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FLASHBACK: Texas gentleman outlaw makes history in Comanche - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: Texas gentleman outlaw makes history in Comanche

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Posted: Sunday, May 25, 2014 6:45 am

COMANCHE - Recently I headed east to check out some interesting locales in parts of my old stomping grounds, and my first stop was the furthest stop on the tour, in Comanche.

It’s a little town about 24 miles down Highway 67 east of Brownwood. It’s charming and quaint, with a classic courthouse square complete with 19th-century architecture and even some brick streets.

But Comanche, named after the Comanche Indians that once inhabited the hills around the town, is not without its own drama. This was the small town where 140 years ago on May 26, 1874, outlaw John Wesley Hardin shot and killed Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. Webb and Hardin allegedly got into a fight at the bar that fateful day.

It was Hardin’s 21st birthday and he was celebrating a big win at the local racetrack, when he got into it with Webb, the legend goes. On that day, Hardin and Webb apparently decided to settle their dispute with an old fashioned quick draw contest. Each of the men took a bullet, Hardin in his side and Webb in the head. That day, after Webb fell, Hardin escaped an angry mob that took after him and his companions — his brother Joe Hardin and pals Bud and Tom Dixon. Hardin got away, but his brother and the Dixon boys were soon caught and hung in Comanche.

Hardin escaped with his wife and daughter and lived in Florida under the name J.H. Swain, and then he moved to Alabama. During that time, adding one certain and five possible names to his death list before the Texas Rangers captured him in Pensacola, Fla., on July 23, 1877. He was tried at Comanche for the murder of Charles Webb and sentenced, on September 28, 1878, to 25 years in prison. During his prison term he made repeated efforts to escape, read theological books, was superintendent of the prison Sunday school, and studied law. He was pardoned on March 16, 1894, and admitted to the bar.

In history, the word “outlaw” always precedes his name, but Hardin didn’t think of himself that way, the story goes. He was an unusual killer, it has been said — considered a handsome, gentlemanly man who considered himself a pillar of society always maintaining that he never killed anyone that “didn’t need killing” and he always shot to save his own life.

But other historians may argue that his life more fit the lyrics of the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues,” where he sings “But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” Legend has it that Hardin shot a man just for snoring — which added to the approximate 30 notches on his gun belt. Hardin must’ve thought that snoring fellow needed killing.

His mean streak started early on. It has been said that at the tender age of 15, he shot a black man to death in Polk County and killed four Union soldiers who were trying to apprehend him. As a cowboy on the Chisholm trail, he killed seven people en route and three in Abilene, Kansas. After allegedly backing down city marshal Wild Bill Hickok, who may have dubbed him "Little Arkansas," Hardin returned to Gonzales County, Texas, where he got into difficulty with Governor Edmund J. Davis's State Police. Hardin then settled down long enough to marry Jane Bowen. Out of that marriage came a son and two daughters.

In 1895, after he was released from prison, Hardin went to El Paso to testify for the defense in a murder trial. Following the trial, he stayed and established a law practice. Just when he seemed to finally be going straight, Hardin began an affair with one of his married female clients. Her husband found out about the affair and Hardin hired some law officials to kill him. One of the hired gunmen, however, Constable John Selman, shot Hardin instead.

When he was shot, Hardin was shooting dice with local furniture dealer Henry Brown at the Acme saloon in El Paso.

Legend has it that his last words were, "Four sixes to beat, Henry."

Indeed.

COMANCHE - Recently I headed east to check out some interesting locales in parts of my old stomping grounds, and my first stop was the furthest stop on the tour, in Comanche.

It’s a little town about 24 miles down Highway 67 east of Brownwood. It’s charming and quaint, with a classic courthouse square complete with 19th-century architecture and even some brick streets.

But Comanche, named after the Comanche Indians that once inhabited the hills around the town, is not without its own drama. This was the small town where 140 years ago on May 26, 1874, outlaw John Wesley Hardin shot and killed Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb. Webb and Hardin allegedly got into a fight at the bar that fateful day.

It was Hardin’s 21st birthday and he was celebrating a big win at the local racetrack, when he got into it with Webb, the legend goes. On that day, Hardin and Webb apparently decided to settle their dispute with an old fashioned quick draw contest. Each of the men took a bullet, Hardin in his side and Webb in the head. That day, after Webb fell, Hardin escaped an angry mob that took after him and his companions — his brother Joe Hardin and pals Bud and Tom Dixon. Hardin got away, but his brother and the Dixon boys were soon caught and hung in Comanche.

Hardin escaped with his wife and daughter and lived in Florida under the name J.H. Swain, and then he moved to Alabama. During that time, adding one certain and five possible names to his death list before the Texas Rangers captured him in Pensacola, Fla., on July 23, 1877. He was tried at Comanche for the murder of Charles Webb and sentenced, on September 28, 1878, to 25 years in prison. During his prison term he made repeated efforts to escape, read theological books, was superintendent of the prison Sunday school, and studied law. He was pardoned on March 16, 1894, and admitted to the bar.

In history, the word “outlaw” always precedes his name, but Hardin didn’t think of himself that way, the story goes. He was an unusual killer, it has been said — considered a handsome, gentlemanly man who considered himself a pillar of society always maintaining that he never killed anyone that “didn’t need killing” and he always shot to save his own life.

But other historians may argue that his life more fit the lyrics of the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues,” where he sings “But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” Legend has it that Hardin shot a man just for snoring — which added to the approximate 30 notches on his gun belt. Hardin must’ve thought that snoring fellow needed killing.

His mean streak started early on. It has been said that at the tender age of 15, he shot a black man to death in Polk County and killed four Union soldiers who were trying to apprehend him. As a cowboy on the Chisholm trail, he killed seven people en route and three in Abilene, Kansas. After allegedly backing down city marshal Wild Bill Hickok, who may have dubbed him "Little Arkansas," Hardin returned to Gonzales County, Texas, where he got into difficulty with Governor Edmund J. Davis's State Police. Hardin then settled down long enough to marry Jane Bowen. Out of that marriage came a son and two daughters.

In 1895, after he was released from prison, Hardin went to El Paso to testify for the defense in a murder trial. Following the trial, he stayed and established a law practice. Just when he seemed to finally be going straight, Hardin began an affair with one of his married female clients. Her husband found out about the affair and Hardin hired some law officials to kill him. One of the hired gunmen, however, Constable John Selman, shot Hardin instead.

When he was shot, Hardin was shooting dice with local furniture dealer Henry Brown at the Acme saloon in El Paso.

Legend has it that his last words were, "Four sixes to beat, Henry."

Indeed.

 

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