Comanche County Outlaw

The 21st Birthday of John Wesley Hardin

By: Brandon Mangan

John Wesley Hardin, Abilene, Kansas – 1871

The day of May 26th, 1874 is a day of infamy in Comanche County. It didn’t start that way. The residents of Comanche awoke with a spirit of excitement – horse races were being held northeast of town and people across the area would be traveling to witness sport and join in the festivities that come with such events.

Life for the men and women of that period demanded a certain amount of grit, for those who decided to settle the Comanche Territory it demanded it in spades. These early settlers earned the title of “briar-breakers”, arriving in 1854 to clear the brush and chisel out a place for themselves in the expansive Comanche Territory. They were on their own. The closest supplies to be had required riding nearly three hundred miles, oftentimes in yoked wagons over roads that were little more than pairs of rock and stump-strewn ruts. The Leon River would gorge itself on rains as it still does today, overflowing its banks and stranding return parties who could spend weeks contemplating their homes and families just a few miles from where they were forced to camp in wait. This was the state of affairs for nearly two decades, and the families that remained, forged deep bonds fighting to flourish in a part of this country many of us now call home. After years of tribulation from battling the native elements and people, the area began to see a great amount of growth. With the close of the Civil War there was an exodus from the more war-torn areas of the south, many of those who left their home states ended up in Texas, some in Comanche. After two decades of surviving Comanche raids the natives were rounded up and driven to reservations in 1874. This allowed the western part of the state to be settled and made Comanche one of the last bastions of civilization for those who were to venture that way. In 1873 the newly established Comanche Chief reported a town of 700, with twenty businesses to boast.

Map of Texas 1854, Author: Henry Lange, 1821-1893.

One of the families making up those early 700 were the Hardins. The family was well renowned in the state, one member signing the Texas Declaration of Independence, another serving as a member of the Texas Congress. A descendent of these men, the young Joe Hardin had moved to town in 1871. He was well received and before long did work as a lawyer, real estate agent, and eventually as postmaster. His parents soon followed suit, with many of their children in tow. Of their children the most notorious was without doubt the outlaw John Wesley Hardin. Earning the outlaw designation at young age John Wesley or “Wes” had taken many lives before ever stepping foot in Comanche. He was born in Bonham, TX in 1853. When he was 15, he was in a wrestling match with a former slave, who reportedly ambushed him the next day. Wes shot him and fled. He went on to kill three Union soldiers looking to arrest him, his family hiding their bodies in his wake. In the six short years between that time and the Comanche races, he’d killed over two dozen men (conservatively), had a run in or two with Wild Bill Hickok, and escaped custody of the Texas State Police.

May 26th was Wes Hardin’s 21st birthday and he’d arranged the races to take place on the occasion. The days leading up to the races had been filled with rumor. A Brown County deputy by the name of Charlie Webb had recently arrested the son of a Mrs. Waldrup, owner of a ranch Wes Hardin and his compatriots had spent an evening at in Logan’s Gap. Although there are differing accounts of what was said at dinner that evening, it is agreed that Mrs. Waldrup had taken issue with the deputy, and the cordial group of cowboys she was hosting took issue with him as well. In the weeks preceding the races it was whispered that Webb spoke of arresting Wes Hardin if the law in Comanche wasn’t up to the task. By the day of the races this rumor had become the notion that Webb and fifteen other deputies from Brown county had come to Comanche to arrest Wes Hardin and kill his associate Jim Taylor (who had a $500 bounty at the time).

The morning of the races Hardin, Taylor and the rest of their band were seen coming towards the square while loading shotguns, preparing for the potential gunplay to come. It had yet to commence by afternoon. Although both Webb and Hardin were present, in Hardin’s words “he didn’t make any breaks”. Hardin and his gang took the day.  His horse Rondo won the first race, his cousins horse Shiloh won the second, and Dock his brother Joe’s horse won third. It’s claimed that Wes Hardin won $3000 (what would amount to close to $60,000 today), fifty head of cattle, a wagon, and fifteen saddle horses. Not a bad take for a 21st birthday. Ready to celebrate the group raced the afternoon sun back to town, bringing ruckus and gunfire along with them.

Comanche Square, 1876

The gang caroused from one saloon to another, Hardin purportedly throwing handfuls of gold pieces to the bar, calling the patrons to come up and whet their thirst. With time the drink took its toll, tensions rose and the air became weighted with violence. Word was sent to Sheriff Carnes and he deployed deputy Frank Wilson to order Hardin and his men out of town before trouble ensued. Wilson found Hardin at the Jack Wright Saloon, where he’d called the crowd to the bar for another drink. According to Hardin he’d already called on his younger brother to prepare a horse and buggy before meeting them at the Wright Saloon, buying another drink for the crowd being a last call of sorts. Wilson walked into the saloon, telling Wes he was looking to speak to him. Hardin sauntered outside after Wilson, telling Wilson they’d gone far enough a few paces from the door. It’s said that Wilson relayed the message that Hardin should be making his way home as not to cause any trouble and reminded Hardin that it was a violation of the law to carry a pistol. Hardin threw open his coat claiming his pistol was back behind the bar – hiding the fact that another laid beneath his vest. Hardin told the deputy he would go back in for a cigar and leave as soon as his brother arrived with their homebound buggy. Before his brother could arrive and before Hardin could return to the bar for a cigar Jim Taylor stopped Hardin at the door, imploring him to go home. About that time someone exclaimed “Here comes that damned Brown County Sheriff!”

Current location of the Jack Wright Saloon

Walking up with two revolvers and the sun behind him, Webb had reportedly come to meet a friend before going to their home for dinner. When he arrived, Hardin stood at the entrance to the saloon, Jim Taylor to his left. Men began to give space between themselves and Hardin, eyes trained on the Deputy from Brown County. As Webb came within speaking distance Hardin exclaimed “Are you the sheriff of Brown County?”. Webb lifted his head a bit before placing his gaze on Hardin “No, I’m the deputy sheriff”. Hardin asked if he had papers for his arrest, which Webb replied, “I don’t even know you.” Hardin announced in a boastful voice “I’m the notorious John Wesley Hardin, the desperado, as people call me. I’m considered an outlaw, but I always carry the documents to protect myself”.  Hardin, seeing Webb’s hands behind his back asked what Webb was carrying. Webb produced a cigar, as Hardin went on “I’ve been told that you said Sheriff Carnes was no sheriff or he wouldn’t allow me to stay around Comanche with my murdering pals.” Webb refuted the statement, claiming he was not the sheriff, nor was he responsible for what the sheriff or the people of Brown county had said. Accounts differ, but it’s clear that John Wesley Hardin was gunning for his type of excitement. On both accounts Webb drew first, his and Hardin’s bullets being hard to distinguish. When the firing was over Hardin was wounded in the leg, and Webb lay dead with a bullet in his cheek. He was said to be his 40th victim.

Reports claim that Webb had recently procured a new pistol, equipped with a hair-trigger. It’s assumed he fired early, misjudging the action of his gun and causing his shot to place low. The story may have ended here had the man grown accustomed to his arms. With that said, John Wesley Hardin was famous for the quickness of his draw and the preciseness of his gun play. In 1877, while a captive of the Texas Rangers, he was given a pair of empty Colts to show his prowess. A Ranger remarked he “handled the guns as a sleight-of-hand performer manipulates a coin. The quick draw, the spin, the rolls, the pinwheeling, border shift – he did them all with magical precision.” He kept his pistols holstered with the butts facing out, crossing his arms to draw. He swore this to be the fastest way to draw, and history does much to justify his opinion.

A .41 Long Colt Double Action “Thunderer” Hardin owned, sold at auction for $100,000.

 Hardin and his associates backed towards the Saloon, Hardin calling his gang to fill up the pistols and hold the house. Men rushed to the square, one of them being Sheriff Carnes. The Sheriff had a bum pistol and was on his way to the smith when the fighting broke out. Brandishing a weapon about as lethal as a paperweight he trudged forward to apprehend two of the most violent men in the state. When he approached, he demanded Hardin’s pistol, which he gave. Deputies had relieved Taylor and many of the other members of Hardin’s bunch as they exited the building. As the Sheriff went to search the last of the stragglers, he threw his gun to the ground, with only Hardin’s in hand. Hardin, knowing his pistol was empty quickly retrieved two more from his vest, retreating into the saloon with Jim and the rest of his cohort. Many of the men had only relieved themselves of their primary weapons, as when they exited the saloon, they seemed more armed than when they went in. Cries of the murder were echoing through the square; a lynch mob was already forming. Between the shouting and the crowd outside fighting to gain entry the men in the saloon had to think quickly. They decided to make their break out the side door, making it across the street and mounting a group of hitched horses before a shot could be put to them.

The Sheriff fought to maintain order but was overwhelmed. The chase began, only to be cut short when men realized the insufficiency of their arms. Hardin made it to his father’s, where he met with his brother and Sheriff Carnes. In fear of the mob Hardin decided to make tracks to nearby Round Mountain, about eight miles west of Comanche.

Round Mountain – 2019

From this point on John Wesley Hardin was pursued relentlessly.

Upon learning of the hanging of his brother and other kin he returned to Comanche to enact his vengeance, only to turn back in what may have been a small bit of wisdom. He was finally tracked down in Florida, three years later. From there he was transported back to Comanche to be tried for the murder of Charles Webb. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison on September 28th, 1878.  After many failed attempts at escape he adapted to prison life, becoming the superintendent of the Sunday School and studying law.

He was pardoned in 1894 and admitted to the bar. A little more than a year later he found his fate behind the gun, when he was killed at age 42 by Constable John Selman in El Paso. He is buried in El Paso, at the Concordia Cemetery.

John Wesley Hardin’s Grave, Photo by Leo Miletich 2014

For additional reading look to John Wesley Hardin’s autobiography, as well as Mollie Moore Godbold’s articles in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, titled “Comanche and the Hardin Gang”.

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A Little White House Bed and Breakfast

Alittlewhitehouse is a bed and breakfast located at 916 E Reynosa Ave. in De Leon, Texas. It is currently owned by Carrie Morris. The house was originally built in the 1930s by Mr. and Mrs.Sloan who later sold the house to Robert and Faye Howard, Carrie’s grandparents,  in 1967. The house has remained in the family since then but has been renovated and fully restored in the last few years to give it an antique French country vibe. It has three main bedrooms, one bathroom, a kitchen, a laundry room, two sitting porches, and is fully furnished. Furthermore, Alittlewhitehouse provides complimentary bicycles for residents to use in order to explore downtown De Leon and enjoy the laid-back small-town lifestyle. Additionally, it has a pack and play for guest’s children upon request.

Alittlewhitehouse can comfortably sleep six people and more sleeping accommodations can be provided if needed. The cost to stay per night is $165.00 or $185.00 including breakfast. There is a two-night minimum stay on holidays and cancellations can be made up to seven days before your reservation for a full refund. With that being said, Carrie invites you to “come on down and pop open the screen door, enjoy the porch, and drink lots of ice tea while you are here. That’s how her granny liked it!” To make reservations call (254) 979-4670.

Woven Roots

**Mention this website and receive 5% off your purchase of any kitchen, bath, or body care items. **

If you are looking to do a bit of shopping while visiting Comanche County, TX, look no further! Woven Roots is an adorable boutique and home goods store located at 111 N. Houston St Comanche, Texas (on the historic square.) The owners, Jennifer Cisneroz and her daughter, Micah Taylor,  just celebrated their grand opening on March 9, 2019. They invite you to come on down, “to treat yourself to a heartwarming shopping experience. Where you can find a little something for everyone!” The store is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 A.M. until 5:30 P.M. and on Saturdays from 9:30 A.M. until 3:00 P.M. They are closed on Sunday and Monday. Woven Roots sells children’s clothes ranging from infant sizes all the way up to a 5T. Additionally, they have men and women’s clothing, shoes, gifts, kitchen goods, home decor, handcrafted furniture, and inspirational calligraphy signs from right here in Comanche, Texas. Currently, they have a 5.0 out of 5.0 rating on their Facebook page which can be reached at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/wovenrootsretail/.

Furthermore, they do free gift wrappings with the purchase and are described as having “very reasonable prices.” Overall, their goal is to “provide their customers with a welcoming atmosphere where they feel like family from the minute they walk through the front door.”  Mention this website and receive 5% off your purchase of any kitchen, bath, or body care items.

Shuga Pops

**SAVE 10% OFF YOUR PURCHASE AT SHUGA POPS IF YOU MENTION THIS WEBSITE**

This gourmet popcorn and vintage candy shop was recently established on October 1, 2018, by Beth Whitsell and her family. Their motto is, “You are what you eat, so eat some sweets” which is absolutely perfect considering all the sweet treats they sell. The store is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. and then on Saturday from 10:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M. They serve a variety of candies which includes vintage wax soda bottles, gummy pizza, rainforest frogs, jumbo jawbreakers, Lego brick candy, and a unique hard candy called dog food in addition to a variety of other types of candies. They also sell glass bottled soda in flavors ranging from coke and Dr. Pepper to more exotic flavors like Route Beer 66, Kiddy Piddle, and my personal favorite, Unicorn Yack. Furthermore, Shuga Pop’s pride and joy is their popcorn. It comes in a variety of different flavors and sizes. For instance, you can buy a Dilly Squat for $1 which is 1 ½ cups, a Just a Dab for $2.15 which is 3 cups, a Gimme for $4.25 which is 6 cups, a Lil Sumpin’ for $7.80 which is 11 ½ cups, a Kinfolk for $13.50 which is 19 cups, a Hankerin for $17.30 which is 28 ½ cups, a Bucketful for $19.40 which is 38 cups, and finally a Humdinger for $26.35 which is a whopping 85 ½ cups of popcorn. They can also color and flavor it different things like movie theater style, white cheddar, salt, and cheddar, to more exotic flavors like Texas Chilli, BBQ Bacon, and Ranch. At Easter one of their best sellers was Bunny Bait which was a combination of flavors and colors. Their goal is to have different specials like that for every holiday and special occasion. With that being said, this store has something for everyone. I highly encourage you to stop by if you ever find yourself passing through downtown De Leon or driving around the area on a beautiful day to take a look at historical markers in the county. If you mention this website to them, you will receive a 10% discount off your purchase. You can also contact them by phone at 254-893-2676. Be sure to stop by the Terrill Car Museum as well!

The Hidden Penny Grave Off Sipe Springs

Not much is known about this mysterious spot, but if you live in the surrounding area of Comanche Country, more than likely you’ve heard the legend of the Penny Grave.

Located off of FM 1477, you can check this one out for yourself at all times of the year. A marker labeled with “grave of little girl, age 3, 1870s” can be found with a few others, but more than likely you will find gifts fit for a toddler girl laid out on top of these markers.

Many stories can be speculated as to how this grave marker came about. One is that a family was traveling west when their daughter fell off the back and died instantly from head injuries. Another says that cause of death was that the child died from illness. The family had decided to bury their daughter there either way. However, this was a too common scenario for this time period. Typically, when families were in travel as this one was, the best they could do was bury the child and mark the grave with a cross made of sticks or stones.

The story, interesting enough, continues. Why would this grave be remembered if this was a too common thing? It’s apparently because the family took refuge for the night nearby in a cabin owned by some locals. When the mother of the child expressed concern for no one watching over her grave, the lady in charge promised to look over it. Whether this is true, who knows? However, it makes for an extremely touching story that holds true to what still stands today.

So take the time to check it out! Make a date of it or a exploration with siblings. See what others have left, and maybe leave something yourself! Any money that is left is collected and donated to the local fire station-so don’t worry about that.

References:

http://texasplacesandfaces.com/places/graveSS.htm
https://tpwmagazine.com/archive/2003/nov/legend/

The History Of The Peach And Melon Festival

The Peach and Melon Festival By: Sierra Dyson

           Originally called the Free Fall Fair, the Peach and Melon Festival takes place in De Leon, Texas, a small town located in Comanche County, the first full week in August. The festival originally began in 1914 only a month after the start of World War 1 as a way to celebrate the town’s cotton, peanut, and watermelon harvest. The festival has grown tremendously over the past one hundred years since it began and has slowly evolved into what is now known as the Peach and Melon Festival. The name change is due to the vast amounts of peaches and watermelons that local farmers have continued to grow year after year and donate to the event.  The festival boasts a variety of different activities for locals and visitors to be a part of if they so choose. The week kicks off with a carnival that is set up in a field on the edge of town complete with its own Big Top Fun House, Ferris wheel, Tilt-a-whirl, Zipper, and other rides that run all week starting at 5 p.m. During that time span, the town also holds a pageant where young women from the area can run for the honor of becoming Miss De Leon and the Peach and Melon Festival Queen. The winner of the pageant gets to ride on a float and represent the town for a whole year at various events held throughout the surrounding counties. Additionally, there is a parade on Wednesday night where spectators can see beautiful floats from nearby areas go by as well as antique cars, bands, trick riders on their horses, and so much more all for their viewing pleasure. Afterward, spectators can walk over to the First Baptist Church parking lot to have free peach tea, peach ice cream, and peach cobbler all while listening to local musicians play their music on a stage set up nearby. Other activities that are held throughout the week that people can attend is the watermelon slicing, seed spitting contest, spaghetti luncheon, watermelon crawl (5K run), a 42 tournament, Texas swing dance, Spanish dance, Karaoke night, and finally a huge tractor pull which has the largest consecutively running pulls in Texas, featuring dual tracks. The festival ends with Golden Saturday, an event where all of downtown De Leon is closed off and vendors set up their food trailers, crafts, jewelry booths, and other things of that nature for people to look at and buy. It is basically a huge trade fair where children can get their faced painted and play games while their parents shop around and try all kinds of yummy treats. Today, people from all over Texas come to enjoy everything this week long festival has to offer. With that being said, I highly encourage you and your family to come to De Leon to see this cute little festival for yourself the first full week in August, you won’t regret it.