Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

A Lawless Breed: John Wesley Hardin, Texas Reconstruction, and Violence in the Wild West

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

A Lawless Breed: John Wesley Hardin, Texas Reconstruction, and Violence in the Wild West

Article excerpt

A Lawless Breed: John Wesley Hardin, Texas Reconstruction, and Violence in the Wild West. By Chuck Parsons and Norman Wayne Brown. (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2013. Pp. xix, 490, maps, illustrations, appendix, bibliography, notes, index. Paper, 19.95).

Was the West really wild? Were there shoot-outs on main streets at high noon? And how could the good guys be distinguished from the bad guys? Anyone interested in the trans-Mississippi frontier has seen countless western movies and read accounts of gunslingers and lawmen. How does one find truth in a past that is filled with such colorful characters? The object of attention in this extensive biography is one such character, John Wesley Hardin, who the authors describe as the "premier gunfighter of Texas" (p. xix).

Son of a minister and named after the founder of Methodism, John Wesley Hardin was born in 1853 in Bonham, Texas. His maturation came at a time of turmoil in central Texas. The Civil War was fresh in the minds of Texas citizens, and most balked at the conditions of Reconstruction. Hardin was one of the Confederate-minded Texans who believed in white supremacy and resented the governing by Unionists who allied themselves with former slaves. Hardin was a product of, and a contributor to, the violent times. It is believed that many of Hardin's killings stemmed from the fractious political and social atmosphere in Texas and that determined whether Texans viewed him as a hero or outlaw.

Skilled in the use of guns, Hardin had a penchant for drinking and gambling and possessed a short temper. Brash and prideful, he killed more than twenty men and believed he was justified in each of the homicides. Not until 1878 was he tried and convicted for the slaying of Charles Webb, a deputy sheriff. While serving time in prison, Hardin appeared to turn his life around. He taught himself the law and, upon his release, passed his legal examination and set up a practice in Gonzales, Texas. Such attempts at self-improvement did not lead to riches or to political success. Hardin's personal life was also a shambles, and, by 1895, his old habits of drinking and gambling resulted in his return to use of his gun-this time to rob for money. In August 1895, Hardin was shot in the back by an El Paso policeman. …

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