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John Wesley Hardin
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John Wesley Hardin

John Wesley Hardin (May 26, 1853 - August 19, 1895) was a well-known outlaw and gun-fighter in late 19th century Texas. He was reputed to be the meanest man alive, an accolade he supposedly earned by killing a man for snoring. He admitted to killing more than 40 men over 27 years.

Biographical Details

Born in Bonham, Texas to James G. Hardin (a Methodist preacher) and Elizabeth Hardin, he grew up during the trying times of the American Civil War and Reconstruction. At the age of 15, Hardin committed his first murder, the shooting of a black man. After admitting this crime to his father, he was urged by his family to flee. His killing spree began in earnest in his flight, during which he killed at least 1 Union soldier and possibly more. Surfacing on the Chisholm Trail, Hardin continued killing men over all manner of personal disagreements. He famously claimed that he never killed a man that didn't need killing.

The 1874 murder of a sheriff in Comanche, Texas led to another fugitive period, until the Texas Rangers captured Hardin in 1877. He was tried for the murder, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. 17 years later, Hardin was pardoned by Governor Jim Hogg and released from prison on March 16, 1894. He moved to El Paso, Texas, where he began practicing law. In the middle of a dice game at the Acme Saloon, he was murdered by John Selman over a personal disagreement--Hardin was having an affair with his wife.

After his death, an autobiography was released containing Hardin's accounts of many of his murders.

The Folk Figure

An American folk song describes his activities, with a folk hero patina. A version of the song was recorded by Bob Dylan as "John Wesley Harding" (with a G added to the name), the title song of one of his albumss.

Johnny Cash wrote and recorded a song about Hardin entitled "Hardin Wouldn't Run". It relates some of the true events of Hardin's life, including his murder at the Acme Saloon.