Troublemaker ~ John Wesley Hardin ~ 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks ~ Week #33

John Wesley HardinOver 6 years ago I wrote a very short blog about one of my ancestors who was the troublemaker in his family. By association, that would also make him part of my family also. He is my 2nd cousin 3 times removed and his name is John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895), the infamous outlaw. Hardin was one of the West’s most vicious and notorious gunfighters and outlaw.

He was born near Bonham, Texas, on May 26, 1853, the second son of James Gibson “Gip” Hardin (1823-1876) and Mary Elizabeth Dixon (1826-1885). His father was a Methodist Preacher, and John was named after the founder of the Methodist Denomination, John Wesley. It is really difficult to write an accurate account of his life because every biography I have read about him gives differing “facts” about what he did. I will try to give only the information I have verified. In his autobiography, John states that he was 15 years old the first time he killed a man. Over the course of his life, he killed approximately 42 men, one just for snoring!

John’s father traveled over most of central Texas on his preaching schoolcircuit until 1869, eventually settling in Sumpter, Texas, in Trinity County, where he taught school, and established an institution that John Wesley and his brother, Joe, would later attend. At that school, a boy named Charles Sloter accused Hardin of scrawling some graffiti on the schoolhouse wall that was insulting to a girl in his class. Hardin denied it and accused the other boy of being the author. Sloter attacked Hardin with a knife, but before he could strike Hardin, Hardin drew his own pocket knife and stabbed Charles twice in the chest and throat, almost killing him. Hardin was nearly expelled over the incident, even though it was his father’s institution.

john-wesley-hardin-historicalAt the age of 15, John challenged an ex-slave named Mage to a wrestling match. He won, but during the match, he badly scratched Mage’s face. The following day a vengeful Mage hid by a path and attacked Hardin with a large stick as he rode past. Hardin drew his revolver and told Mage to back off, but Mage grabbed the reins of Hardin’s horse and threatened to kill him. Hardin fired his revolver into Mage five times before he finally dropped the reins. Hardin then rode to get help for the wounded ex-slave, who ended up dying from these wounds three days later. Heeding the advice of his father he then went into hiding.

At age 17, while working as trail boss for a Texas cattle ranch, Hardin got into an argument with some Mexican cowboys when they tried to cut their herd in front of his. The argument soon got out of hand, and within minutes, he had killed six of the Mexicans. While at Abilene, Kansas, he made friends with the local sheriff, “Wild Bill” Hickok. The friendship ended when Hardin shot a hotel guest in the room next to him for snoring too loudly, thus waking him up. As Hickok came to arrest him for murder, Hardin stole a horse and escaped.

In 1871, he married his hometown sweetheart, Jane Bowen, a Jane Bowenrespectable girl whose father owned a general store in town. They had three children, John Wesley Hardin (born in 1876), Jennie Hardin (born in 1877), and Mary Elizabeth Hardin. Jane remained true to her husband despite his constant absences from home to avoid the law. After killing Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb (his 40th victim) in Comanche, Texas, Hardin and his wife left Texas. They hid in Florida under an alias of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Swain for two years before Pinkerton detectives found them. This time they fled to Alabama, where Hardin was finally caught in 1877. Tried in Austin, Texas for the death of Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

callieJane died in 1892 while Hardin was still in prison. He was pardoned by Texas Governor Jim Hogg after serving 15 years of his sentence. Hardin was released from prison on February 17, 1894, and promptly returned to Gonzales, Texas. He was a 41-year-old widower who had three children who did not even know what he looked like. Having studied law in prison, Hardin opened a law practice in El Paso, Texas. On  January 9, 1895, Hardin married 15-year-old Carolyn “Callie” Jane Lewis, although they quickly separated. Neither stated a reason for the sudden breakup of their marriage and they had no children.

When his friend, Mrs. McRose, widow of another outlaw, was arrested john-wesley-hardin HSfor illegally carrying a pistol, Hardin made threats against the arresting police officer, John Selman. Several days later, on 19 August 1895 Selman observed Hardin playing dice in the Acme Saloon with another man. Selman walked up behind Hardin and shot him in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Hardin was 42 years old.


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

17 thoughts on “Troublemaker ~ John Wesley Hardin ~ 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks ~ Week #33

  1. I found this very interesting. I’m preparing to teach a class on Westward Expansion that starts the middle of September, and part of what I’ll be doing is focusing on how both the reality and the mythology of the West has shaped American culture. John Wesley Hardin is one of the people I’ll be mentioning, and you’ve given me some detail I didn’t have before. Thanks!

  2. I also wanted to tell you that William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody is my 4th cousin 4 times removed. I know that Buffalo Bill interacted with Wild Bill Hickock, and I’m betting my cousin crossed paths with your cousin more than once!

  3. Valerie, Very interesting article about JWH. There’s really not much info about him on the web, including family photo’s. But I did find an old photo of Wes Hardin on a horse with a scowl that speaks volumes about young Wes Hardin. He must’ve been a very intimidating young man. If you have a Hardin family picture album or access to one with John’s family that would be great if you could post some pics. Thank you for posting great information!

      1. Valerie, Just in case you forgot, I’m still waiting for those pics. Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s