The American West conjures images in many people’s minds of gunfights, bank robberies, and outlaws. Some of these outlaws, like Jesse James, have gained nationwide notoriety. Others earned far less fame. Yet people like John Hardin lived violent, impactful lives, even if they’re absent from most history books. A troubled youth from Texas, John swiftly developed a reputation for carnage.
The Early Years
John Hardin (full name John Wesley Hardin) was born May 26, 1853 outside of Bonham, Texas. Ironically, Hardin was named after John Wesley, a famous preacher and the founder of the Methodist denomination. His father was a Methodist preacher and his mother was a circuit rider. Sadly, despite the origins of his name and his family’s devotion to Christianity, John Hardin’s trouble began at the age of nine, when he tried to run away from home and join the Confederate army. He did not succeed.
At the age of fourteen, John reportedly got into a knife fight with another student at school over some insulting graffiti. Hardin claimed self defense, and the school ended up coming down on his side, saving him from expulsion.
In the fall of 1868, at just fifteen years old, John Hardin killed his first man, Major Holshousen. Hardin claimed to have beaten Major in a wrestling match the day prior to the shooting. The Major, displeased with the result, attempted to “ambush” Hardin with a stick. John shot him five times with his revolver, and Holhousen died after three agonizing days.
This prompted a harsh response from local authorities. The authorities sent three Union soldiers to arrest him. Hardin waylaid them along a road, taking them by surprise with a double-barrel shotgun and his revolver. When the smoke cleared, John Hardin had killed all three soldiers and received a bullet to the arm. It was the beginning of his blood-soaked career.
From there, Hardin traveled all over Texas, often resolving his issues with a set of pistols. There are numerous accounts, of violent incidents he was involved in. Problematically, the most detailed account is from Hardin himself. Hardin left a trail of bodies in his wake. He developed a reputation for being an extremely fast draw, an accurate shot, and a ruthless combatant.
Hardin was finally arrested in 1870, but quickly escaped to continue his rampage. John travelled across the state, engaging in several popularized gunfights. He exchanged fire with law enforcement on at least two occasions. In multiple instances, groups of armed men went after him. Every time, Hardin sent them scurrying away after several of them had been laid low.
You Reap What You Sow
In 1878, Hardin was convicted of the murder of Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. The court sentenced John to 25 years in prison. Hardin served 17 years of his sentence. The prison released Hardin in 1894 only to be gunned down from behind while gambling in a saloon only a year later. Despite all his prowess as a gunfighter, Hardin met his end unceremoniously, murdered by another offended man smart enough to take him by surprise.