John Wesley Hardin was born to a Methodist preacher in Bonham, Texas in 1853, where his father taught at the school he attended. He was almost expelled from his father's school as the result of a knife fight. At the age of nine, he tried to run away and join the confederate army. From an early age, this kid was trouble. Perhaps the whole family was trouble. One of Hardin's cousins grew up to marry another killer outlaw named Jim Miller. Miller is supposed to have killed 39 people.
Hardin made his first kill at the age of 15. The man he killed was a former slave. However, at that time (1868), one third of the state police were also former slaves. So Hardin's father ordered him to go into hiding. Hardin knew he could not return home, back in those union occupied days. So he became a fugitive, and met other fugitives. One thing led to another. All his friends were fugitives. Eventually, Hardin grew up to be an outlaw of the American old west, and is credited with numerous murders. He once even killed a man for snoring.
In 1874, John Wesley Hardin had killed Charles Webb, a Deputy Sheriff near Austin. Webb's murder was Hardin's 42nd killing, by Hardin's own account. But the Texas Rangers were determined to bring Hardin to justice for killing a lawman. Still, Hardin eluded them for three years, by moving around between Florida and Alabama. His aliases included Little Arkansas, Wesley Clements, and J.H. Swain.
The Texas Rangers are a 181-year-old government police agency, headquartered in Austin. They were organized by important Texans such as Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. The Texas Rangers were founded in 1823, and formalized in 1835. Their operational jurisdiction is the entire state of Texas, which has a current population of more than 27 million people. Even then, political leaders became convinced that state rangers were essential in Texas.
On August 23rd of 1877, the Texas Rangers finally found the famous outlaw, sitting on a train parked at a station in Pensacola, Florida. Hardin had spent most of his life running from the law. The Rangers sent in John Armstrong to arrest him. Armstrong kicked his way into the rail car, surprising Hardin, whose gun got stuck in his suspenders. Armstrong returned Hardin to Texas to stand trial for murder, after clubbing him in the head with the butt of his gun. Technically, Texas lawmen had no jurisdiction in the state of Florida, so Hardin had to be whisked back to Texas in a major hurry.
In Austin, a jury found Hardin guilty of murdering Charles Webb. He was sentenced to life in the Texas State Prison at Huntsville. He was pardoned by a governor after serving 15 years. He was released in 1894. While in prison, he had written an autobiography and studied law. On August 19th of 1895, about a year after his release, Hardin was shot dead at the age of 42 by an El Paso policeman.