In an American Old West populated by fierce outlaws, badmen and gunslingers, John Wesley Hardin was perhaps the most notorious.
Born to a Methodist preacher in 1853, near Bonham, Texas, Wes Hardin killed his first man, a former slave of his uncle’s, at the tender age of 15. Fearing that he’d receive unfair treatment in a Union occupied state where one third of the police force were former slaves, Hardin went into hiding.
The authorities wasted no time in discovering Wes Hardin, but when they sent three Union soldiers to arrest him, Hardin confronted his pursuers: ‘thus it was by the fall of 1868 I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm’.
Knowing he could not return, Hardin travels with outlaws, drives cattle, and gambles his way across the state. In his biography he details the mounting body count, and justifies every shootout, claiming to have ‘never killed a man wantonly or in cold blood’.
Throughout this lively account, Hardin narrates in meticulous detail the various troubles he runs into, including his encounter with the famous “Wild Bill” Hickock. He negotiates the quarrels and the blood feuds of his late teens and early twenties with surprising good fortune, even managing to find time to marry and have children, before capture in his mid twenties. In the ten years between his first killing in 1868 and his final capture, he killed more than a score of men and became the most wanted fugitive of his time.
The imprisonment of Wes Hardin marks the end of the journal, which remains the only authentic autobiography of a wild west gunslinger to date. Written during his time in prison, it is an understandably biased tale, but nonetheless a unique and gripping first-person account of an interesting life and an interesting period in American history.
This version of Hardin’s autobiography also includes several other materials from the original publishers, dealing with Wes Hardin’s release and subsequent shooting in 1895.
John Wesley Hardin (May 26, 1853 – August 19, 1895) was an American Old West outlaw, gunfighter, and controversial folk icon. His memoir was published the year after his death in 1896.
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