Sunday, May 24, 2020

FASTEST GUN IN TEXAS by Marisa Masterson

Maybe you've tried channels like Sling or Philo? They offer seven days free just to surf their programing. That's what I was doing when I ran into the fastest shootist Texas ever experienced.

I'm a documentary junky. I love learning. Perhaps that's why I became a teacher. For whatever reason, I ran across this documentary on a man who sent shivers through Texans.

John Wesley Hardin. Mothers used his name as a threat to make their children behave "or Wes would get them." Even Bill Hickok found himself facing the business end of this man's guns. So, exactly who was he?

John Wesley Hardin
Named for the evangelist John Wesley, Hardin was the son of a preacher and grew up in Civil War era Texas. With his father's encouragement, he practiced with the gun until he was a marksman at the age of twelve.

One of the tricks this shootist did to prove himself was to hit playing cards at fifteen paces, never missing. By the end of childhood, the man was deadly and bore a nasty grudge against Yankees and any people of color be they Mexican or African-American.

Maybe that's why he killed his first man when he was only fifteen. The former slave had bested him in a wrestling match. When he encountered the man alone in the woods, he shot him and claimed the man attacked him with a stick. The victim lived long enough to declare that a lie. Hardin ran from his home, fearing arrest.

Cowboys in Kansas
From there, he leaves a trail of dead men. He easily hid amongst a group of cattle drovers taking a heard to Kansas. That's how he eventually met Wild Bill Hickok in Abilene, Kansas. Guns weren't allowed while walking the streets of that town. Typically defiant, Hardin kept his on.

"Wild" Bill Hickok
Hickok confronted the armed cowboy, being the marshal, and demanded he remove the guns, Hardin did so and handed them toward Hickok with the handles first. Before that man could grab them, the shootist flipped them so he held them cocked and pointed close to the famous marshal's face.

This wasn't the first man Hickok talked down to avoid violence. The two went into a saloon and shared a drink bought by the lawman. When they met again another year, Hickok didn't ask the shootist to remove his guns.

That was just the type of man Hardin seemed to be. Showy, cocky, and willing to kill. After he returned to Texas and killed a lawman, Texans had had enough.Many put pressure on the governor to send a new group called the Texas Rangers after the man. With a $5,000 bounty on his head, the governor was confident the man would be caught.

I would think so, considering the amount. It was one more thing Hardin boasted about to people--the size of his bounty! In 1875, that $5,000 was equivalent in purchasing power to about $116,540 in 2020.

Someone was willing to risk Hardin's guns to claim it, and the rangers caught the man in a railroad car. Not a very glamorous life!

Here's where it gets interesting for me. While Hardin sat in Hunstville Prison, he wrote his autobiography. This is why historians view him as a man with no conscience. He detailed murders, excused them, and vowed he felt no remorse. He was the faster gun and that was all that mattered.

After serving seventeen years, the murderer went free, a supposedly changed man. While in prison, he'd earned a law degree and tried to set up a law practice. Surprise, surprise, but people were too afraid of him to use his services.

He eventually ended up in El Paso where he was shot from behind and killed. It didn't matter how fast he was since he hadn't guarded his back.

One last note--the word shootist. I used that rather than gunslinger to be authentic. Amazingly, the word gunslinger was invented in the 1920's by author Zane Grey. Men in the old west never used it, calling men like Hardin shootists. Very accurate for Hardin, I think!

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  1. Hi and thank you for the post. Entertaining and filled with so many useful historical facts. Beautiful cover on Ruby's Risk, sounds like a wonderful read.

  2. Hi. I enjoyed reading this post because it was so interesting and well written. Biographies and documentaries can be very fascinating.

  3. I enjoyed this post, Marisa. Being a Texan, I'm familiar with John Wesley Hardin but not proud he was from Texas. I'm glad you mentioned gunslinger as an incorrect historic term for our books. My husband and I enjoy documentaries, too. There are some great ones available, too.


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