The Most Dangerous Gunman in Texas
Texas Ranger, T.C. Robinson once described him, "He kills men just to see them kick. He can take two six shooters and turn them like wheels in his hands and fire a shot from each at every revolution." Others have described Fannin County's most notorious native in similar terms.
John Wesley Hardin, however he may be described, was born just southwest of Bonham, at Blair Springs, on May 26, 1853. The second son of the Reverend James G. and Elizabeth Dixon Hardin entered the world in the family's living quarters just back of the small rural Methodist Church built by his father at Blair Springs.
To this day western gunfighter aficionados still argue as to what events or experiences could have turned the son of a quiet mannered clergyman, descendant of an American Revolutionary War hero, and nephew of Texas Freedom Fighters into the most wanton killer in Texas history.
John Wesley Hardin killed his first man at age fifteen and added six more killings to his list before he was seventeen. By the time of his first arrest in Cherokee County in 1872, at least seven more men had met their fate at his hands.
He broke jail in October of 1872 and managed to evade arrest for the next several months. He tried his hand at cattle raising, but by 1873 he was back at his old pursuits when he became
involved in the infamous Sutton-Taylor Feud in Dewitt and Gonzales Counties.
Some modern day writers have also tried to implicate Hardin in the bloody Lee-Peacock Feud which took place in southern Fannin County in the late 1860's, but there is no acceptable evidence to support such a contention. The fact that Hardin relatives, members of the Dixon family, were active participants and supporters of Captain Bob Lee may account for this mistaken theory of Hardin's involvement.
In 1874, Hardin was back in the cattle business and he gathered two herds for a drive to market up the Chisolm Trail. When the drive stopped in Comanche, Hardin became convinced that Charles Webb, Deputy Sheriff of neighboring Brown County, was out to kill him. In a local saloon the two men met in a face-to-face confrontation and Hardin killed the deputy. Mob action threatened Hardin's existence and he fled the town.
For the next three years he, his wife and children, were on the run through Texas, Alabama, and Florida. Texas Rangers captured him in Pensacola in 1877 and he was returned to Comanche to be tried for murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years at the State Prison in Huntsville.
Reportedly Hardin made several unsuccessful escape attempts before turning his attention to the study of religion and law. When he was pardoned in 1894 he was admitted to the State Bar of Texas.
In 1895 Hardin went to El Paso where he opened an unsuccessful law practice. Soon he was in trouble with the law again. On August 19, 1895 he was shot to death in the Acme Saloon by Deputy Sheriff John Selman and was buried the next day at Concordia Cemetery. Although the exact number is uncertain, some sources claim that Hardin killed more than 40 men in his lifetime.