Today’s book was about the notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin. When I was young, I remember ads on the TV for Time Life Books about various historical figures, one of which was John Wesley Hardin whom they claimed was “so mean he once shot a man just for snoring!” Now whether or not that was true or simply a tall tale, I still don’t know as there was no mention of such an act in this book.
John Wesley Hardin certainly lived an active and adventure-filled life. During the course of his life, he was employed in a number of different jobs. He spent time as a school teacher, a cattle herder, a gambler, and a number of other jobs that I never would have guessed at.
He did not start out intending to become an outlaw. At the time, he was a young man living in the southern states after the end of the civil war. He killed a man in self-defense, and knowing that in that time and place he would be killed as a murderer without any hope of a fair trial his father sent him away to keep him safe until such a time when he would have a fair chance under the law. (Mob rule often brought about hangings without any sort of trial, fair or otherwise.)
From what he tells about his life and actions in this book, he rarely shot first unless it was clear someone else was out to kill him. Also whenever he was able, he would give the other shooters the chance to surrender without killing them. He may often have found himself on the wrong side of the law, but he comes across as essentially a decent man with a good heart, though he also is clearly a man who had no qualms when it came to killing someone.
John Wesley Hardin was married to a woman named Mary. Though he was often away on cattle drives, he loved her deeply and did his best to keep her and their children safe from harm when he knew there were men seeking to either kill or arrest him. While he was willing to allow a sheriff to arrest him if the man had a warrant & could guarantee his safety from any angry mob seeking to hang him, if the man seeking to take him in did not have a legal warrant, Hardin would fight to stay free, not worrying about whether or not he killed anyone in the process.
While he was not what we today would consider a righteous man, he did live by a more personal moral code than many men in his position likely did. He was definitely an interesting man living in interesting times. He knew a lot of people we might consider as notorious outlaws or famous lawmen and counted a number of them as his friends.
This book continues on to include his death and accounts of the trial of his killer afterwards. While not my favorite of biographies thus far, it did contain a lot more information about his life than I had previously known, and I am glad that read it. It is a short book, but if you take the time to read it, I hope you will also enjoy it.
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