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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SUTTON-TAYLOR FEUD

William Sutton was the only Sutton involved in this feud, but he had a lot of friends, including some members of Governor E. J. Davis’ State Police.  The Taylor faction consisted of the sons, nephews, in-laws and friends of Creed and Pitkin Taylor.  Creed apparently did not join the fight and Pitkin, an old man, became involved when Sutton supporters lured him out of his house one night by ringing a cowbell in his cornfield.  Shot and severely wounded, he lived six months before he died in 1872.  At his funeral, his son and several relatives vowed to avenge the killing. “Who sheds a Taylor’s blood, by a Taylor’s hand must fall” became the mantra.

Lawlessness ran rampant in Texas after the Civil War and resentments flared with the arrival of the Reconstruction government including Carpetbaggers—Northerners, some of whom took advantage of the impoverished conditions by paying back taxes on land to acquire farms belonging to Confederate soldiers–and black Union soldiers assigned to keep order.

Evidence of the building tensions appeared in 1866 when Buck Taylor shot a black sergeant who came to a dance at the home of Taylor’s uncle.  Hays Taylor killed a black soldier in an Indianola saloon.  Then, in 1867 Hays Taylor and his brother Doby killed two Yankee soldiers in Mason. No arrests were made in any of the cases.

William Sutton’s first foray into the “troubles,” came in 1868 while he served as Clinton deputy sheriff.  In an attempt to arrest horse thieves, Sutton killed Charley Taylor and arrested James Sharp.  When Sharp “tried to escape,” a recurrent problem with prisoners during that period, Sutton shot Sharp in the back.  A few months later, Buck Taylor and Dick Chisholm accused Sutton of dishonesty over the sale of some horses.  They settled the matter with guns, which resulted in the death of both Taylor and Chisholm.

Then, William Sutton did the unthinkable by joining the hated State Police force under Captain Jack Helm.  Historians discovered not all of the State Police were corrupt or politically motivated, however, the faction working under Jack Helm apparently used “Reconstruction,” as an excuse to terrorize large sections of South Central Texas.  For example, Helm’s men arrested sons-in-law of Pitkin Taylor on a trivial charge, took them a short distance from home, and killed them in front of one of their wives.

After several incidents came to light regarding Jack Helm’s misconduct, the State Police dismissed him, but to the chagrin of many people in the area, Helm continued serving as DeWitt County Sheriff.  It was not long before Jim Taylor and John Wesley Hardin, (see recent blog) the notorious murderer, killed Jack Helm.

With Helm gone, William Sutton became leader of the group.  After old Pitkin Taylor, mentioned above, was lured out and killed, his son Jim and several relatives wounded William Sutton when they fired at him through at saloon door.  After a second unsuccessful attempt to kill Sutton, they settled for killing a member of Sutton’s group.

The murders continued to terrify the countryside.  Residents of the region were forced to take sides and lived in constant fear of being pursued or ensnared in a trap.  No one felt safe from the rampage.  Finally, William Sutton moved to Victoria and got married.  When his wife was expecting a child, he decided they should leave the country.  Gabriel Slaughter accompanied them on the train to Indianola.  On March 11, 1874, as Sutton and Slaughter boarded a ship with their wives, Jim and Bill Taylor shot and killed both men.

In retaliation, the Sutton faction arrested three Taylors for cattle theft, and put them in the Clinton jail.  Despite probable innocence, they were taken out of jail on the night of June 20, 1874, and hanged.

After being arrested for the murder of Sutton and Slaughter, Bill Taylor awaited trial in the Indianola jail in September 1875.  Eager to witness the trial involving a member of the notorious feud, a huge crowd from all over the state converged on Indianola.  Instead of a trial, they witnessed a devastating hurricane with winds of 110 miles an hour.  When water began filling the jail, Bill Taylor and the other prisoners were released.

The murders continued when John Wesley Hardin killed the new leader of the Suttons.  The next month, a gunfight left Jim Taylor and two of his friends dead.  The Texas Rangers finally stepped in and arrested eight suspects after masked men executed four prominent citizens.  When no one dared testify, the trial ended with only one conviction and that man, after twenty years of legal maneuvering received a pardon.

The Sutton-Taylor Feud ground to an exhausted halt.  Known as the longest and bloodiest feud in Texas history, the confirmed death toll in the Taylor faction reached twenty-two.  The Sutton group lost about thirteen.

JOHN WESLEY HARDIN, KILLER

Handsome and gentlemanly John Wesley Hardin, named for the founder of the Methodist Church, was the son of a Methodist minister and circuit rider.  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 numbers 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, Texas, 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 young men too young to fight in the Civil War, Hardin became the product of the hatred generated by the war.  The restrictive policies of the Reconstruction government fueled anger, which encouraged citizens, especially impressionable young men, to lash out at freed slaves and the Union army overseeing Reconstruction. A year after the stabbing, Hardin met a black man, got into an argument, and shot the man dead.

His father, sure Wes could not receive a fair trial from the Reconstruction government, encouraged his son to flee, which began a pattern of relatives and friends hiding Hardin from law officers.  Hearing three Union soldiers were headed for his hideout at his brother’s house, Wes 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 Wes Hardin served at age 17 as trail boss on 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 of the cattle drive agree 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 was sleeping in the next hotel room and Hardin shot through the wall to stop the snoring.

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 as 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, Texas, 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 state 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.