Here is more Comanche County History for your reading pleasure…
By: Brandon Mangan
Most who come upon it know that the name Comanche comes from
the tribe of natives who once occupied the land, although few would be able to
tell you just where the name Comanche comes from. In a town full of so many
friendly faces it comes to be a bit ironic that the name comes from the Ute
tribes word “kimantsi”, which translates to “enemy” or “stranger” (the former
word being what the Comanches were to the Ute’s for many years). The Comanche
tribe called themselves “numinu”, their word for people.
This museum boasts over 30,000 square feet of history, featuring artifacts ranging back over 150 years. The staff at the museum has worked tirelessly to categorize the areas rich history, with rooms dedicated to historical periods, military heroes, and the communities that makeup the county.
As soon as you walk through the front entrance there are relics to examine, from blacksmithing tools and farm implements to an old Model T. This front open-air addition also features a Barber Shop scene before leading into a large and air-conditioned (important in the Texas heat) main building.
Central Room of Comanche County Museum
Here you will find a giftshop, as well as a welcoming and informative staff. It quickly becomes apparent how much work has been put into making this counties history more accessible. This is a place to be experienced, and worth an article on its own. In the photo above you can see the massive flint display, featuring arrowheads of all shapes and sizes, spearheads, atlatl projectiles and myriad native tools (some you can even touch!).
John Wesley Hardin
There’s a room dedicated to the scene of the infamous John Wesley Hardin and his murder of Brown County Deputy John Webb (of which there’s an article about on this site). There are also books about the events surrounding the murder, as well as a wall of photos and paintings of the men involved. The staircase from the courthouse where the case was heard is also found in the museum. Outside you’ll find the base of the oak tree his brother and kin were hanged from in the aftermath of the shooting.
You’ll also find dioramas of the Jack Wright Saloon and a Native American campsite. There’s a room dedicated to saluting our veterans, with uniforms from bygone eras as well as weapons and stories of the veterans that called Comanche County home. There’s a room featuring vintage doll houses, as well as many rooms explaining the histories of the many communities in the area. Geodes and petrified wood pair with an exhibit detailing the life of famed geologist Robert T. Hill.
There are multiple attractions on the grounds of the museum, including an explorable 19th century log and stone cabin. Plans are in the works for an outside exhibit showcasing a few of the wooden bridges that once served the county, along with a butterfly garden. With so much to explore you owe it to yourself to visit this slice of Texas history, guaranteed that when you do, you’ll find much to experience and the friendliest of people. The museum is free to visit but I’d encourage you to buy a memento and maybe leave a donation, that way we can keep the history alive. For more information visit https://www.comanchecountytxmuseum.com/.
The Fleming Oak, Comanche Square 2019
Heading back into town from the museum you’ll find the city square. The square is steeped in Texas history. You’ll find nearly a dozen historical markers, the oldest log-cabin courthouse in Texas, a guided audio tour, as well as memorials to veterans of law enforcement and war. The oak in the photo above is the Fleming Oak, a storied tree that’s been preserved through care and sheer shotgun stubbornness.
In the areas adjacent to the new and old courthouse you’ll find a guide to the many attractions in the city, as well as many shops and highly regarded restaurants. Many of these establishments rest in buildings that have served the community for over a century, with many stories to be told. It’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon and evening.
The Comanche County Museum is located at 402 Morman Road in Comanche, Texas. The museum’s start actually began with the Comanche County Historical Society which was created in 1973 with the specific purpose of building a museum for the surrounding area in order to preserve its history. The council inspired Jow Maxwell, a local tax consultant and attorney, to donated 3.2 acres of land to them to use to build the museum on in June of 1975. Locals then spent three years gathering artifacts to display in the museum, which officially opened to the public in October of 1978. Originally, the museum had one large room and five side attractions set up. Today, however, the museum boasts fifteen different rooms dedicated to preserving the history of the county. For example, there is a John Wesley Hardin themed room, a Robert Thomas Hill room, an antique doll room, a veteran salute, and many other rooms open for viewing. Additionally, there is a blacksmith area, a workshop, supply room, and office visitors can look at as well. Overall, the museum strives to fulfill their mission statement by, “Preserving history, heritage, and artifacts to honor the hardships, challenges, and triumphs of our Comanche County Founders and pass on this history, knowledge, and legacy to current and future generations.”
With that being said, the Comanche County Museum invites you and your friends to come on down and see everything they have to offer. They are open Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM and by special appointment. The cost to attend is by donation only. For more information call 325-356-5115.
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 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
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
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 (linked below,) as well as Mollie Moore Godbold’s articles in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, titled “Comanche and the Hardin Gang”.