Renegade Roads

Following John Wesley Hardin Across Texas

From Bonham, Texas, to El Paso, Texas.

From Bonham, Texas, to El Paso, Texas.

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Everybody is soooooo nice in Bonham, Texas, I find it hard to believe that this is the place that gave birth to a psycho, bigoted, cold-blooded murdering SOB like John Wesley Hardin.

So when I ask the docent at the Fannin County Museum of History about Hardin, she gives me this suspicious look and says, “Oh, my... him.” The same look and tone a journalist in Timmonsville, South Carolina, would get after asking someone about me.

Actually, Hardin wasn’t born in the city limits, but at Blair’s Springs about 10 miles southwest of this north Texas town. Besides, as Leon C. Metz points out in his brilliant biography, John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas, Hardin “had little if any recollections of his youth there. Instead, his memoirs picked up in the East Texas piney woods of Polk County near the tiny community of Moscow when John was sixteen.”

You won’t see much in Moscow, an unincorporated community about 90 miles north of Houston. Yet Bonham offers lots to see, so here I am.

A good place to start is the Fannin County Museum of History. Located in a 1900 Texas and Pacific Railway Depot, the museum chronicles the region’s history, beginning with the prehistoric era while focusing primarily from the region’s settlement during those turbulent Texas revolution years through WWII.

For a better look at what life would have been like, check out Fort Inglish Village. Open Tuesdays through Saturday from April 1-September 1, the replica of the fort established by Bonham’s founder Bailey Inglish was built in 1976. Three log cabins from the 1830s have been relocated outside the stockade. The site also includes a school/church. Interpreters demonstrate skills such as making lye soap, brooms and candles, and student visitors can grind corn or hand wash clothes. No wonder Hardin would have few memories of life around Bonham. I’ve tried to block those memories of farm chores myself.

Hard Times, Bad Man

John Wesley Hardin was born on May 26, 1853, the son of J.G. Hardin, a Methodist minister and circuit rider, and Elizabeth Hardin, “blonde, highly cultured, and charity predominated in her disposition,” as Hardin remembered in his autobiography.

He was a product of his times, and those times after the Civil War were hard. In 1868, he shot a black man he claimed was bullying him. “To be tried at that time for the killing of a Negro meant certain death at the hands of a court, backed by Northern bayonets,” he wrote.

Hardin became a fugitive. By the time he was captured, tried and sentenced to prison a mere 10 years later, he had killed more than 20 men. He claimed 42.

Hardin’s trail covered much of the West and much of the South. You can visit Abilene, Kansas, where he claimed (I think he was full of horse apples) to have backed down gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok. You can visit Pensacola, Florida (or better yet, those white sand beaches in Destin), where he was captured by Texas Rangers and local Florida lawmen in August 1877. He hung out, or hid out, in Louisiana and Alabama too. But for this Renegade Road, I’ll stick to Texas. After all, Texas made him.

Rangering On

Next stop: The Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco.

The Rangers got involved in the chase of Hardin after he killed Comanche County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in 1874. After Ranger Jack Duncan located Hardin in Alabama and Florida, Ranger...

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