TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map


Columns
History/Opinion


Counties
Texas Counties


Texas Towns
A - Z


Books by
Clay Coppedge

Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

He Got Wes Hardin


by Clay Coppedge

One hot August night in 1895, John Selman, a gambler and constable in El Paso, walked into that city's Acme Saloon and shot John Wesley Hardin three times, thus putting an end to the notorious gunman's life. But a bounty hunter named John "Jack" Riley Duncan ruined Hardin's life long before Selman ended it.

Duncan was working as a Dallas policeman when Texas Ranger Captain Lee Hall made Duncan an offer he couldn't refuse. If Duncan would quit his $600 a month job rounding up drunks and feral dogs in Dallas, he could go to work for the rangers as an undercover officer and track down Hardin for a share of the record $4,000 bounty on Hardin's head-or die trying. Duncan turned in his resignation that very day.


Hardin was already the author of a dozen or more murders when he shot Brown County Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb to death in Comanche County and went on the run. The rangers figured Hardin might be hiding out in Gonzales County, where he was a major contributor to the bloody Taylor-Sutton feud (on the Taylor side) and where his in-laws lived. The rangers sent Duncan there to learn Hardin's whereabouts.

Duncan adopted the name Williams and drifted into Gonzales County as a handy man and laborer. He kept a low profile but made it a point to profess his loyalty to the people to whom Hardin pledged allegiance — and unconditional hatred for Hardin's enemies. Statements like "I wish he (Hardin) would kill all of Comanche and I would help him do it" were well received in Gonzales County.

Neal Bowen, Hardin's father-in-law, took a strong liking to the "Williams" kid, even taking him in as a boarder. Duncan took advantage by tricking Bowen into writing a letter to his son-in-law, which a trusting postmaster turned over to Duncan. The letter was addressed to a "Mr. J.H. Swain" in Pollard, Alabama and left no doubt that Swain and Hardin were one and the same.

Duncan wired veteran Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong: "Come get your horse." That was the rangers' cue to swoop into town and arrest Duncan, aka Williams, and haul him away in shackles while boasting that they now had one of Hardin's gang in custody.

Armstrong secured arrest warrants for both Hardin and Swain — a clever and lucrative bit of planning, as it turned out — and boarded a train with Duncan to Montgomery, Alabama. From there Duncan made his way to Pollard, a few miles north of the Florida border, and then to the tiny community of Whiting, where he learned that "Swain" was on a gambling trip to Pensacola, Florida.

Duncan, Armstrong, Escambia County sheriff William Henry Hutchinson and deputy A.J. Perdue captured "Swain" aboard a train bound for Pensacola on August 23, 1877. Hardin tried to fight it out, but Armstrong changed his mind by knocking the outlaw unconscious with the butt of his pistol. One of Hardin's companions was killed in the fracas and another arrested.

The Florida sheriff received $500 for his help capturing "Swain" while Armstrong and Duncan split the $4,000 reward for Hardin. The Florida lawmen were not at all happy about this.

Hardin, who spent the next 17 years in jail, was none too happy either. "He (Hardin) threatened my life a number of times," Duncan later said. "If we ever met one of us would have been killed."

Months after Hardin's capture, Duncan was still having dreams of being shot to death. He had quit the rangers and was working in Dallas as a private detective and bounty hunter in February of 1878 when a woman named Hattie Washburn, aka Hattie Bates, shot him with his own gun at the local brothel where she worked.

The bullet lodged in his right lung, forcing doctors to perform an emergency tracheotomy. The operation saved his life but forced him to use a silver tube inserted in his throat to breathe and speak. Duncan continued to work successfully as a detective and bounty hunter until the job market for bounty hunters waned and he took on more pedestrian lines of work. He died in 1911 in a car wreck, of all things, and left behind a wife and at least one child.

In a fine piece of revisionist history, a farewell tribute to Duncan in the Fort Worth Record and Register read in part: "He was wounded a number of times while engaged in this work and for the past twenty-five years wore a silver tube in his throat, through which he breathed, his windpipe having been severed by a bullet while arresting a gang of cattle rustlers."

But the inscription on the back of his tombstone gets it right: "Dallas Policeman. Texas Ranger. Private Detective. Got Wes Hardin. August 23, 1877."

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" June 16, 2021 column



Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Cooking the Books 5-16-21
  • It Was That Kind of Railroad 4-17-21
  • The Bettina Experiment 3-17-21
  • The Midnight Ride of Bob Slaughter 2-22-21
  • The Many Lives of Ray Bourbon 1-18-21

    See more »



  • Related Topics:

    People

    More
    Columns


    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    TEXAS TOWNS & COUNTIES TEXAS LANDMARKS & IMAGES TEXAS HISTORY & CULTURE TEXAS OUTDOORS MORE
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    TEXAS REGIONS:
    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Courthouses
    Jails
    Churches
    Schoolhouses
    Bridges
    Theaters
    Depots
    Rooms with a Past
    Monuments
    Statues

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Museums
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins
    Lodges
    Stores
    Banks

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Cemeteries
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Signs
    Murals
    Gargoyles
    Pitted Dates
    Cornerstones
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    WWII
    Texas Centennial
    Ghosts
    People
    Animals
    Food
    Music
    Art

    Books
    Cotton
    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps
    USA
    MEXICO
    HOTELS

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Disclaimer
    Contributors
    Staff
    Contact Us

     
    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved