to get out in the middle of the street and he would come soon and he would come "smoking."

Sellman waited for him several hours but he did not come out. Then Sellman went into the saloon with a friend and, stepping up to the bar near Hardin they both watched one another through the mirror in front. After Sellman had taken his drink he says Hardin reached for his gun and he pulled his own and turned loose. The first shot crashed through Hardin's brain and killed him instantly. He received two more shots while falling to the floor. He had a gun in each hip pocket, but he did not get a chance to pull either. Thus ended the career of the man who has for several months been feared by the public in general.

© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary May, 2001 Column

John Wesley Hardin Related Stories:

  • The Hardin Brothers by Bob Bowman
  • Hardinís East Texas Roots by Bob Bowman
  • John Wesley Hardin Slept Here by Mike Cox

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