The Arrest of John Wesley Hardin

From my book: “Pensacola’s Finest”, available on Amazon

*Note: There are many versions of the following incident and many agencies said to have captured the famous killer. Most of them are similar in the facts of the arrest. This is simply one of those versions.

Rumor has it that he shot a man for snoring too loudly. “In self-defense” he claimed he killed 40 men. Research has shown that many of them were killed in cold blood.

His name was John Wesley Hardin, and he was one of the most infamous and feared gunfighters in the history of the Old West. One of the men Hardin killed was Comanche County, Texas Deputy Charles Webb.

An arrest warrant for Hardin was issued for murder. Hardin may have been deadly with a gun, but he was no match for the Texas Rangers, who would be hot on his trail. Maybe he and his gang could get away to Florida. It would be quieter, and his partner, Robert Joshua “Brown” Bowen had family there.

Hardin and Bowen headed east. Bowen had his own troubles, being a robber and murderer in his own right – he had active warrants for murder and escape. Pensacola was 797 miles away. Sounded good.

Hardin and his gang settled in nearby north Santa Rosa county with the Neill Bowen family near a community that later became the town of Jay.

“Life will be simpler now” he told himself. However, like many people, Hardin believed that the problem was the location. Not true. The problem was inside Hardin. Consequently, John continued in his habits.

Under the alias “James W. Swain,” he began hanging around in Pensacola, occasionally gambling and getting into scraps with others, but always under the radar. Mr. Swain was even familiar with Sheriff Hutchinson and Marshal Comyns.

Unbeknownst to Hardin or Bowen, the Texas Rangers, on the trail of Bowen, had put an undercover Ranger on the case. Hardin’s wife, Jane, was surveilled daily. They intercepted Bowen’s mail and kept track of every person he contacted. One letter they intercepted revealed that the gang – including Hardin and Bowen – were living in or near Pensacola. A road trip was suddenly planned by Texas Rangers John Armstrong and Jack Duncan.

When William Chipley, superintendent of the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad (and later mayor of Pensacola and Florida State Senator) learned that the Hardin gang was to catch a train at the Pensacola L&N Freight Depot, he accompanied the Rangers, Sheriff Hutchinson and Marshal Comyns to the train. A posse of Pensacola Police Officers and Escambia County Sheriff’s Department Deputies were also on hand.

Hutchinson, Duncan, Comyns and Chipley entered the train and apprehended Hardin before he could draw his weapon. However, one of his gang was fatally wounded in a shootout. Armstrong and Duncan escorted Hardin back to Texas where he stood trial.

On June 5, 1878, John Wesley Hardin was sentenced to 25 years in state prison – finally ridding the world of the danger of this killer. He was released on February 17, 1894.

On August 19, 1895, was shot in the back of the head by John Selman, Jr., killing him instantly.

#oldpolicestories

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