TALES ABOUT JOHN WESLEY HARDIN

John Wesley Hardin
Wikipedia

The handsome and gentlemanly John Wesley Hardin, son of a Methodist preacher, was named after the founder of the Methodist Church. Perhaps his proper upbringing caused “Wes” to view himself as a pillar of society who claimed he never killed a man who didn’t need killing. The number of dead differ, as do the stories about his escapades, but John Wesley Hardin managed in his forty-two years to kill at least thirty men. Some accounts claim forty.

Born in Bonham in 1853, Hardin at age fourteen stabbed a fellow student in a schoolyard fight. He might have been expelled for the incident except his father founded and ran the school. Like many men too young to fight in the Civil War, Hardin became the product of the hatred generated by the conflict. The restrictive policies and draconian laws of the Reconstruction government fueled anger, which encouraged citizens, especially impressionable young men, to lash out at freed slaves and at black members of the Union army sent to enforce the new order. A year after the stabbing, Hardin met a black man, got into an argument, and shot the man dead.

His relatives, sure that Wes could not receive a fair trial from the Reconstruction government, encouraged him to flee, which began a pattern of relatives and friends hiding Hardin from the law. When Hardin heard that three Union soldiers were headed for his hideout at his brother’s house, he later wrote: “I waylaid them, as I had no mercy on men whom I knew only wanted to get my body to torture and kill. It was war to the knife for me, and I brought it on by opening the fight with a double-barreled shotgun and ended it with a cap and ball six-shooter. Thus it was by the fall of 1868 I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm.”

Some accounts say within a year he killed another soldier. All stories agree that Wes Hardin served at age 17 as trail boss for a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail. One account says he got into an argument with Mexican cowboys who tried cutting their herd in front of his. All the stories about the cattle drive agree that John Wesley Hardin killed six or seven men on that trip to Abilene, Kansas.

Some say Hardin became friends with city marshal Wild Bill Hickok whom he admired. Others say he forced Hickok to stand down. Whatever really happened, Hardin left Abilene in a hurry. He wrote regarding the episode, “They tell lots of lies about me.  They said I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain’t true, I only killed one man for snoring.” The gentleman to whom he refers slept in the next hotel room and Hardin shot through the wall to stop the snoring.

Wild Bill Hickok
Wikipedia

Hardin returned to Central Texas, married Jane Bowen a beautiful cultured girl from a respectable family who had been his childhood sweetheart. He did not, however, settle down. Despite constant absences, while he ran from the law, Jane remained loyal.  After being arrested, breaking out of jail, and taking sides in a major Central Texas feud, Hardin finally killed a deputy sheriff. Finding himself under constant pursuit, Hardin fled with Jane and their three children to Florida where they lived for two years under an alias. Some accounts claim he killed as many as six men while he was on the run.

Finally caught in 1877, Hardin stood trial in Austin and was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for killing the deputy. While in prison, he made repeated escape attempts, read theology, served as superintendent of the prison Sunday school, wrote his autobiography, and studied law. He received a pardon from the governor in 1894 and was admitted to the Texas bar.

After raising their three children, Jane died while Hardin served his prison term.  Upon his release, he headed to El Paso where he opened a law practice, became involved with a client’s wife, and hired several law enforcement officers to assassinate the husband. One of the hires, Constable John Selman, possibly angry over not being paid for killing the husband, found Hardin in the Acme Saloon and shot him in the back of the head. Hardin died instantly. The career of one of Texas’ most notorious killers came to an end on August 19, 1895, but the legends and legacy continue to stir imaginations.

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Brothers, Big Time Robbers

The Newton Boys

The Newton family had eleven kids, four of whom would become some of history’s most successful bank and train robbers. As sharecroppers the family moved around, scratching out a living in the cotton fields of Texas. The boys’ mother read outlaw stories to her sons with such success that Willis, the eventual leader of the gang, claimed that he cried in 1902 when he heard that the outlaw Harry Tracy had committed suicide.

The boys grew up in Uvalde County, hating the backbreaking work on cotton farms. Their penchant for petty thievery kept them under the constant eye of local law enforcement. When Wylie (known as Doc) stole cotton from one gin and tried to sell it to another gin, Willis got blamed for the robbery and ended up serving his first prison term. Besides the brutal conditions of the Texas prison system, Willis hated the farm on which he served time because he was forced to pick cotton. Instead of blaming his brother Doc for letting him take the rap, Willis viewed the harsh prison conditions as evidence of injustice in the system. It was not long before Doc joined Willis in prison for robbing the post office of less than fifty dollars (probably stamps). For the next several years Willis and Doc moved in and out of prison. Their escape attempts led to harsher sentences, which resulted in the hardening of their attitude toward law enforcement.

While Willis and Doc stayed in constant trouble with the law, brothers Joe and Jess became cowboys working as ranch hands and bronc busters.

Willis graduated to robbing trains in 1914, taking $4,700 at gunpoint from passengers near Uvalde. Two years later he joined an Oklahoma gang that robbed a bank of over $10,000. When he went to prison the following year, he forged letters that secured a full pardon. Following several unsuccessful bank robberies with a group, Willis decided to organize his own gang known as “the Newton Boys.” The new organization included Doc who had made a successful jailbreak (his fifth), the two younger brothers Joe and Jess, and Brentwood Glasscock, an expert with high explosives and a skilled safecracker.

The gang began a campaign of bank and train robberies that spread from Texas up through the Midwest and as far north as Canada. They operated at night when banks and businesses were closed.

Willis bribed an insurance official with the Texas Association of Bankers to obtain a list of banks that had safes that were older models and more vulnerable to Glasscock’s use of nitroglycerin and dynamite caps. They usually cut the phone wires before a robbery, stationed two men at the door to keep townspeople at bay while the other members loaded the car with money, and then made a quick getaway. In Hondo, just down the road from Uvalde, they robbed two banks in one night. They kept their reputation for not killing their victims and were described by many bank employees as “extremely polite” and “making a real effort to ensure that everyone was comfortable.”

When they tried robbing pedestrian bank messengers in Toronto, Canada, at the height of the morning rush hour, the intended victims refused to give up their bags of cash. The resulting scuffle and gunfire wounded two messengers, ruined the gang’s reputation for nonviolence, and yielded $84,000 in Canadian money.

Willis and Glasscock made contacts in Chicago with underworld characters and used the connection to fence bonds and securities that were included in individual deposit boxes.

On June 12, 1924, they pulled off their last robbery, a mail train carrying money from the Federal Reserve in Illinois, which garnered the largest haul—$3 million—in U.S. history. It all began to unravel when Glasscock mistook Doc for a postal worker and shot him five times. Eventually, they were all arrested, and it was never clear how much of the money was recovered. There was a tale claiming that Jess was drunk when he buried $100,000 somewhere northwest of San Antonio, and despite years of digging, he was never able to find the location.

Jess was caught when he fell for a ruse created by Texas Ranger Harrison Hamer (brother of Frank Hamer who ambushed and killed Bonnie and Clyde in 1934). After the train robbery, Jess had gone into hiding across the Rio Grande from Del Rio. He came back across the border to participate in what he thought was a bronc ride at a Fourth of July rodeo. Hamer quickly arrested him. When they reached Chicago, the newspapers began calling the Newton Boys “colorful cowboys” because Jess was still wearing his rodeo outfit.

After all their escapades the gang received relatively light prison sentences for the robbery because no one was injured except one of their own, most of the money was recovered, and they testified against their accomplice, a postal inspector who had connections with the mob.

Jess returned to Uvalde and lived out his life as a cowboy, dying in 1960 at the age of seventy-three without remembering where he buried all that money. Joe, the youngest, renounced crime after he left prison, but was accused with Willis of an Oklahoma bank robbery that they did not commit. They served another ten years in prison. Joe finally returned to Uvalde, worked at odd jobs, took part in an interview with Willis that became a short documentary, and was interviewed by Johnny Carson in 1980 on The Tonight Show. He died in 1989 at the age of eighty-eight.

Doc was arrested in 1968 for bank robbery. Some accounts say he was never charged because of his old age, however, others say that he suffered a head injury while being arrested and served his entire prison term in a hospital. He died at age eighty-three in Uvalde in 1974.

Willis kept his criminal connections, operated nightclubs in Oklahoma and survived an assassination attempt before he returned to Uvalde. He was accused of a 1973 bank robbery in nearby Brackettville, but there was never enough evidence to arrest him. He and his wife farmed until his death at age ninety in 1979.

In 1998 Twentieth Century Fox Studio released “The Newton Boys,” starring Matthew McConaughey.

“The Newton Boys”

Bonnie Parker, Dead at Twenty-three

She was an honor student and loved poetry, but she dropped out of school, married Roy Thornton before her sixteenth birthday and had “Roy and Bonnie” tattooed on her right knee to celebrate the union. After a stormy two years, Thornton went to prison; Bonnie never divorced him and died five years later, still wearing Thornton’s wedding ring. Those five years would make her a legend as the partner of another man.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was four in 1914 when her father died. Her mother moved her three children to “Cement City,” an industrial area of West Dallas to be near relatives and to secure work as a seamstress. That rough and tumble area was where Bonnie met and married Thornton, and it was where the four-foot-ten-inch, eighty-five pound Bonnie met Clyde Chestnut Barrow one year after Thornton went to prison.

Clyde Barrow had already made a name for himself with the Dallas police force for a series of robberies. When he was arrested again, Bonnie wrote letters pleading with him to stay out of trouble, and then she smuggled a handgun to him that he used to escape. He was captured in a week and sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. One account says that to avoid hard labor on the prison’s plantation, he had a fellow inmate chop off two of Barrow’s toes on his left foot. Another account says that before Barrow was paroled in February 1932, he beat another inmate to death for repeated sexual assaults. Whatever happened in that two-year prison experience, Clyde Barrow walked out as a hardened criminal, bent on getting revenge for the treatment he had received.

Historians believe Bonnie stayed with Barrow and his gang, which had an ever-changing list of members because she loved him. She willingly took part in the series of small robberies—stores and gas stations—with the goal of eventually launching an attack to liberate Eastham prisoners. She was arrested with one of the gang members as they tried to steal guns from a hardware store. After a few months in jail, a grand jury failed to indict her, and she was released. While Bonnie was in jail, Barrow was accused of murder because he drove the car in a robbery in which a store owner was shot and killed.

A few months later, while Bonnie was visiting her mother in Dallas, Barrow and a couple of his cronies were at a dance in Oklahoma and ended up killing a deputy and wounding a sheriff—the first time the Barrow Gang killed a lawman. Before the reign ended, they had killed nine.

The crime spree continued. In the last six months of 1932, the gang killed five men—law officers and private citizens they were attempting to rob. The following March, Clyde Barrow’s brother, Buck was released from prison and the two couples—Bonnie and Clyde and Buck and his wife Blanche—moved into a garage apartment in Joplin, Missouri. Their loud drinking parties caused neighbors to grow suspicious and report them to authorities. On April 13, 1933, when five lawmen approached the apartment, the gang opened fire killing a detective and fatally wounding a constable. As the gang ran for their car, Bonnie covered their escape by firing her M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (their weapon of choice). They got away without any of their personal belongings, which included Buck’s three-weeks-old parole papers, a large

Bonnie Parker posing with cigar. Wikipedia

Bonnie Parker posing with cigar.
Wikipedia

stash of weapons, one of Bonnie’s poems, and a camera with several rolls of undeveloped film. Before the police gave the film to The Joplin Globe, Bonnie and Clyde were known primarily for their crimes in the Dallas area. But the pictures, swaggering attempts to look tough as

Bonnie and Clyde Wikipedia

Bonnie and Clyde
Wikipedia

they posed with their guns, made the Barrow Gang a front-page story across the nation.

For the next three months, they made headlines, roaming from Texas to Minnesota, robbing banks and stealing cars, killing those who got in their way and kidnapping both lawmen and robbery victims. Sometimes they released their hostages with enough money to get back home. While the public enjoyed following the increasingly violent behavior, the five members of the gang, forced to ride in one car, began to bicker according to a prison account written years later by Blanche Barrow. There was no place to hide—restaurants and motels offered the threat of exposure—forcing them to cook on campfires and bathe in cold streams.

On June 10, 1933, Clyde missed a construction sign and flipped their car into a ravine. Bonnie received third-degree burns on her right leg, either from a fire or acid in the car’s battery. While they waited in a tourist court near Fort Smith, Arkansas, for Bonnie’s leg to heal, other gang members botched a robbery and killed the town marshal of Alma, Arkansas. Despite the serious condition of Bonnie’s leg, they were forced to flee. It was July 18 when they checked into a tourist court near Kansas City, Missouri, and began a series of stunts that drew immediate attention. Blanche Barrow, while wearing jodhpur riding breeches—clothing unfamiliar to women in that area—registered for three guests, and five people openly stepped from the car. She paid with coins instead of bills for the lodging and for meals at the neighboring restaurant that was a favorite hangout for Missouri highway patrolmen. When Clyde went to a drugstore to purchase bandages and ointment for Bonnie’s leg, the pharmacist became suspicious and notified authorities who were on the lookout for strangers shopping for such supplies.

Ironically the ensuing gunfight resulted in a bullet hitting the horn on the lawmen’s armored car and caused them to think it was a cease-fire signal. Although they got away, both Blanche and Buck Barrow were severely injured. Clyde Barrow was so sure his brother would die from his injuries that Clyde dug his grave. Again, they drew attention to themselves by tossing out bloody bandages. When the authorities arrived, Bonnie and Clyde escaped on foot; Buck was shot and died later, and Blanche was taken into custody.

For six weeks the remaining three members of the gang moved from Colorado to Minnesota and south to Mississippi, committing small robberies and trying to replenish their arsenal. They returned in September to Dallas where their families tended to Bonnie’s leg injuries, which never healed properly and caused her to spend the rest of her life hopping on one foot or being carried by Clyde. He stayed busy pulling off minor robberies until November 22, 1933, when the Dallas sheriff almost caught the pair as they headed to a family meeting. Clyde sensed that something was wrong and drove quickly away amid police machine gunfire that struck both he and Bonnie in the legs.

The next week, a Dallas grand jury indicted Bonnie and Clyde for the 1933 murder of the Tarrant County deputy—the first murder warrant issued for Bonnie Parker. On January 16, 1934, Clyde Barrow succeeded in reaching his goal of revenge on the Texas Department of Corrections by leading an escape of former gang members and other prisoners from the Eastham Prison. One of the escapees shot a prison officer, which focused the full power of state and federal authorities on the capture of Bonnie and Clyde.

Retired Texas Ranger Captain Frank A. Hamer was employed to get the Barrow Gang. A tenacious hunter, Hamer had the reputation for getting his man—during his career he suffered seventeen personal wounds and killed fifty-three criminals. For over two months Hamer stalked the gang—always one or two towns behind. On April 1, 1934, Barrow and another gang member killed two Texas highway patrolmen. A witness, who was later discredited, claimed to have seen Bonnie laugh at the way the patrolman’s “head bounced like a rubber ball.” The story was picked up in the papers and fueled the public outcry against Bonnie Parker. The Highway Patrol offered $1,000 for “the dead bodies,” and Governor Ma Ferguson put up another $500 for each of the killers.

Bonnie closed the door on any possible claim for clemency a few days later when Clyde and another gang member killed a sixty-year-old Oklahoma constable and took the police chief as a hostage. Before they gave the chief a clean shirt and let him go, Bonnie asked him to spread the word that she did not smoke cigars, an image she had acquired after posing with a cigar in her mouth in the confiscated photos. She chain-smoked Camels. The arrest warrant named Clyde, a John Doe, and Bonnie as the killers of the constable.

Frank Hamer studied the movements of the gang and saw that they visited family, moving in a circle along the edge of five midwestern states, enabling them to escape without law enforcement being able to follow them across the state line. He estimated when it would be time to visit a gang family member in Louisiana. Hamer amassed an armor-piercing arsenal, a posse of four Texas and two Louisiana officers and lay in wait on a rural road near Arcadia, Louisiana. The father of one of the former gang members, who later claimed that he was forced to cooperate, flagged down the speeding Ford carrying only Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow at 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934. The posse opened fire, hitting the stolen vehicle with 167 bullets. Reports said that Bonnie’s bullet-riddled body was found holding a machine gun, a sandwich, and a pack of cigarettes. Clyde, whose body was barely recognizable, was still clutching a revolver.

Bullet-riddled car Wikipedia

Bullet-riddled car
Wikipedia

The death scene erupted in chaos with souvenir hunters scavenging pieces of clothing, hair, and shell casings. They were not buried together as they wished but in separate Dallas cemeteries. Mobs descended on the Parker home, and a throng of 20,000 made it almost impossible for the family to reach the Dallas gravesite. Although thousands crowded both funeral homes hoping to see the bodies, the Barrow family held a private service and buried Clyde next to his brother Buck. They shared a simple granite marker with their names and the words that had been selected by Clyde: “Gone but not forgotten.”

No one will ever know the real extent of Bonnie Parker’s involvement in the crimes of the Barrow Gang. Some gang members claimed that she never killed anyone, but she was involved in eight murders, seven kidnappings, less than a dozen bank heists, many armed robberies and car thefts, and a major jailbreak. One account says that the largest haul of any of the robberies netted only $1,500.

The Newton Boys

The Newton family had eleven kids, four of whom would become history’s most successful bank and train robbers. As sharecroppers the family moved around, scratching out a living in the cotton fields of Texas.h3 The boys’ mother Janetta Pecos Anderson Newton regaled the boys with outlaw stories with such success that Willis, the eventual leader of the gang, claimed that he cried in 1902 when he heard that the outlaw Harry Tracy had committed suicide. The boys grew up in Uvalde County, hating the backbreaking work on cotton farms. Their penchant for petty thievery kept them under the constant eye of local law enforcement. When Wylie (known as Doc) stole cotton from one gin and tried to sell it to another gin, Willis got blamed for the robbery and ended up serving his first prison term. Besides the brutal conditions of the Texas prison system, the farm on which Willis served time required him to pick cotton. Instead of blaming his brother Doc for letting him take the rap, Willis viewed the harsh conditions as evidence of injustice in the system. It was not long before Doc joined Willis in prison for robbing the post office of less than fifty dollars (probably stamps). For the next several years Willis and Doc moved in and out of prison—escape attempts and harsher sentences—resulted in the hardening of their attitude toward law enforcement.

While Willis and Doc stayed in constant trouble with the law, brothers Joe and Jess became cowboys working as ranch hands and bronc busters.

Willis graduated to train robbery near Uvalde in 1914, taking $4,700 at gunpoint from a passenger. Two years later he joined an Oklahoma gang that robbed a bank of over $10,000. When he went to prison the following year, he forged letters that secured a full pardon. Following several unsuccessful bank robberies with an Oklahoma crowd, Willis decided to organize his own gang, which eventually became known as “the Newton Boys.” The new organization included Doc who had made a successful jail break (his fifth), the two younger brothers Joe and Jess, and Brentwood Glasscock, an expert with high explosives and a skilled safecracker.

The Newton Boys

The Newton Boys

The five gang members began a campaign of bank and train robberies that spread from Texas up through the Midwest and as far north as Canada, operating at night when banks and businesses were closed. Willis bribed an insurance official with the Texas Association of Bankers to obtain a list of banks that had older models of safes that were more vulnerable to Glasscock’s use of nitroglycerin and dynamite caps. They usually cut the phone wires before a robbery, stationed two men at the door to keep townspeople at bay while the other members loaded the car (usually a Cadillac or Studebaker) with money, and then made a quick getaway. In Hondo, just down the road from Uvalde, they robbed two banks in one night. They kept their reputation for not killing their victims and were described by many customers and bank employees as extremely polite making a real effort to ensure that everyone was comfortable.

When they tried robbing pedestrian bank messengers in Toronto, Canada, at the height of the morning rush hour, the intended victims refused to give up their bags of cash. The resulting scuffle and gunfire ended with the wounding of two messengers, ruined their reputation for nonviolence, but it yielded $84,000 in Canadian dollars.

Willis and Glasscock made contacts in Chicago with underworld characters and used that connection to fence bonds and securities that were included in

Willis Newton

Willis Newton

individual deposit boxes.

Wylie "Doc"

Wylie “Doc”

On June 12, 1924, they pulled off their last robbery, a mail train carrying money from the Federal Reserve in Illinois, which garnered the largest haul—$3 million—in U.S. history. It all began to unravel when Glasscock mistook Doc for a postal worker and shot him five times. Eventually they were all arrested, and it was never clear how much of the money was recovered. There was a tale claiming that Jess was drunk when he buried $100,000 somewhere northwest of San Antonio, and despite years of digging, he was never able to find the location. He had gone into hiding after the robbery across the Rio Grande from Del Rio. The Texas Ranger Harrison Hamer (brother of Frank Hamer who ambushed and killed Bonnie and Clyde in 1934) created a ruse to draw Jess back across the border by organizing a bronc ride at a Fourth of July rodeo. When Hamer took Jess back to jail in Chicago, the newspapers began calling the Newton Boys “colorful cowboys” because Jess was still wearing his rodeo outfit.

After all their escapades the gang received relatively light prison sentences for the robbery because no one was injured except one of their own, most of the money was recovered, and they testified against their accomplice, a postal inspector who had connections with the mob.

Jess Newton

Jess Newton

Jess returned to Uvalde and lived out his life as a cowboy, dying in 1960 at the age of seventy-three without remembering where he buried all that money. Joe, the youngest, renounced crime after he left prison, but was accused with Willis of an Oklahoma bank robbery that they did not commit and served another ten years in prison. He finally returned to Uvalde, worked at odd jobs, took part in an interview with Willis that became a short documentary, and was interviewed by Johnny Carson in 1980 on The Tonight Show. He died in 1989 at the age of eighty-eight.

Doc was arrested in a 1968 for bank robbery.  Some accounts claim he was never charged because of his old age, however others say that he suffered a head injury while being arrested and served his entire prison term in a hospital. He died at

Joe Newton

Joe Newton

eighty-three in Uvalde in 1974.

Willis kept his criminal connections, operating nightclubs in Oklahoma and surviving an assassination attempt before returning to Uvalde. He was accused of a 1973 bank robbery in nearby Brackettville, but there was never enough evidence to arrest him. He and his wife farmed until his death at ninety in 1979.

In 1998 Twentieth Century Fox Studio released “The Newton Boys,” starring Matthew McConaughey.

"The Newton Boys"

“The Newton Boys”