Son of a Methodist preacher, John Wesley Hardin was only 15 years old when he first had a price placed on his head. Before he went to prison, upwards of 40 men had fallen to his guns, including one he shot through a hotel wall for snoring. Like many on the outlaw trail in the percussion era, Hardin usually carried more than one Colt revolver, as reloading a cap-and-ball handgun under fire was not a quick or easily completed task.
While becoming adept at handling his Colts, Hardin is said to have befriended and backed down Wild Bill Hickok, then marshal of Abilene, Kan., by demonstrating a quick reversing twist of his six-guns when asked to hand them over. But his days of dodging the law were numbered, and a 17-year stint in prison, ended by a pardon from the governor, seemed to have made John Wesley Hardin a changed man. After passing the bar, he began practicing law as an attorney in Gonzales, Texas, and later El Paso. Yet drawn back into his old ways, on Aug. 19, 1895, while drinking and playing dice with his back to the saloon door, Hardin fell to .45 slugs fired by John Selman, an officer he had argued with earlier over the arrest of his prostitute girlfriend.
Reprinted from America's 1st Freedom, Aug. 2008.