history of the Buckhorn, however, is easier to trace. Founded in
1881 by Albert Friedrich, it became a San
Antonio institution largely on the basis of its innovative business
model: Anyone brining in a set of deer antlers could trade them
for a shot of whiskey or a cold beer. Later, Friedrich began to
take other items in trade, including firearms.
His saloon prospered. By the time prohibition came along, the place
had become as much a museum and curio shop as saloon, so he survived
the dry days as well as the Great Depression.
In 1956, Lone Star Beer bought the saloon and moved the horns and
other relics to its brewery. Lone Star operated the Buckhorn until
Stroh’s Beer acquired the company in 1998. To keep the collection
in San Antonio, Friedrich’s
granddaughter and her husband bought it and reopened the Buckhorn
at 318 E. Houston St. only a few blocks from it original location.
of the items reacquired by the Friedrich family was the shotgun
George discovered when hired to run the Buckhorn.
The faded piece of paper attached to the old scattergun did offer
a major clue, but it did not tell the whole story. It read:
“This gun belonged to John Wesley Hardin and was used by him to
kill the Sheriff of DeWitt
“He later gave the gun to Sheriff J.C. Jones of Gonzales
County who killed several men with it in the interest of law
O.D. Mangum of Victoria
somehow came into possession of the shotgun and in 1937 conveyed
it to the Buckhorn.
The label writer, probably Friedrich, did not think it necessary
to note that Hardin reigned as Texas’ most prolific 19th century
outlaw, killing 44 or so men before being sentenced to 25 years
in prison in 1878. Pardoned in 1894, Hardin made it only 17 months
before constable John Selman gunned him down in an El
Paso saloon on Aug. 19, 1895.
Hardin had owned the shotgun, as George explained, “the surprise
was finding out that the sheriff of DeWitt
County was Jack Helm, the most notorious of the men who had
served in the State Police of the early 1870s. I realized this as
I was sitting in my office reading Hardin's autobiography.”
In that book, published not long after his violent demise, Hardin
gave his version of his career, including the killing of Helm. The
book also features an artist’s drawing of Hardin shooting the 12-gauge
at the sheriff. Hardin seems to have been born mean, but when he
picked a wife, he borrowed more trouble by marrying into Texas’
bloodiest feud, the Sutton-Taylor vendetta. Jane Bowen Hardin
belonged to the Taylor family while Helm – appointed DeWitt
County sheriff after the abolition of the State Police in April
1873 -- played a prominent role on the Sutton side.
To give a killer his due, Hardin desired to stay out of the feud.
But he was a wanted man living in the jurisdiction of Helm. Not
long after becoming sheriff, Helm ran into Hardin and offered him
a deal: Side with the Suttons and he would look the other way on
the criminal charge pending against him.
Helm gave Hardin a while to think it over, but before that time
elapsed, he and a posse of pro-Sutton riders surrounded Hardin’s
house one day while he was away and demanded to know his whereabouts.
Hardin’s terrified wife refused to say.
When Hardin returned to find his pregnant wife upset, rather than
make the choice demanded by Helm he came up with his own plan.
Armed with the double barrel, Hardin confronted Helm outside a blacksmith
shop in the small Wilson
County town of Albuquerque.
For backup he brought along fellow feudist Jim Taylor, who toted
a six-shooter. Though accounts of what happened vary, the result
is not disputed.
Helm “fell,” as Hardin later wrote, “with 12 buckshot in his breast
and several six-shooter balls in his head.” The sheriff had the
honor being Hardin’s 31st victim.
When some of Helms’ allies threatened Hardin and Taylor, Hardin
trained the shotgun on them. The men backed off and Hardin and Taylor
“The news soon spread that I had killed Jack Helms,” Hardin wrote.
“I received many letters of thanks from the widows of men whom he
had cruelly put to death. Many of the best citizens of Gonzales
and DeWitt counties
patted me on the back and told me that was the best act of my life.”
Alas, good deeds seldom go unpunished. When Hardin gunned down a
deputy sheriff and former Texas Ranger in Comanche
County in 1874, he left Texas.
Sometime before going on the lam he gave the shotgun to Jones, later
(Nov. 2, 1880) elected sheriff of Gonzales
County. Three years later a ranger caught up with Hardin in
Florida and soon he languished in jail pending trial.
More than a century-and-a-quarter later, George sent the Hardin
shotgun off for restoration. Now, spiffed up and lethal looking,
it’s on display behind glass at the Buckhorn.
But there’s one more mystery. No one knows exactly when Hardin used
the shotgun to kill Helm. Hardin remembered the date as May 17,
1873, but contemporary newspapers, while not being precise, indicate
the shooting occurred in the third week of July that year.
© Mike Cox
27, 2008 column