Today In Western History: John Wesley Hardin is Pardoned

Today, in 1894, Texas Governor Jim Hogg issues a full pardon to to a man who is certainly one of the West’s real true sociopaths, John Wesley Hardin, after he has served 16 years of a 25 year sentence for murder. 

John Wesley Hardin a real sociopathic killer
John Wesley Hardin
a real sociopathic killer

Hardin was an American outlaw, gunfighter, and controversial folk hero of the Old West. He was born in Bonham, Texas in 1853, and lived his life in the shadow of the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, as most Southerners referred to it). He was named after John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination of the Christian church and he was the second surviving son of 10 children. Hardin was a direct descendant of Revolutionary War hero, Col. Joseph Hardin, who was a legislator from North Carolina, the “lost” State of Franklin, and the Southwest Territory.

Hardin found himself in trouble with the law at an early age, and spent the majority of his life being pursued by both local lawmen and federal troops of the reconstruction era. While attending his father’s school, Hardin was taunted by another student, Charles Sloter. Sloter accused Hardin of being the author of graffiti on the schoolhouse wall that insulted a girl in his class. Hardin denied writing the poetry, accusing Sloter was the author.  Sloter charged at Hardin with a knife but Hardin stabbed him instead, almost killing him and just barely escaping being expelled.

At the age of 15, Hardin challenged his uncle Holshousen’s former slave, Mage, to a wrestling match which Hardin won.  According to Hardin, the following day, Mage hid by a path and attacked him as he rode past.  Hardin drew his revolver and fired five shots into Mage. Hardin claims he then rode to get help for the wounded ex-slave (who died three days later). Because James Hardin did not be-lieve his son would receive a fair hearing in the Union-occupied state (where more than a third of the state police were ex-slaves) he ordered his son into hiding (even though this event could have been deemed self-defense by contemporary Texas law).  Hardin claims that the authorities event-ually discovered his location, and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him. Hardin said he chose to confront his pursuers despite having been warned of their approach by older brother, Joe.

I waylaid them, as I had no mercy on men whom I knew only wanted to get my body to torture and kill. It was war to the knife for me, and I brought it on by opening the fight with a double-barreled shotgun and ended it with a cap and ball six-shooter. Thus it was by the fall of 1868 I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm.”

He often used the residences of family and friends to hide out from the law. Hardin is known to have had at least one encounter with the well-known lawman, “Wild Bill” Hickok. When he was finally

James Butler "WIld Bill" Hickok, legendary lawman, shootist and gambler
James Butler “WIld Bill” Hickok, legendary lawman, shootist and gambler

captured and sent to prison in 1878, Hardin claimed to have already killed 42 men, but newspapers of the era had attributed only 27 killings to him up to that point.  While in prison, Hardin wrote his autobiography and studied law, to prepare to make a living as an attorney after his release. He was released in 1894.  Once released, the demons, and the alcohol, that controlled his moods took over once more.  On August 19, 1895, Hardin was shot to death by John Selman, Sr. who was also a 

John Selman Jr., marshal and killer of John Wesley Hardin.
John Selman Jr., marshal and killer of John Wesley Hardin.

former outlaw and gunman, over an argument about Hardin pistol whipping his son.  Hardin was in the Acme Saloon, in El Paso, Texas, playing dice, when Selman walked in behind him and shot him in the head.  On the night of April 5, 1896, Selman was killed in a shootout by US Marshal George Scarborough.



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