A Guide to the John Wesley Hardin Papers, 1870-1895
Born in Bonham, Texas, John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895) was the son of Methodist preacher James G. Hardin and his wife Elizabeth. In 1868, during Reconstruction, Hardin killed a black man after an argument and several soldiers who tried to capture him. Three years later on the Chisholm Trail, Hardin, now a cowboy, traveled to Abilene, Kansas, killing 10 more people en route.
After his return to Gonzales County, Texas, Hardin married Jane Bowen, with whom he had three children. During this time he killed four more people, then surrendered to the Cherokee County sheriff in 1872 only to brake out of jail later that year. After a new career in stock raising, Hardin allied with Jim Taylor during the Sutton-Taylor Feud (1873-1874) and killed former police captain Jack Helm, who had sided with William Sutton.
In 1874, Hardin killed deputy sheriff Charles Webb of Brown County. The Hardin family fled to Alabama and Florida, where the Texas Rangers captured him in 1877. The next year he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for Webb’s murder. During imprisonment at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, Hardin tried to escape numerous times. However, he reformed, becoming superintendent of the prison Sunday school and studying law. In 1894, he was pardoned and the next year established a law practice in El Paso.
After taking client Martin Morose’s wife as his mistress, Hardin hired law officials to assassinate Morose. One of the gunmen, Constable John Selman, killed Hardin, perhaps for not paying Selman for the hired murder. Published the next year, Hardin’s autobiography claimed he killed only in self-defense and showed he considered himself a respectable and leading figure of the community.
Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "Hardin, John Wesley," http://www.tshaonline.org /handbook/online/articles/HH/fha63.html (accessed July 19, 2010).
The John Wesley Hardin Papers, 1870-1895, consist of three original letters to W. B. "Billy" Teagarden from Hardin as well as volumes of photocopied correspondence, legal statements, petitions, indictments, depositions, bills, receipts, and other financial and legal documents of Hardin. Although a few letters date before his imprisonment, the correspondence, legal records, and financial documents primarily describe Hardin’s life in prison and relate to his work while studying and practicing law after his release. The majority of the correspondence date to Hardin’s years in prison (1877-1894) and are from Hardin to his wife Jane.
The collection is open for research.
John Wesley Hardin Papers, 1870-1895, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Detailed Description of the Papers