By his own admission, John Wesley Hardin killed 42 men.

Public Domain/
Public Domain/

A History Of Violence

The first sign of trouble from John Wesley was in school. He was accused of  disparaging a young lady in some graffiti.  This led to another student charging him with a knife, but Hardin was too quick and stabbed the other student. Whether that stabbing was justified or not, it was his first taste of blood.

The First Kill

At age 15 Hardin challenged a former slave to a wrestling match and won. He then claimed the slave tried to attack him the next day and shot him five times. He then claimed to have killed as much as four men who tried to bring him to justice, something he didn't think he'd get in a Union occupied state. This theme of "killing men who were trying to capture him" was then played out several more times.

Other Evidence

Some of Hardin' other kills suggest he just liked killing. He said he killed one man after an argument at a circus and shot a pimp in cold blood while the man was picking up money that Hardin had thrown on the ground. He was again captured and he again killed the three men trying to bring him to justice. Oh, and did I mention he was still just 17 years old at this point?

The Legendary Story

After a night of drinking Hardin took exception to one of his drinking buddies loud snoring. He yelled at the man and got no response. He then fired his pistol and fired it into the mans room, (accidentally?) killing him. Hardin played into this story later in life telling people he did kill a man for snoring and when the heat was on then claimed the real story was that the man was a burglar trying to steal his pants.

The Bloody Trail Ends

Hardin did eventually do 17 years of a 25 year sentenced and killed at least one more as the result of some jackassery. He bet he knock a man off a box with one shot, which he did, but the man died as a result of the fall.  John Wesley Hardin was finally killed by a constable/outlaw he had argued with earlier when the man came up from behind him during a dice game and shot him in the head.

What's Left Out

Volumes could be, and have been, written about John Wesley Hardin, some of it in his own autobiography. It is very hard to separate fact from fiction as Hardin was a well-known teller of tall tales. His wild life also included flirtations with religion and actually passing the bar exam to be a lawyer. We do also know 100% that he was involved in many gunfights and a lot of people he encountered ended up dead, with the actual number being between 25 and his claim of 42.

My Connection

If I seem a little too fascinated by this outlaw, it's because my father was named after him. I don't really know why, but the Wesley portion of that name drifted down to me. Sources included Wikipedia and Field Ethos.

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