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