David Holderman to Coke, September 7, 1874

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John Wesley Hardin was one of the most famous and deadly outlaws of Texas. Born in Bonham in 1853, Hardin was 15 when he killed his first man, a black man with whom he had a casual argument. Within a year he had killed four Union soldiers. In 1871, Hardin went on the Chisholm Trail as a cowboy, killing seven people on the trail and three when he got to Abilene, Kansas. There he allegedly backed down city marshall Wild Bill Hickock. He returned to Texas, where he killed at least four more times before turning himself in to the sheriff in Cherokee County in September 1872.

Hardin broke out of jail the following month and joined in the bloody Sutton-Taylor feud in southeast Texas. In May 1874, he killed Charles Webb, the deputy sheriff of Brown County. This letter from a grieving father details some of the lawlessness that characterized life during this era.

Hardin killed as many as six more people before the Texas Rangers captured him in Pensacola, Florida on July 23, 1877. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Hardin was pardoned in 1894 after officials were impressed by his seemingly sincere efforts at reform (see Texas Treasures for Hardin's restoration of citizenship). However, Hardin didn't stay straight for long. He moved to El Paso, began a love affair, and then arranged to murder his lover's husband. On August 19, 1895, Hardin was shot down by one of his own hired killers, probably for failure to pay.

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Holderman to Coke, page 1

September 7th, 1874

Richard Coke


Governor of the State of Texas

Dear Sir On or about the 13th day of June


A.D. 1873, Edmund J. Davis Governor of


the State of Texas offered a reward of $600 for the arrest and


conviction of one Brown Bowen who murdered


my Sun Thomas Holderman on the 17th day of December


1872 and was indicted for the same and incarcerated


in the County Jail at Gonzales for the same


and was broken out of jail by the John Wesley Hardin


Party, and is now at large and beyond the


limits of the State of Texas in adition to the reward


offered for my Sun Thomas Holderman by E.J. Davis


Governor they is 2 other inditements for the murder


of one Philips. of Gonzales co. and also for the


murder of one Freedeman by the name Rob. Taylor


also of Gonzales County which was all wilful murder.


I also state that Brown Bowen is a Brother-in-Law


to John Wesley Hardin and his gang of desporados -


and I further state that the said Hardin was implicated


in the murder of my Sun Thomas Holderman. Such


is in the proof of the same and I Ernestly request for


Humanity Sake and the vindication of the law


would ask that you offer offer a Suitable Reward for

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David Holderman to Coke, September 7, 1874, Records of Richard Coke, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Page last modified: March 30, 2011