David Holderman to Coke, September 7, 1874
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.
September 7th, 1874
Dear Sir On or about the 13th day of June
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.