August 23

This Day in History

Old West

Aug 23, 1877:

Texas Rangers arrest John Wesley Hardin

Texas Ranger John Armstrong arrests John Wesley Hardin in a Florida rail car, returning the outlaw to Texas to stand trial for murder.

Three years earlier, Hardin had killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in a small town near Austin, Texas. Webb's murder was one in a long series of killings committed by the famous outlaw-the 39th by Hardin's own count. Killing a lawman, however, was an especially serious offense. The famous Texas Rangers were determined to bring Hardin to justice.

For three years, Hardin was able to elude the Rangers. Moving between Florida and Alabama, he adopted an alias and kept a low profile. Nonetheless, the Rangers eventually unmasked his secret identity and dispatched John Armstrong to track him down in Florida.

On this day in 1877, Armstrong, acting on a tip, spotted Hardin in the smoking car of a train stopped at the Pensacola station. Armstrong stationed local deputies at both ends of the car, and the men burst in with guns drawn. Caught by surprise, Hardin nonetheless reacted quickly and reached for the gun holstered under his jacket. The pistol caught in Hardin's fancy suspenders, giving the lawmen the crucial few seconds they needed and probably saving Hardin's life--instead of shooting him, Armstrong clubbed Hardin with his long-barreled .45 pistol.

Technically, the Texas Rangers had no authority in Florida, so they spirited Hardin back to Texas on the next train. Tried in Austin, a jury found Hardin guilty of killing Sheriff Webb and sentenced him to life in the Texas state prison at Huntsville. He served 15 years before the governor pardoned him. Released in 1894, an El Paso policeman killed him the following year.

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