On this date in History: These days, there are many who are upset with the criminal justice system in that violent offenders get released early or paroled for heinous crimes. One young man was known to have killed several people. He had a couple of arrests warrants for murder following him around as he went from state to state before he was apprehended. However, he escaped from jail. On his 21st birthday, he got into an altercation with another man who fired a shot at him. The gunman missed but the birthday boy did not as he shot the man dead. Afraid of being arrested again, the man fled. A few years later, the fugitive was finally caught in Florida and brought to trial. In this case, there was an argument for self defense so when he was sentenced he only received a life term instead of the death penalty. 15 years later, the man was given a pardon. But, this is not a tale from the 21st Century or even the 20th Century. No, the criminal justice system has had it’s flaws for a long time because the suspected multiple killer was pardoned on this date in 1894!
John Wesley Hardin has been described by many as the “meanest man in the west.” It is also said that Hardin was the “archetype of the shootist.” It all began when he was just 15 years old in 1868. He killed a former slave and became a fugitive from the law. A couple of years later, he was in Waco Texas when he was arrested for murder. But, in this case, Hardin didn’t do the deed. But, he didn’t like his chances with the jury so he escaped. Of all places, he fled to Abilene, Kansas which was under the charge of the famous lawman Wild Bill Hickok. As it turns out, Hickok was rather taken in by Hardin so he left him alone. But, in one of the more famous incidents of the old west, Hardin became so agitated with snoring coming from the hotel room adjacent to his that he fired two shots through the wall. Yup…he killed a man for snoring. Well, old John Wesley knew that friendship only went so far and he figured that Wild Bill couldn’t stand for that so he fled before Hickok had a chance to confront him.
It was on May 26, 1874 that Hardin celebrated his 21st birthday in Comanche, Texas and shot the man in self defense. But, it wasn’t just any man. It was the Brown County deputy sherrif. And it wasn’t just some flatfoot who tracked him down in Florida. It was the Texas Rangers who caught him in Pensacola in 1877. During his 3 year flight, it is thought that Hardin was responsible for the death of 5 other men. In a very ironic twist, after John Wesley Hardin received his pardon, he turned to the law instead of running from it. He became a lawyer. Perhaps he finally grew up by the age of 41 and decided to follow the lead of his father, who had been a Methodist minister and an attorney. But a man who is suspected of killing at least 40 men no doubt has a long list of enemies. Someone finally caught old John Wesley Hardin when he was shot in the back and killed, most likely as revenge for someone he had killed in his short but eventful life. This account claims that he was shot in the back of the head by a constable who’s son had gotten into an argument with Hardin over a game of dice.
The tale of John Wesley Hardin now lives in the annals of history but he is not remembered for how he died. Instead, he is known for those he killed. It’s not a tall tale but a confusing one. The outline of the story that I’ve provided is true but the order may be wrong. This story says that he killed the man for snoring in El Paso, not Abilene, and has other different stories. This one has many discrepencies though it tells of his killing the former slave but says he was a policeman, Hardin was 18 at the time and that his peace with Hickok was after he drew down on the fast draw marshal. There are many other stories about Hardin but all of them are the narrative of a serial killer and at the end he gets legally released from prison. Perhaps the illustration of John Wesley Hardin is not his list of victims, but instead paints a picture of a criminal justice system that has been flawed for a very long time.