American gunfighter (1853-1895). Born the son of a preacher and named for the founder of Methodism, he was an expert marksman at age 10, won a knife fight at age 11, and killed his first man at age 15 -- he was ambushed by a plantation hand after Hardin beat him at wrestling. He shot the man three times and fled, pursued by three soldiers. When they caught up to him, he ambushed and killed all three. He was a renowned gunfighter throughout Texas by the time he was 16.

Despite his rough reputation, he was well-educated, served as a schoolteacher during his teens, and completed a course in Texas law while he was on the run from the law.

Hardin followed a fairly predictable pattern: he'd ride into a town, quickly end up shooting someone, mount his horse, and ride back out. He worked as a cowboy occasionally and was an expert gambler, as well as a heavy drinker.

Hardin married Jane Bowen in 1872. Although he spent little time at home, they had three children together and were devoted to each other. He briefly surrendered to authorities, hoping to face all the charges against him and become an honest man, but after he was accidentally shot in the leg by a nervous guard and learned that he was expected to hang, he sawed through a barred window and escaped.

On his 21st birthday, he killed a deputy sheriff who tried to shoot him in the back in Commanche, Texas -- he escaped from the posse sent after him, but his brother, who lived in Commanche, was lynched by an angry mob. Texas posted a $4,000 reward for Hardin, dead or alive.

He lived under the name J. H. Swain for three years and kept a low profile, but he was seized on a train in Florida by the Texas Rangers and returned to Texas. He defended himself well in court -- he was convicted only of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years hard labor. He spent 16 years in jail, where he studied law, attempted escapes, led prison revolts, and wrote letters daily. He was finally released from prison in 1894, two years after his wife had died.

After that, Hardin became a model citizen. He ran for office and practiced law in El Paso. In 1895, John Selman, Sr. entered a bar where Hardin was gambling, shot him once in the back of the head, then shot him twice more after he had fallen. Legend says that Selman was acquitted by a jury on the grounds that killing Hardin was a public service.

Hardin may have been a psychopath. He was completely without remorse for his killings, arguing that he only killed when provoked (though he admitted that he was very easy to provoke). He was very loyal to his friends and family, almost entirely fearless, and respected bravery -- he once refused to fight "Wild Bill" Hickock because Hickock had treated him respectfully.

Research from GURPS Who's Who 2, compiled by Phil Masters, "John Wesley Hardin" by Peter V. Dell'Orto, pp. 92-93.

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