Ken Wise 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The Trial of John Wesley Hardin John Wesley Hardin was a gunfighter, a cattle rustler, a man-killer — and a lawyer. Born to a Methodist minister and his wife near Bonham in 1853, Hardin gained an early reputation as a fast gun, killing his first man at the age of 15. Hardin killed several more men, escaping from custody at least once. He waded into the infamous Sutton-Taylor feud in central Texas, siding with the Taylors. At one point, he rode into Albuquerque, Texas (Gonzales County) with James Taylor, who was wanted by the Gonzales County Sheriff Jack Helm. Helm was formerly a captain in the infamous Texas State Police force under the Reconstruction Government. Violent and oppressive, Helm and his henchmen reportedly killed 21 men in two months during the summer of 1869. Confronting Sheriff Helm in the street, Hardin shot Helm once, then held the townspeople at gunpoint while Taylor shot Helm several times in the head. Hardin and Taylor followed Hardin’s brother Joe (a lawyer) to Comanche County in 1874. Joe had some questionable land dealings and John Wesley sold cattle, not all his own. They were not the most popular folks in Comanche County. On May 26, 1874, Hardin and Taylor won a gunfight with Charles Webb, the deputy sheriff of Brown County. Hardin claimed self-defense but a warrant was issued for his arrest, prompting him to leave. Texas Ranger Captain John Waller began the search for Hardin. In January 1875, the Texas Legislature put a price of $4,000 on Hardin’s head. Hardin had fled east, toward Alabama. The Rangers were watching Hardin’s friends and family closely and soon intercepted a letter addressed to J.H. Swain of Pollard, Ala. Believing Swain to be Hardin’s alias, Ranger Lieutenant John B. Armstrong and undercover detective Jack Duncan rode east to bring in Hardin. Tracking Hardin to a railroad car in Pensacola, Fla., Armstrong stationed local deputies at each end of the railcar and walked in to confront Hardin. Upon realizing who Armstrong was, Hardin shouted, “Texas, by God,” and attempted to draw a concealed pistol. The pistol caught on one of Hardin’s suspenders and Armstrong and his men were able to secure Hardin. Spiriting him out of Florida before his friends could secure his release, Armstrong returned Hardin to Comanche County for trial. Hardin was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in the state penitentiary in Huntsville. Hardin wrote his autobiography and studied law while in prison and was pardoned in 1894. A year later, Hardin went to El Paso to testify for the defense in a murder case. He decided to stay and practice law but let his practice slide. Hardin began an affair with the wife of one of his clients, and when the man found out, Hardin hired several law officials to kill the man. On Aug. 19, 1895, Constable John Selman, one of the hired hitmen, shot and killed Hardin instead. The Comanche County minute book provides interesting insight into the capture of one of the most infamous outlaws of the Old West. By Judge Ken Wise
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.