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A Lawless Breed: John Wesley Hardin, Texas Reconstruction, and Violence in the Wild West

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John Wesley Hardin! His name spread terror in much of Texas in the years following the Civil War as the most wanted fugitive with a $4000 reward on his head. A Texas Ranger wrote that he killed men just to see them kick. Hardin began his killing career in the late 1860s and remained a wanted man until his capture in 1877 by Texas Rangers and Florida law officials. He certainly killed twenty men; some credited him with killing forty or more. After sixteen years in Huntsville prison he was pardoned by Governor Hogg. For a short while he avoided trouble and roamed westward, eventually establishing a home of sorts in wild and woolly El Paso as an attorney. He became embroiled in the dark side of that city and eventually lost his final gunfight to an El Paso constable, John Selman. Hardin was forty-two years old. Besides his reputation as the deadliest man with a six-gun, he left an autobiography in which he detailed many of the troubles of his life. In A Lawless Breed, Chuck Parsons and Norman Wayne Brown have meticulously examined his claims against available records to determine how much of his life story is true, and how much was only a half truth, or a complete lie. As a killer of up to forty men, Hardin obviously had psychological issues, which the authors probe and explain in laymen's terms. To Hardin, those three dozen or more killings were a result of being forced to defend his life, his honor, or to preserve his freedom against those who would rob or destroy him or his loved ones. Was he a combination freedom fighter/man-killer, or merely a blood-lust killer who became a national celebrity? This deeply researched biography of Hardin and his friends and family will remain the definitive study for years to come.

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1. First Blood

ePub

CHAPTER 1

FIRST BLOOD

“To be tried at that time for the killing of a Negro meant certain death at the hands of a court, backed by Northern bayonets. . . . Thus, unwillingly I became a fugitive, not from justice, but from the injustice and misrule of the people who had subjugated the South.”

John Wesley Hardin

On May 19, 1847, the Rev. James Gibson Hardin (age twenty-five), and Mary Elizabeth Dixon (a year younger than he), were joined in holy matrimony in Navarro County, Texas. History has not preserved any details of the ceremony, however. Presumably, the groom wore his best suit of clothes, and the blushing bride her best dress, but no newspaper account has been found to verify the details of their wardrobe. Any information about the guests also remains undiscovered. The only record that has been preserved is a court document proving that Justice of the Peace Q. N. Anderson solemnized the ceremony.1

 

1. First Blood

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“To be tried at that time for the killing of a Negro meant certain death at the hands of a court, backed by Northern bayonets. . . .

Thus, unwillingly I became a fugitive, not from justice, but from the injustice and misrule of the people who had subjugated the

South.”

John Wesley Hardin

n May 19, 1847, the Rev. James Gibson Hardin (age twenty-five), and Mary Elizabeth Dixon (a year younger than he), were joined in holy matrimony in Navarro County, Texas. History has not preserved any details of the ceremony, however. Presumably, the groom wore his best suit of clothes, and the blushing bride her best dress, but no newspaper account has been found to verify the details of their wardrobe.

Any information about the guests also remains undiscovered. The only record that has been preserved is a court document proving that Justice of the Peace Q. N. Anderson solemnized the ceremony.1

Mary Elizabeth Dixon, most often referred to by her middle name, was born December 7, 1826 in Sullivan County, Indiana. She was the daughter of Dr. William A. and Malinda McArthur Dixon.2 There may have been other children who did not survive to adulthood. Several of

 

2. Gunfire in Hill County

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CHAPTER 2

GUNFIRE IN HILL COUNTY

“He commenced to fire on me, firing once, then snapping, and then firing again. . . . I fired with a Remington .45 at his heart and right after that at his head. As he staggered and fell, he said, ‘O, Lordy, don’t shoot me any more.’ I could not stop.”

John Wesley Hardin

Hill County lies in north Central Texas, a day’s ride south of Fort Worth and two or three days’ ride north of Austin in Hardin’s time. The county was created in 1853—the year Wes Hardin was born—and an election was held to select county officials on May 14 of that same year, twelve days prior to Wes’s birthday. James H. Dyer was elected county judge and Charles Davis the first sheriff. That the county strongly supported Secession was made obvious to any who may have doubted by the final vote: 376 for and only 63 against. Home Guards were established to protect the citizens from possible marauding parties; three cavalry units were created and left to fight during the war, mainly in Louisiana and Arkansas. Following the war’s end great resistance was made against the occupation troops. Enough turmoil was reported that Gov. Edmund J. Davis deemed it necessary to declare martial law in January 1871 to re-establish order by sending in the State Police, although by then Hardin had moved on.1 How much of this historical background Hardin was aware of cannot be determined, but he would become familiar with the character and purpose of Governor Davis’ police force.

 

2. Gunfire in Hill County

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“He commenced to fire on me, firing once, then snapping, and then firing again. . . . I fired with a Remington .45 at his heart and right after that at his head. As he staggered and fell, he said, ‘O, Lordy, don’t shoot me any more.’ I could not stop.”

John Wesley Hardin

ill County lies in north Central Texas, a day’s ride south of Fort

Worth and two or three days’ ride north of Austin in Hardin’s time. The county was created in 1853—the year Wes Hardin was born—and an election was held to select county officials on May 14 of that same year, twelve days prior to Wes’s birthday. James H. Dyer was elected county judge and Charles Davis the first sheriff. That the county strongly supported Secession was made obvious to any who may have doubted by the final vote: 376 for and only 63 against. Home Guards were established to protect the citizens from possible marauding parties; three cavalry units were created and left to fight during the war, mainly in Louisiana and Arkansas. Following the war’s end great resistance was made against the occupation troops. Enough turmoil was reported that

 

3. Mexico or Kansas?

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CHAPTER 3

MEXICO OR KANSAS?

“As he was only a boy they did not watch him closely, and at night lay down to sleep. Hardin arose in the night and killed every one of them.”

Dallas Herald, August 25, 1877

With the advent of the Texas State Police many men, some former slaves, applied for a commission. Those who were accepted were sworn in for a period of not less than four years—“unless sooner removed.” Policemen also would earn what some considered an inordinate amount for services: a private would receive $60 per month, each sergeant $75, each lieutenant $100, and each captain would receive $125. In addition, if a policeman captured a fugitive for whom there was a reward offered, he could claim the reward as well as draw his regular salary.1

Although Hardin had a sizable reputation, his image had not yet appeared on any wanted posters, and his physical description could have fit many young Texans. But the work of the police would make his existence more dangerous. Each police captain was to inspect the criminal dockets of the various counties in their assigned district, and in addition, was to “use every means in their power to arrest all parties who may have committed offenses and who have not been arrested.” Then captains were “to ascertain the whereabouts of all persons evading arrest, and should it be found that such persons are out of the district, a copy of indictment will be forwarded to the Chief of Police, and the necessary information given of the whereabouts of the accused, to the end that measures may be taken to secure the arrest.”2

 

3. Mexico or Kansas?

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“As he was only a boy they did not watch him closely, and at night lay down to sleep. Hardin arose in the night and killed every one of them.”

Dallas Herald, August 25, 1877

ith the advent of the Texas State Police many men, some former slaves, applied for a commission. Those who were accepted were sworn in for a period of not less than four years—“unless sooner removed.” Policemen also would earn what some considered an inordinate amount for services: a private would receive $60 per month, each sergeant $75, each lieutenant $100, and each captain would receive

$125. In addition, if a policeman captured a fugitive for whom there was a reward offered, he could claim the reward as well as draw his regular salary.1

Although Hardin had a sizable reputation, his image had not yet appeared on any wanted posters, and his physical description could have fit many young Texans. But the work of the police would make his existence more dangerous. Each police captain was to inspect the criminal dockets of the various counties in their assigned district, and in addition, was to

 

4. Shedding Blood in Kansas

ePub

CHAPTER 4

SHEDDING BLOOD IN KANSAS

“I have seen many fast towns, but I think Abilene beat them all. The town was filled with sporting men and women, gamblers, cowboys, desperadoes, and the like. It was well supplied with bar rooms, hotels, barber shops, and gambling houses, and everything was open.”

John Wesley Hardin

Twenty miles south of Wichita was a crossing over Cowskin Creek, although Hardin mistakenly remembered it as Cow House. There a group of men met the Texans. They were not to cause trouble for the drovers but wanted the herd to be driven west of Wichita, opening a trail to their community to build up “a new town on the north bank of the Arkansas River.” They furnished a guide, and the group followed a plow furrow. On the north bank of the Arkansas was the new town with the imposing name of Park City, some fourteen miles northwest of Wichita. Then, it was not yet much of a town; today it is part of ever-expanding Wichita. Once there, having the river behind them, “a delegation from the new town came out to meet us and invited all those that could leave the cattle to enjoy the hospitality of the new town.”1

 

4. Shedding Blood in Kansas

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“I have seen many fast towns, but I think Abilene beat them all.

The town was filled with sporting men and women, gamblers, cowboys, desperadoes, and the like. It was well supplied with bar rooms, hotels, barber shops, and gambling houses, and everything was open.”

John Wesley Hardin

wenty miles south of Wichita was a crossing over Cowskin Creek, although Hardin mistakenly remembered it as Cow House. There a group of men met the Texans. They were not to cause trouble for the drovers but wanted the herd to be driven west of Wichita, opening a trail to their community to build up “a new town on the north bank of the

Arkansas River.” They furnished a guide, and the group followed a plow furrow. On the north bank of the Arkansas was the new town with the imposing name of Park City, some fourteen miles northwest of Wichita.

Then, it was not yet much of a town; today it is part of ever-expanding

Wichita. Once there, having the river behind them, “a delegation from the new town came out to meet us and invited all those that could leave the cattle to enjoy the hospitality of the new town.”1

 

5. The Texas State Police

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CHAPTER 5

THE TEXAS STATE POLICE

“It has been Said of me before I reached my majority that I had vanquished E. J. Davis’s police force from the red river to the rio grand from matamoris to Sabine Pass that I had defeated the diabolical Burero agents and US soldiers in many contests.”

John W. Hardin

Hardin and cousin John Gibson “Gip” Clements arrived at Uncle Barnett Hardin’s in Hill County where they met Mannen Clements, Gip’s older brother, as planned. Hardin recalled the date as July 30, but it was closer to the end of August. After visiting a week with relatives the trio then started for home in Gonzales County, some 200 miles south. Although a fugitive, Hardin did not purposely avoid entering the various towns along the way; in fact, with his aggressive attitude toward State Policemen, his irresponsibility and his disregard for societal mores he may have been reckless enough to welcome a confrontation with a figure of authority.

 

5. The Texas State Police

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“It has been Said of me before I reached my majority that I had vanquished E. J. Davis’s police force from the red river to the rio grand from matamoris to Sabine Pass that I had defeated the diabolical Burero agents and U S soldiers in many contests.”

John W. Hardin

ardin and cousin John Gibson “Gip” Clements arrived at Uncle

Barnett Hardin’s in Hill County where they met Mannen Clements,

Gip’s older brother, as planned. Hardin recalled the date as July

30, but it was closer to the end of August. After visiting a week with relatives the trio then started for home in Gonzales County, some 200 miles south. Although a fugitive, Hardin did not purposely avoid entering the various towns along the way; in fact, with his aggressive attitude toward

State Policemen, his irresponsibility and his disregard for societal mores he may have been reckless enough to welcome a confrontation with a figure of authority.

Assuming that Mannen Clements had indeed killed two of the

Shadden brothers on the trail to Kansas, the three may have anticipated trouble from the remaining brother and brother-in-law. But apparently the remaining Shaddens left. As Hardin expressed it, “soon after our arrival they concluded to move out.”1

 

6. Capture and Escape

ePub

CHAPTER 6

CAPTURE AND ESCAPE

“I am either killed or shot. If all the gold in the world belonged to me, I would freely give it to kill him. I have one consolation, however, I made the coward run.”

John Wesley Hardin

Fugitive Hardin did not leave Sabine County in a gallop as one might expect him to do after wounding a state policeman. He intended to return to Gonzales County—to Jane—but on the way he stopped in Polk and Trinity counties to visit relatives. At a store not far from Livingston he and a man identified only as Hickman engaged in a horse race. The winner would walk away with a purse of $250. There were several Hickman families living there at the time: Bartley, Asa, Hezekiah, Morton S. and James as heads of households. They were all from Louisiana with the exception of Morton S. Hickman who was a native Texan. These all constituted a group who were related.

What is most interesting is that an acquaintance named Richard B. “Dick” Hudson now informed Hardin that the Hickmans intended to take the $250 winning purse whether they won or lost the horse race. It was set for noon on a certain day. Each party put up an initial sum of $100 “as a forfeit.” Hardin informed Hudson that he was aware of what the Hick-mans intended to do, and that he was ready to fight them, as “I wanted [them] to understand that no man or set of men could take my money without killing me unless they won it,” and if they wished to fight, “they would not commence any too soon to suit me.”1 No race occurred, nor did a fight occur, as the “Hickman Bros.” learned of Hardin’s response—carried to them by Hudson certainly—and they backed off, surrendering the $100 forfeit money as well as the $250, totaling $350 for the non-race. Hardin, in relating this incident, acknowledged that Hudson and he had been boys together in Polk County. At this point in time the two were trusted friends, but that would soon change.

 

6. Capture and Escape

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“I am either killed or shot. If all the gold in the world belonged to me, I would freely give it to kill him. I have one consolation, however, I made the coward run.”

John Wesley Hardin

ugitive Hardin did not leave Sabine County in a gallop as one might expect him to do after wounding a state policeman. He intended to return to Gonzales County—to Jane—but on the way he stopped in Polk and Trinity counties to visit relatives. At a store not far from Livingston he and a man identified only as Hickman engaged in a horse race.

The winner would walk away with a purse of $250. There were several

Hickman families living there at the time: Bartley, Asa, Hezekiah, Morton S. and James as heads of households. They were all from Louisiana with the exception of Morton S. Hickman who was a native Texan. These all constituted a group who were related.

What is most interesting is that an acquaintance named Richard B.

“Dick” Hudson now informed Hardin that the Hickmans intended to take the $250 winning purse whether they won or lost the horse race. It was set for noon on a certain day. Each party put up an initial sum of $100 “as a forfeit.” Hardin informed Hudson that he was aware of what the Hickmans intended to do, and that he was ready to fight them, as “I wanted

 

7. The End of Jack Helm

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“They [Jack Helm and Jim Cox] said there were but two sides— for them or against them. I talked as if I would join them, and they told me of a dozen or more of my friends whom they wished to kill, and who were the best men in the community, their sin lying in the fact that they did not endorse the vigilant committee’s murdering.”

John Wesley Hardin

hy did Brown Bowen kill Thomas Haldeman? Bowen later stated that Hardin killed him, because “he was afraid of him being a spy” for Joe Tumlinson, Jack Helm and W. W. Davis of the Sutton faction. Tumlinson, Helm and Davis had all been members of the State Police force, which Hardin so despised. Tumlinson had served as a private from July 13, 1870, until April 30, 1871. Helm had been chosen one of the first four captains, serving from July 13, 1870, until his resignation on November 30, 1870. William W. Davis began as a sergeant on April 6, 1872, and served until October 31, 1872, when he resigned.1

These three men were now leading figures of the Sutton faction, feuding with the Taylors and their followers. Bowen claimed that he was a friend of Haldeman and therefore would not have had any motive to kill him.

 

7. The End of Jack Helm

ePub

CHAPTER 7

THE END OF JACK HELM

“They [Jack Helm and Jim Cox] said there were but two sides—for them or against them. I talked as if I would join them, and they told me of a dozen or more of my friends whom they wished to kill, and who were the best men in the community, their sin lying in the fact that they did not endorse the vigilant committee’s murdering.”

John Wesley Hardin

Why did Brown Bowen kill Thomas Haldeman? Bowen later stated that Hardin killed him, because “he was afraid of him being a spy” for Joe Tumlinson, Jack Helm and W. W. Davis of the Sutton faction. Tumlinson, Helm and Davis had all been members of the State Police force, which Hardin so despised. Tumlinson had served as a private from July 13, 1870, until April 30, 1871. Helm had been chosen one of the first four captains, serving from July 13, 1870, until his resignation on November 30, 1870. William W. Davis began as a sergeant on April 6, 1872, and served until October 31, 1872, when he resigned.1 These three men were now leading figures of the Sutton faction, feuding with the Taylors and their followers. Bowen claimed that he was a friend of Haldeman and therefore would not have had any motive to kill him. “[Hardin] told me himself that these men had sent Holderman [sic] to watch him. . . . I went one time and took Holderman away from Hardin; in fact, several times. . . . Hardin and Gyp Clements went into the [Billings] store and commenced drinking, after which [Hardin] told me he was going to show me how to kill a man. . . . Hardin told [Clements] it was equal to our Kansas trip.” Bowen claimed Hardin then said to him that if anything was said of the killing that he—Bowen—was to say that he himself did the killing. Hardin supposedly went to David Haldeman, Thomas’ father, and told him that Brown Bowen had killed his son.2

 

8. Killing Intensifies

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“The feud between the Sutton and Taylor parties, which had likely to have provided a bloody encounter lately, at Cuero, has been happily adjusted.”

Austin Daily Democratic Statesman, January 22, 1874

he killing of Jack Helm certainly caused members of the Sutton party great concern as it was obvious that with Hardin’s leadership, the lay of the battlefields had changed in favor of the Taylors.

Hardin’s unbridled and psychopathic aggressiveness was now openly shown. He may have seen himself as a freedom fighter, killing the enemies who would kill him and his friends or deny his liberty. Sutton had been wounded in an ambush and he and Capt. Joe Tumlinson both now may have pondered their next moves in the wake of the killing machine that Wesley Hardin was. As Jim Taylor had made it clear to all, he wanted the chance to kill Bill Sutton, and he would if he could get to him before any of the others did. Now the obvious target was Joe Tumlinson.

That Tumlinson was considered a fervent member of the Sutton party, but had been married to a Taylor, underscores the fact that the troubles of South Central Texas were indeed a family feud, and not an exaggerated series of criminals acting against peaceful law-abiding citizens, although there were criminals on both sides. “Captain Joe,” as he was frequently called, had married Johanna Taylor on April 2, 1832.

 

8. Killing Intensifies

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CHAPTER 8

KILLING INTENSIFIES

“The feud between the Sutton and Taylor parties, which had likely to have provided a bloody encounter lately, at Cuero, has been happily adjusted.”

Austin Daily Democratic Statesman, January 22, 1874

The killing of Jack Helm certainly caused members of the Sutton party great concern as it was obvious that with Hardin’s leadership, the lay of the battlefields had changed in favor of the Taylors. Hardin’s unbridled and psychopathic aggressiveness was now openly shown. He may have seen himself as a freedom fighter, killing the enemies who would kill him and his friends or deny his liberty. Sutton had been wounded in an ambush and he and Capt. Joe Tumlinson both now may have pondered their next moves in the wake of the killing machine that Wesley Hardin was. As Jim Taylor had made it clear to all, he wanted the chance to kill Bill Sutton, and he would if he could get to him before any of the others did. Now the obvious target was Joe Tumlinson.

 

9. A “Bully from Canada”

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CHAPTER 9

A “BULLY FROM CANADA”

“But the lynx eyes of the Taylors never lost sight of him. Jim and Bill Taylor, implacable as fate, followed him to Indianola. Sutton’s noble little wife suspicioned their intentions, and so assiduous was her solicitude for her husband that she remained at his side, and thus shielded him from the murderous lead already molded and consecrated for his destruction.”

Victor M. Rose, The Texas Vendetta

It was common knowledge that the Taylors had attempted to kill Sutton several times. Jim Taylor had shot him in a Cuero saloon, breaking his arm; he had had a horse killed under him on the prairie in another assassination attempt, and another horse killed under him while crossing the Guadalupe River. Hardin complained that Sutton “was looked upon as hard to catch, and I had made futile efforts to get him myself. I had even gone down to his home at Victoria, but did not get him.” The fact that Sutton was “so wiley that he always eluded us,” explains why the Taylors had found it expedient to bring in an outsider, a man whom Sutton would not know. Joe Hardin and cousin Alec Barekman now entered into the feuding country, but whether Wes requested them for the specific purpose of setting up Sutton, or if it was simply a visit to him that took on this deadly addition is uncertain. But Joe did go to Indianola where Sutton’s cattle were to be shipped from to investigate: “I told Joe that Bill Sutton was my deadly enemy,” Wes recalled, “and that he was soon going to Kansas by way of New Orleans. Further instructions were that he was to find out when Sutton would be there to leave Indianola, in order that word could get to Jim Taylor in time.” Joe Hardin and Alec Barekman actually “got acquainted” with Sutton and learned when Sutton planned to leave.

 

9. A “Bully from Canada”

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“But the lynx eyes of the Taylors never lost sight of him. Jim and Bill Taylor, implacable as fate, followed him to Indianola.

Sutton’s noble little wife suspicioned their intentions, and so assiduous was her solicitude for her husband that she remained at his side, and thus shielded him from the murderous lead already molded and consecrated for his destruction.”

Victor M. Rose, The Texas Vendetta

t was common knowledge that the Taylors had attempted to kill Sutton several times. Jim Taylor had shot him in a Cuero saloon, breaking his arm; he had had a horse killed under him on the prairie in another assassination attempt, and another horse killed under him while crossing the Guadalupe River. Hardin complained that Sutton “was looked upon as hard to catch, and I had made futile efforts to get him myself. I had even gone down to his home at Victoria, but did not get him.” The fact that Sutton was “so wiley that he always eluded us,” explains why the Taylors had found it expedient to bring in an outsider, a man whom

 

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