Western Outlaw. He was famous as the most profligate killers in the Old West. He is believed to have killed a total of 44 men over the course of his lifetime, all of them before he reached the age of 23. Born in Bonham, Texas in 1853, his father was a Methodist Minister who named him for the founder of the Methodist Church. He soon displayed a quick and hot temper, which would get him into trouble time and again. When he was 14, a bigger boy teased him as the author of some graffiti on the schoolhouse wall, and Wesley knifed him, although the boy lived. In 1868, at the age of 15, he got into a wrestling match with an ex-slave named Mage, and Mage’s nose was blooded. Mage then declared that “no white man could draw his blood and live,” and the next day, when Mage approached him to challenge him to another fight, Hardin drew a pistol and killed him. Post Civil War Texas was then under Union Army occupation, and Hardin believed he would not receive a fair trial for killing a Negro, so he decided to run from the law. A month later, he killed three pursuing Union soldiers searching for him, and Hardin’s relatives hid the bodies, so that no one would know that Hardin had killed them. Later, at age 17, he worked as trail boss for a Texas cattle ranch, and once got into an argument with Mexican cowboys when they tried to cut their herd in front of his. The argument soon got out of hand, and within minutes, he had killed six of the Mexicans. While at Abilene, Kansas, he made friends with the local sheriff, “Wild Bill” Hickok. The friendship ended when Hardin randomly shot a hotel guest in the room next to him for snoring too loudly, thus waking him up. As Hickok came to arrest Hardin for murder, he stole a horse and escaped. In 1871, he married his hometown sweetheart, Jane Bowen, a respectable girl whose father owned a general store in town. They would have two children. Jane remained true to her husband despite his past and his constant absences from home to avoid the law. After killing Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb (his 40th victim) in Comanche, Texas, Hardin decided to leave Texas with his wife. They hid out in Florida, under an alias of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Swain, but after two years, Pinkerton Detectives found them, and they ran to Alabama, where in 1877, he was caught. Tried in Austin, Texas for the death of Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 1894, after serving 15 years of his sentence, and shortly after his wife had died, Hardin was pardoned by Texas Governor Jim Hogg. Having studied law in prison, the released Hardin opened up a law practice in El Paso, Texas. He began to court a Mrs. McRose, widow of another outlaw, and when she was arrested for illegally carrying a pistol, lawyer Hardin made threats against the arresting police officer, John Selman. Several days later, Selman observed Hardin playing dice in the Acme Saloon with another man. Selman walked up behind Hardin and shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hardin was 42 years old. Selman’s fate is unclear; depending upon differing accounts, Selman was either acquitted of murder and disappeared from history, or was killed several months afterwards in a drunken duel with US Marshal George Scarborough.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson