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,
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
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
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.
22, 2011 Column
More Bob Bowman's East Texas
column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories,
landmarks and recent of vintage/historic photos, please contact