John Wesley Hardin
- Category : Passions-Criminal-Perpetrator-Homicide-serial
- Type : MGE
- Profile : 6/2 - Role Model / Hermit
- Definition : Triple Split
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John Wesley Hardin (May 26, 1853 – August 19, 1895) was an American outlaw, gunfighter, and controversial folk icon of the Old West. Hardin found himself in trouble with the law at an early age, and spent the majority of his life being pursued by both local lawmen and federal troops during the Reconstruction Era. He often used the residences of family and friends to hide out from the law. Hardin is known to have had at least one encounter with the famous lawman "Wild Bill" Hickok.
When he was finally captured and sent to prison in 1878, Hardin claimed to have already killed 42 men, but newspapers of the day had attributed only 27 killings to him up to that point. While in prison, Hardin wrote a factually slanted autobiography, and studied law. He was released in 1894. In August 1895, Hardin was shot to death by John Selman, Sr. in an El Paso saloon.
Hardin was born near Bonham, Texas, in 1853 to Methodist preacher and circuit rider James "Gip" Hardin, and Mary Elizabeth Dixson. He is named after John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist denomination of the Christian church. In his autobiography, Hardin described his mother as "blond, highly cultured... charity predominated in her disposition".:5 Hardin's father traveled over much of central Texas on his preaching circuit until, in 1859, he and his family settled in Sumpter, Trinity County, Texas. There, Joseph Hardin taught school, and established a learning institution that John Wesley and his siblings attended.
John Wesley Hardin was the second surviving son of 10 children. His brother, Joseph Gibson Hardin, was three years his senior. Hardin was a direct descendant of Revolutionary War hero Col. Joseph Hardin, who was a legislator from North Carolina, the "lost" State of Franklin, and the Southwest Territory.
In 1861, according to his autobiography, Hardin's first exposure to violence came when he saw a man named Turner Evans being stabbed by John Ruff. Evans died of his injuries and Ruff spent a few years in jail. Hardin later wrote, "...Readers you see what drink and passion will do. If you wish to be successful in life, be temperate and control your passions; if you don't, ruin and death is the result.":10–11 In 1862, at the age of nine, Hardin tried to run off and join the Confederate army.:10–11
Trouble at school
While attending his father's school, Hardin was taunted by another student, Charles Sloter. Sloter accused Hardin of being the author of graffiti on the schoolhouse wall that insulted a girl in his class. Hardin denied writing the poetry, claiming in turn that Sloter was the author. Sloter charged at Hardin with a knife but Hardin stabbed him with a knife of his own, almost killing him. Hardin was nearly expelled over the incident.
At the age of 15, Hardin challenged his uncle Holshousen's former slave, Maje, to a wrestling match that Hardin won. According to Hardin, the following day, Maje ambushed him as he rode past. Hardin drew his revolver and fired five shots into Maje. Hardin wrote in his autobiography that he then rode to get help for the wounded ex-slave (who died three days later) and that his father did not believe he would receive a fair hearing in the Union-occupied state where more than a third of the state police were ex-slaves. His father ordered Hardin into hiding. Hardin claims that the authorities eventually discovered his location and sent three Union soldiers to arrest him, at which time he "chose to confront his pursuers" despite having been warned of their approach by older brother Joseph:
...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.:14
Fugitive from justice
Hardin knew he could not return home. As a fugitive, he initially traveled with outlaw Frank Polk in the Pisgah, Navarro County, Texas area. Polk had killed a man named Tom Brady, and a detachment of soldiers sent from Corsicana, Texas pursued the duo. Hardin escaped the troops, but Polk was captured.:16 Hardin also briefly taught school in Pisgah. While there, he claimed he shot a man's eye out to win a bottle of whiskey in a bet.:16 Hardin also claimed that he and his cousin "Simp" Dixon encountered a group of soldiers and each killed a man.:17 Allegedly, Hardin killed a black man in Leon County, Texas
On January 5, 1870, Hardin was playing cards with Benjamin Bradley in Towash, Hill County, Texas. Hardin was winning almost every hand, which angered Bradley, who threatened to "cut out his liver" if he won again. Bradley drew a knife and a six-shooter. Hardin said he was unarmed and excused himself, but claims that later that night, Bradley came looking for him. Bradley allegedly fired a shot at Hardin and missed; Hardin drew both his pistols and returned fire, one shot striking Bradley in the head and the other in his chest.:20 Dozens of people saw this fight, and from them there is a good record of how Hardin had used his guns. His holsters were sewn into his vest, so that the butts of his pistols pointed inward across his chest. He crossed his arms to draw. Hardin claimed this was the fastest way to draw, and he practiced every day. A man called "Judge Moore", who held Hardin's stakes of money and a pistol, but refused to give them up without Bradley's consent, later "vanished".:20 Hardin eventually admitted killing two men in Hill County.
Later that month, on January 20, in Horn Hill, Limestone County, Texas, Hardin claimed he killed a man in a gunfight after an argument at the circus.:23 Less than a week after this incident, in nearby Kosse, Hardin was accompanying a saloon girl home when they were accosted by her pimp, who demanded money. Hardin threw money on the ground and shot the would-be thief when he bent over to pick it up.:24
Arrest and escape
In January 1871, Hardin was arrested for the murder of Waco, Texas city marshal Laban John Hoffman, which he denied having committed.:30 Following his arrest, he was held temporarily in a log jail in the town of Marshall, awaiting transfer to Waco for trial. While locked up, he bought a revolver from another prisoner. Two Texas State Policemen, Captain Edward T. Stakes and an officer named Jim Smalley, were assigned to escort Hardin to Waco for trial. According to Hardin, they tied him on a horse with no saddle for the trip. While making camp along the way, Hardin escaped when Stakes went to procure fodder for the horses. He claims he was left alone with Smalley, who began to taunt and beat the then-17-year-old prisoner with the butt of a pistol. Hardin says he feigned crying and huddled against his pony's flank. Hidden by the animal, he pulled out a gun, fatally shot Smalley, and used his horse to escape.:30–32
After this incident, Hardin found refuge with his cousins, the Clements, who were then living in Gonzales, in south Texas. They suggested he could make money by driving cattle to Kansas. Thinking he could get out of Texas long enough for his pursuers to lose interest, Hardin worked with his cousins, rustling cattle for Jake Johnson and Columbus Carol. Hardin writes that he was made trail boss for the herd.
In February 1871, while the herd was being collected for the drive to Kansas, a freedman, Bob King, attempted to cut a beef cow out of the herd. When he refused to obey Hardin's demand to stop, Hardin hit him over the head with his pistol. That same month, Hardin may have wounded three Mexicans in an argument over a Three-card Monte card game-pistol whipping one man over the head and shooting one man in the arm and the third man in the lung.:33–34
While driving cattle on the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kansas in the summer of 1871, Hardin is reputed to have fought Mexican vaqueros and cattle rustlers. Towards the end of the drive, a Mexican herd crowded in behind Hardin's and there was some trouble keeping the two herds apart. Hardin exchanged words with the man in charge of the other herd; both men were on horseback. The Mexican fired his gun at Hardin, putting a hole through Hardin's hat. Hardin found that his own weapon, a worn-out cap-and-ball pistol with a loose cylinder, would not fire; he dismounted and managed to discharge the gun by steadying the cylinder with one hand and pulling the trigger with the other. He hit the Mexican in the thigh. A truce was declared and both parties went their separate ways. However, Hardin borrowed a pistol from a friend and went looking for the Mexican, this time fatally shooting him through the head. A firefight between the rival camps ensued. Hardin claimed six vaqueros died in the exchanges (five of them reportedly shot by him):39–42 although this claim appears exaggerated. Hardin also claimed to have killed two Indians in separate gunfights on the same cattle drive-in the first instance when a Indian tried to shot an arrow at him on the South Canadian River Hardin shot him and then had the body buried to avoid retribution from the man's tribe; in the second incident at Bluff Creek Kansas, when Indians would collect a "tax" on the cattle, he hit an Indian over the head who Hardin claimed had stolen a silver bridle from him and then forced a war party to flee after Hardin shot an second Indian who killed a beef cow.:28–37
After arriving in Abilene, Hardin claimed that he and a companion named Pain got into an argument in a restaurant with an anti-Texan which left Pain wounded in one arm and the stranger shot in the mouth by Hardin's bullet. Hardin fled Abilene to the Cottonwood Trail.:46
On July 4, 1871, a Texas trail boss named William Cohron was killed on the Cottonwood Trail (40 miles south of Abilene) by an unnamed Mexican, who "fled south" and was subsequently killed by two cowboys in a Sumner County, Kansas restaurant on July 20. Hardin admitted to being involved in the shooting of the Mexican.:46–49
A Texas Historical Marker notes that in the 1870s, Hardin hid out in the vicinity of Pilgrim, Texas.
Encounters with "Wild Bill" Hickok
Austin City Marshal Ben Thompson, 1881–1882
The Bull's Head Tavern, in Abilene, had been established as a partnership between ex-lawman Ben Thompson and gambler Phil Coe. The two entrepreneurs had painted a picture of a bull with a large erect penis on the side of their establishment as an advertisement. Citizens complained to town marshal "Wild Bill" Hickok. When Thompson and Coe refused his request to remove the bull, Hickok altered it himself. Infuriated, Thompson tried to incite his new acquaintance, Hardin, by exclaiming to him: "He's a damn Yankee. Picks on Rebels, especially Texans, to kill." Hardin, then under the assumed name "Wesley Clemmons" (but better known to the townspeople by the alias "Little Arkansaw"), seemed to have had respect for Hickok, and replied, "If Bill needs killing why don't you kill him yourself?":44 Later that night, Hardin was confronted by Hickok, who told him to hand over his guns, which he did. Hickok had no knowledge that Hardin was a wanted man, and he advised Hardin to avoid problems while in Abilene.
Hardin again met up with Hickok while on a cattle drive in August 1871. This time, Hickok allowed Hardin to carry his pistols into town - something he had never allowed others to do. For his part, Hardin (still using his alias) was fascinated by Wild Bill and reveled at being seen on intimate terms with such a celebrated gunfighter.:50–51
The shooting of a man for snoring
Later that month on August 6, 1871, Hardin, his cousin Gip Clements, and a rancher friend named Charles Cougar put up for the night at the American House Hotel after an evening of gambling. Clements and Hardin shared one room, with Cougar in the adjacent room. All three had been drinking heavily. Sometime during the evening, Hardin, awakened by loud snoring coming from Cougar's room, first demanded he "roll over" several times and then, receiving no response, drunkenly fired several bullets through the shared wall in an apparent effort to awaken him. Cougar was hit in the head by the second bullet as he lay in bed, and was killed instantly. Although Hardin probably neither intended to kill Cougar nor realized he'd done so, he did immediately realize he would soon be facing Hickok's wrath for firing his gun within the city limits. Half-dressed, he and Clements exited through a second-story window and ran onto the roof of the hotel, just in time to see Hickok arriving with four policemen. "Now, I believed," Hardin wrote later, "that if Wild Bill found me in a defenseless condition he would take no explanation, but would kill me to add to his reputation.":45–58 A contemporary newspaper report of the shooting noted: "A man was killed in his bed at a hotel in Abilene, Monday night, by a desperado called "Arkansas". The murderer escaped. This was his sixth murder." Hardin leapt from the roof into the street and hid in a haystack for the rest of the night. He then stole a horse and made his way back to the cow camp 35 miles outside town, where he claimed to have ambushed lawman Tom Carson and two other deputies. According to Hardin, he did not kill them, but he did force them to remove all their clothing and walk back to Abilene. Carson denied the incident ever took place.:60 The next day, he left for Texas, never to return to Abilene.
The incident earned Hardin notoriety in the Old West pantheon as a man "so mean, he once shot a man for snoring". Years later, Hardin made a casual reference to the episode: "They tell lots of lies about me," he complained. "They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain't true. I only killed one man for snoring." Later, in his contradictory 1896 autobiography, Hardin completely omits the "snoring man" from the story, claiming not only a wrong date of July 7 instead of August 6 but claimed it was a case of self defense, that the man he killed had first tried to stab him with a dirk :58 and was a burglar as well who tried to make off with Hardin's pants.
In early 1872, Hardin was in south-central Texas, in the area around Gonzales County. There, he reunited with some of his cousins, who had allied with the local Taylor family, which had been feuding with the rival Sutton family for several years. On August 7, 1872, Hardin was wounded by a shotgun blast in a gambling dispute at the Gates Saloon in Trinity, Texas. He was shot by Phil Sublett, who had lost money to Hardin in a poker game. Two buckshot pellets penetrated Hardin's kidney, and for a time it looked like he would die.
While recuperating from his wounds, Hardin decided he wanted to settle down. He made a sick-bed surrender to authorities, handing over his guns to Sheriff Reagan of Cherokee County, Texas and asking to be tried for his past crimes "to clear the slate". However, when Hardin learned of how many murders Reagan was going to charge him with, he changed his mind. A relative smuggled in a hacksaw, and Hardin escaped after cutting through the bars of a prison window. On May 15, 1873, Jim Cox and Jake Christman were killed by the Taylor faction at Tomlinson Creek. Hardin, having by then recovered from the injuries sustained in Sublett's attack, admitted that there were reports that he had led the fights in which these men were killed, but would neither confirm nor deny his involvement: "...but as I have never pleaded to that case, I will at this time have little to say.":81
Yet Hardin's main notoriety in the Sutton-Taylor feud came from his part in the killing of two lawmen known to be Sutton family allies. In Cuero, Texas in May 1873, Hardin killed DeWitt County Deputy Sheriff J.B. Morgan, who served under County Sheriff Jack Helms (a former captain in the Texas State Police).:79:30 On July 25, Hardin also killed Helms in the town of Albuquerque, Texas.
The feud intensified when Jim and Bill Taylor gunned down Billy Sutton and Gabriel Slaughter as they waited on a steamboat platform in Indianola, Texas, on March 11, 1874. Tired of the feuding, the two were planning to leave the area for good. Hardin admitted that he and his brother, Joseph, had been involved (along with both Taylors) in the killings.:86–87
After a brief visit with his family, whom he had relocated to Florida under the assumed name "Swain", Hardin met up with his "gang" on May 26, 1874, in a Comanche saloon to celebrate his 21st birthday. Hardin spotted Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb entering the premises. He asked Webb if he had come to arrest him. When Webb replied he had not, Hardin invited him into the hotel for a drink. As he followed Hardin inside, Hardin claimed Webb drew his gun, and one of Hardin's men yelled out a warning.:92 In the ensuing gunfight, Webb was shot dead. However, it was reported at the time that Webb was shot as he was pulling out an arrest warrant for one of Hardin's group. Two of Hardin's accomplices in the shooting were cousin Bud Dixon, and Jim Taylor.:92
The death of the popular Webb resulted in the quick formation of a lynch mob. Hardin's parents and wife were taken into protective custody, while his brother Joe and two cousins, brothers Bud and Tom Dixon, were arrested on outstanding warrants. A group of local men broke into the jail in July 1874 and hanged Joe, Bud, and Tom.:101 After this, Hardin and Jim Taylor parted ways for good. Hardin claimed that he twice drove away men who had come after him, killing a man in each encounter.:105–107
In October 1871, Hardin was involved in a gunfight with two Texas State Policemen, Green Paramore and John Lackey, in which Paramore was killed and Lackey wounded. After this, Hardin claimed that about 45 miles outside Corpus Christi, Texas he was followed by two Mexicans, and that he shot one off his horse while the other "quit the fight".:63–65
John Barclay Armstrong
On January 20, 1875, the Texas Legislature authorized Governor Richard B. Hubbard to offer a $4,000 reward for the apprehension of John Wesley Hardin. The Texas Rangers finally caught up with Hardin when an undercover ranger, Jack Duncan, intercepted a letter that was sent to Hardin's father-in-law by his brother-in-law, the outlaw Joshua Robert "Brown" Bowen. The letter mentioned that Hardin was hiding out on the Alabama-Florida border under the assumed name of "James W. Swain". On August 24, 1877, Hardin was confronted on a train in Pensacola, Florida by the Rangers and local authorities. When Hardin realized what was going on, he attempted to draw a gun, but got it caught in his suspenders. Hardin was knocked out and two others arrested. During the event, Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong shot and killed one of Hardin's companions, named Mann, who had a pistol in his hand.
Just prior to his capture, two former slaves of his father's, "Jake" Menzel and Robert Borup, had tried to capture Hardin in Gainesville, Florida. Hardin killed one and blinded the other.
Trial and imprisonment
Hardin was tried for the killing of Webb and was sentenced to serve 25 years in Huntsville Prison on June 5, 1878. During his prison term, on February 14, 1892, he was convicted of another manslaughter charge for the earlier shooting of J.B. Morgan and given a two-year sentence to be served concurrently with his unexpired 25-year sentence. In 1892, Hardin was described as being 5 feet 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes, dark hair, and wound scars on his right knee, left thigh, right side, hip, elbow, shoulder, and back. Hardin made several attempts to escape. In 1879, Hardin and other convicts were stopped while attempting to steal guns from the prison armory.
He eventually adapted to prison life. While there, Hardin read theological books, becoming the superintendent of the prison Sunday School. He also studied law. Hardin was plagued by recurring poor health in prison, especially when the wound he had received from Sublett became re-infected in 1883, causing Hardin to be bedridden for almost two years. During Hardin's stay in prison, his first wife Jane died, on November 6, 1892.
Hardin was released from prison on February 17, 1894, having served seventeen years of his twenty-five year sentence. He was forty years old when he returned to Gonzales, Texas. Later that year, on March 16, Hardin was pardoned, and, on July 21, he passed the state's bar examination, obtaining his license to practice law. According to a newspaper article in 1900, shortly after being released from prison, Hardin committed negligent homicide when he made a $5 bet that he could "at the first shot" knock a Mexican man off the soap box on which he was "sunning" himself, winning the bet and leaving the man dead from the fall and not the gunshot.
On January 9, 1895, Hardin married a 15-year-old girl named Callie Lewis. The marriage ended quickly, although it was never legally dissolved.:214–217 Afterward, Hardin moved to El Paso, Texas.
Hardin's post mortem photo
An El Paso lawman, John Selman, Jr., arrested Hardin's acquaintance and part-time prostitute, the "widow" M'Rose (or Mroz), for "brandishing a gun in public". Hardin confronted Selman, and the two men argued. Selman's 56-year-old father, Constable John Selman, Sr., (himself a well-known gunman) approached Hardin on the afternoon of August 19, 1895, and the two men exchanged heated words. That night, Hardin went to the Acme Saloon, where he began playing dice. Shortly before midnight, Selman Sr. entered the saloon, walked up to Hardin from behind, and shot him in the head, killing him instantly. As Hardin lay on the floor, Selman fired three more shots into him. Selman Sr. was arrested for murder and stood trial. He claimed he had fired in self-defense, and a hung jury resulted in his being released on bond, pending retrial. However, before the retrial could be organized, Selman was killed in a shootout with US Marshal George Scarborough on April 6, 1896, following a dispute during a card game.
Hardin was buried the following day in Concordia Cemetery, in El Paso.
The grave of John Wesley Hardin
A century later, on August 27, 1995, there was a confrontation between two groups at the site of Hardin's grave. One group, representing several great-grandchildren of Hardin, sought to relocate Hardin's body to Nixon, Texas, to be interred next to the grave of Hardin's first wife. The other group, consisting of local El Pasoans, sought to prevent the move. At the cemetery, the group representing Hardin's descendants presented a disinterment permit for the body, while the El Pasoans presented a court order prohibiting its removal. Both sides accused the other parties of seeking the tourist revenue generated by the location of the body. A subsequent lawsuit ruled in favor of keeping the body in El Paso.
Known contacts with the law
Hardin had numerous confirmed clashes with the law:
January 9, 1871: Arrested by Constable E.T. Stakes and 12 citizens in Harrison County, Texas on a charge of four murders and one horse theft.
January 22, 1871: Hardin killed Texas State Police officer Jim Smalley and escaped. Up to November 13, 1872, the Grand Jury of Freestone County, Texas had not filed an indictment against Hardin for the killing of Smalley.
August 6, 1871: In Abilene, Dickinson County, Kansas, Charles Cougar was killed in the American House Hotel. Hardin, aka "Wesley Clemens", was found guilty by a coroner's jury of the killing.
October 6, 1871: In Gonzales County, Texas, state policemen Green Paramore and John Lackey tried to arrest Hardin. Paramore was killed and Lackey wounded.
July 26, 1872: Texas State Policeman Sonny Speights was wounded in the shoulder by Hardin in Hemphill, Texas:65–67
September 1872: Hardin surrendered to Sheriff Reagan, but escaped in October 1872.
November 19, 1872: Hardin mysteriously escaped from the sheriff of Gonzales County, Texas, despite a guard of six men. A reward of $100 was offered for his re-capture.
May 1873: Hardin was involved in the killing of Deputy Sheriff J.B. Morgan of Cuero, Texas, and on July 25, 1873, of DeWitt County Sheriff John Helms. These killings were during the Sutton-Taylor feud.
June 17, 1873: Hardin assisted in the escape of outlaw Joshua "Brown" Bowen, his brother-in-law, from the Gonzales County jail. Bowen had been charged with the December 17, 1872 killing of Thomas Holderman. After Bowen's execution in the summer of 1878, Hardin was implicated in Holderman's death as well.
October 1873: Hardin was indicted in Hill County, Texas, for the 1870 death of Benjamin Bradley, but was never tried.
May 26, 1874: Hardin killed Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Comanche, Texas.
November 1876: Hardin (under the alias of "Swain") and Gus Kennedy were arrested in Mobile, Alabama and ordered to leave town.
August 1877: Reported to have been under indictments in five Texas counties on three separate murder charges and two separate charges of assault with intent to murder.
July 1895: Fined $25 for gaming after using a pistol to get back money (a result of losing $100 at the Gem Saloon some weeks before). His gun was confiscated.
Hardin is well known for exaggerating or entirely fabricating many of his famous exploits. In his autobiography, he made several claims of having been involved in events which cannot be confirmed or which have proven unreliable. Countless folk historians have since added their own apocryphal stories, compounding the difficulty in separating fact from fiction.
In 1868, Hardin claimed to have shot three Union soldiers of the U.S. 4th Cavalry at a creek crossing at Logallis Prairie (now Nogalus Prairie, Trinity County, Texas).:14 None of the military records name Hardin as a suspect, nor do any facts agree with his claims. Circumstantial evidence is that a murder was committed here, but the names and numbers of victims are unknown.
Hardin said he shot one of the two soldiers killed in 1869, in "Richland Bottom", the other having been shot by his cousin, Simp Dixson, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a man who hated Union soldiers.:17 Records indicate that a Sgt. J.F. Leonard of Company B, 6th U.S. Cavalry, was wounded at Livingston, Texas, on May 7, 1869.
Hardin claimed in January 1870 that he killed a circus hand at Horn Hill, Texas. A contemporary newspaper account did report a fight in Union Hill, Texas, between circus "canvasmen" and "roughs" who tried to get in without paying, although the outcome did not conclude the way Hardin claimed it did. Hardin also claimed to have killed a man in Kosse Texas; there are no contemporary newspapers to confirm this second shooting, although there is slight evidence this could have happened.
Hardin claimed that during his January 1871 escape from Stakes and Smalley, he killed a Mr. Smith, a Mr. Jones, and a Mr. Davis in Bell County, Texas.:32 No contemporary newspaper accounts from Bell County confirm these additional killings.
Another claim was that he killed a man in Abilene, Kansas, in the summer of 1871. No contemporary newspaper accounts with evidence of such a killing exist-although a 1924 account does report a saloon shooting in some respects similar to Hardin's version. Hardin also claimed to have outdrawn "Wild Bill" Hickok. Again, no contemporary newspaper accounts confirm this, but another report suggests that it was Hickok who made Hardin put up his guns.
He claimed that after killing Green Paramore in October 1871, he forced an African-American posse to flee after killing three of them.:63 There are no contemporary accounts to confirm this claim.
Hardin claimed that on June 19, 1872, in Willis, Texas, some men tried to arrest him for carrying a pistol, "...but they got the contents instead".:63–65 Hardin was involved in a gunfight around this time and wounded, but records indicate the fight occurred between himself and one other man.
After being wounded by Sublett in August 1872, Hardin claimed that in September he either killed, or drove off, one or two members of the Texas State Police in Trinity, Texas.:72 Hardin gave different versions of the event at different times. Although he had killed two members and wounded two members of the Texas State Police, these shootings had not occurred in Trinity County. In 1877, however, Hardin was indicted for an August 1872 murder in Trinity County.
In May 1874, while in Gainesville, Florida, Hardin confessed to having knocked down a black man and shooting another one during a disturbance outside the Alachua County jail. A black prisoner named "Eli" - who was held on a charge of attempted assault of a white woman - was lynched when the jail was burned down by a mob. Hardin claimed to have been part of the mob, as was the county coroner, who afterward rendered a verdict that "Eli" had died after setting fire to the jail himself.:110 No contemporary newspaper accounts support this, except one suggesting that the first Alachua County jail suffered a "demise".
Hardin claimed that on July 1, 1874, he drove off 17 Texas Rangers that had been trailing him, and killed one of them.:107 This alleged shooting happened after a triple lynching of Hardin's cousin and two ranch hands. He also claimed to have driven off another group of men after killing one of them. There are no contemporary reports to confirm these stories. However, on June 1, 1874, a Texas Rangers company did kill Hardin's cousins, Alexander Barekman and Alexander Anderson, in a gunfight and claimed to have wounded Hardin as well. Hardin wrote about the killings of his cousins but does not confirm that he was wounded at all and claimed to have heard about their deaths later.:102
Later, Hardin and Mac Young were supposedly stopped near Belleville, Texas, by a posse under Sheriff Charles Langhammer of Austin on suspicion of being horse thieves. Hardin pulled his guns on Langhammer but did not shoot him, fleeing instead; Young was arrested and fined $100 for having a concealed pistol.:107–108
Hardin claimed to have been involved in the killing of two Pinkerton agents on the Florida-Georgia border sometime between April and November 1876, after a gunfight with a "Pinkerton Gang" who had been tracking him from Jacksonville, Florida.:111 This confrontation is pure fiction, as the Pinkerton Detective Agency never pursued Hardin. However in March 1876 it was alleged Hardin, aka Swain, had wounded W.C. Overbey, who had tried to act as a mediator between Hardin and another person.
In a saloon on election night in November 1876, Hardin and a companion, Jacksonville policeman Gus Kennedy, were involved in a gunfight with Mobile, Alabama, policemen in which one person was wounded and two killed. He further claims that he and Kennedy were arrested and later released.:111–112 This appears to be another case of an encounter (which resulted in Hardin and Kennedy being arrested and driven out of town for cheating at cards) in which Hardin's version does not fit contemporary records.
Hardin also claimed to have met two fellow outlaws during his life: in 1870, he supposedly gambled with Bill Longley.:25–27 It is possible they could have met; after both were sentenced for their crimes—Hardin receiving 25 years and Longley execution—Longley, who boasted of having killed as many men as Hardin, was outraged at the different degrees of sentencing. After being sentenced in September 1878, Hardin also supposedly met fellow convict Johnny Ringo:125 in an Austin, Texas jail; in fact, Ringo had been acquitted in May 1877.
The memorable circumstances and sheer number of Hardin's notorious crimes, real or exaggerated, quickly made him a legend of the Old West and an icon of American folklore. His autobiography was published posthumously in 1925 by the Bandera publisher, historian, and journalist J. Marvin Hunter, founder of Frontier Times magazine and the Frontier Times Museum.
Hardin's weapons of choice and several of his personal effects have been well documented and auctioned to private collectors. Court records show John Wesley Hardin carried a Colt "Lightning" revolver at the time of his death. He also had an Elgin watch, when he was shot and killed. The revolver and the watch had been presented to Hardin in appreciation for his legal efforts on behalf of Jim Miller at Miller's trial for the killing of ex-sheriff George "Bud" Frazer. The Colt, (with a .38-caliber, 2 1⁄2" barrel) is nickel-plated, with blued hammer, trigger and screws. The back-strap is hand-engraved: "J.B.M. TO J.W.H." and it has mother-of-pearl grips. This gun and its holster were once sold at auction for $168,000. Another Colt revolver (known as a .41-caliber "Thunderer"), which was owned by Hardin and used by him to rob the Gem Saloon, was sold at the same auction for $100,000.
In 2002, an auction house in San Francisco, California, auctioned three lots of John Wesley Hardin's personal effects. The lot containing a deck of his playing cards, one of his business cards, and a contemporary newspaper account of his death sold for $15,250. The bullet that killed Hardin sold for $80,000.