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A Lawless Breed

John Wesley Hardin, Texas Reconstruction, and Violence in the Wild West

Chuck Parsons and Norman Wayne Brown

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Maps and Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

John Wesley Hardin is not a name that most readers today recognize, but as an Old West gunslinger he was the giant of his time. He was a man among men, a titan in Western gunfighter history. Granted that he was not a killer like Billy the Kid, but in his own way, he...

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pp. xiii-xix

In 1895 John Wesley Hardin was nearing the conclusion of his autobiography. He had brought the story of his adventurous life up to the year of 1889, relating how he was beginning the study of law, determining what books to obtain in order to pass the bar exam. He had just...

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pp. xxi-xxii

Any biography worked on over years by two different authors requires the assistance of many, many people. The following are some of those people who provided information or encouragement through the years. If we have overlooked anyone, please accept our apologies....

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pp. 1-6

In November of 1868 young John Wesley Hardin, all of sixteen years of age, shot to death a former slave who had belonged to his uncle, Major Claiborne C. Holshousen. The black man was known as “Maje,” a nickname he either adopted or was given. This is the only...

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1. First Blood

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pp. 7-29

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...

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2. Gunfire in Hill County

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pp. 30-48

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...

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3. Mexico or Kansas?

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pp. 49-65

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...

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4. Shedding Blood in Kansas

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pp. 66-99

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...

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5. The Texas State Police

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pp. 100-118

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...

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6. Capture and Escape

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pp. 119-133

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...

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7. The End of Jack Helm

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pp. 134-148

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...

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8. Killing Intensifies

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pp. 149-159

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...

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9. A “Bully from Canada”

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pp. 160-174

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...

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10. Fighting Waller’s Texas Rangers

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pp. 175-184

Charles M. Webb, deputy sheriff of Brown County, lay dead on the street in Comanche. This victim was different from Hardin’s previous ones: he was not a member of the unpopular State Police; he was not a soldier wearing the uniform of an occupation army; this man...

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11. Leaving the Lone Star State

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pp. 185-199

The herd in Hamilton County was no longer in control of any of Hardin’s hands, but confiscated by the Rangers. Waller’s men had arrested the cowboys, or most of them, including James M. “Doc” Bockius, Rufus P. “Scrap” Taylor, Alf “Kute” Tuggle, Thomas Bass,...

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12. Troubles in Florida

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pp. 200-219

Why Hardin, traveling under the name of Walker, chose to visit Cedar Keys, Florida, is unknown. Incorporated in 1869 as the “Town of Cedar Keys”1 the population by the time of its first census was 400. It scarcely increased through the years, not even doubling by...

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13. “Texas, by God!”

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pp. 220-236

On the afternoon of August 23, 1877, Mr. John H. Swain was ready to leave Pensacola and return home to Jane and their three children. He was seldom alone on these gambling ventures, and this afternoon was no different: he was with several friends who together...

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14. Hardin on Trial

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pp. 237-254

Armstrong and Duncan arrived in Texas on August 27. From Longview Duncan sent a telegram to his brother S. W. S. Duncan informing him where they were and that they were “all safe” and that they would arrive in Austin the following day.1 All along the way,...

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15. Huntsville and Punishment

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pp. 255-272

While waiting the result of his appeal, Brown Bowen was placed in the Travis County jail with Hardin, sent there from Gonzales. Confined together in the Travis County jail they could not avoid each other. On January 29, 1878, Hardin wrote to Jane, pointing out that...

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16. Dreams of a Future

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pp. 273-290

How did John Wesley Hardin later describe this punishment of thirty- nine lashes? He only knew the pain of it being infl cted, not knowing or caring that the administration of lashes was a form of corporal punishment which harkened back centuries. Ancient Jewish...

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17. Seeing Jane Again

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pp. 291-305

It is evident from the Hardin correspondence beginning the second decade of his imprisonment that his studying showed results in greatly improved writing. His letters, although still far from grammatical and with occasional misspelled words, unfortunately are filled with axioms...

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18. A Full Pardon

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pp. 306-314

Following the brief visit with Jane and the children—strangers to him now, just as he was a stranger to them—prisoner 7109 returned to his cell. His feelings were mixed: euphoric at seeing and holding his family together, but seeing Jane no longer the beautiful woman he recalled,...

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19. Attorney at Law, J.W. Hardin

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pp. 315-327

One of the first people Hardin intended to meet in Gonzales was Richard M. Glover. They could hardly be called old friends, as Glover was still a boy when Hardin and the Clements brothers had been in Gonzales, driving cattle and feuding with the Sutton forces....

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20. Troubles in Pecos

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pp. 328-341

How Callie Lewis and John Wesley Hardin met, were introduced, and became more than mere acquaintances is uncertain. For his first Christmas as a free man he may have been lonely, and he and his brother Jeff attended a dance in London, only a dozen or so miles from...

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21. Troubles in El Paso

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pp. 342-361

John Wesley Hardin found El Paso much to his liking. In some ways it reminded him of the wild towns of his youth; El Paso now was a wild town of his middle age. The railroad had reached there in 1881 and by the time Hardin arrived the population had boomed to...

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22. “I’ll Meet You Smoking”

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pp. 362-375

Various authors over the years have attempted to list the kills of John Wesley Hardin. Most have relied on Hardin’s Life exclusively and accept what he wrote as accurate, not raising the question of whether the man Hardin shot was dead or merely wounded. Several of...

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23. The Youngest Brother

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pp. 376-386

Adrian D. Storms, the El Paso County Attorney, kept notebooks concerning his business matters and on August 20 went to Thomas Powell’s funeral parlor with two friends, Maurice McKillegon and Joseph Woodson, to look at the body of John Wesley Hardin. With a tape...

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24. End of the Gunfighters

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pp. 387-408

Not surprisingly perhaps, brother Jefferson Davis Hardin experienced violence as well as his older brother. In 1874, at the age of thirteen, he was in Comanche when John Wesley killed Webb. Hardin barely mentioned him in his Life, a simple mention that he drove...

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Appendix. Teagarden and Hardin

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pp. 409-412

One of the fascinating aspects of Hardin’s life is the fact that even though he was a hunted fugitive for much of his adulthood he befriended many lawmen, men whose sworn duty was to arrest him, such as state policemen, deputies, and county sheriffs. He seemed to have...


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pp. 413-471


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pp. 472-480


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pp. 481-490

E-ISBN-13: 9781574415155
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574415056

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 83 b&w illus. 3 maps.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hardin, John Wesley, 1853-1895.
  • Outlaws -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Texas.
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877) -- Texas.
  • Texas -- History -- 1846-1950.
  • Violence -- Texas -- History -- 19th century.
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