9 Wild West Outlaws Who Wreaked Havoc Across The American Frontier

Published September 5, 2022

The Infamous Gunslinger John Wesley Hardin

Wild West Outlaw John Wesley Hardin

Public DomainJohn Wesley Hardin lived a life of crime, but briefly became a lawyer before a policeman shot him dead.

Unlike other Wild West outlaws, who pursued a life of crime out of desperation or greed, John Wesley Hardin simply seemed to have a taste for violence. By his own account, he killed 44 men before his death in 1895.

Born in Texas on May 26, 1853, Hardin displayed violent tendencies from a young age. According to Old West, he attacked a fellow classmate while he was still a boy, nearly stabbing him to death after fighting over a girl. At age 15, Hardin killed a Black freedman named “Maje,” because, according to a Freedmen’s Bureau Agent, Maje had dared object to Hardin’s abuse.

Hardin saw things differently. From a Confederate family, he later sneered that his subsequent flight from the law was “not from justice, but from the injustice and misrule of the people who had subjugated the South,” during the post-Civil War Reconstruction, according to Bloodletters and Badmen.

But Hardin never seemed interested in justice. As time went on, he bounced from place to place, working as a cattle hand, gambling in saloons, and racking up his body count. According to Old West, he once even shot a man because he was snoring too loudly. Hardin bragged: “They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain’t true. I only killed one man for snoring.”

John Wesley Hardin's Death

Bettmann/Getty ImagesJohn Wesley Hardin after he was shot and killed in a saloon.

Despite serving 14 years in prison for murder and then briefly pursuing a career as a lawyer after his release, Hardin died as he had lived.

As History reports, Hardin became enraged when a local lawman named John Selman arrested his girlfriend for illegally carrying guns within the city limits of El Paso, Texas. Hardin badmouthed and threatened Selman all over town — and Selman found out. He decided to act before Hardin could.

On August 19, 1895, Selman found Hardin playing dice in Acme Saloon. Just after the Wild West outlaw uttered his alleged last words — “Four sixes to beat, Henry” — the policeman shot him in the back of the head.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.