John Wesley Hardin’s Last Hand At The Acme Saloon
By Tom Murphy
John Wesley Hardin was a villain of the first water. Born near the dusty railroad town of Bonham, Texas, son of a preacher man, he was in trouble with the law from grade school, where he tried to separate another student, Charles Sloter, from his liver — with a large carving knife.
From there, things went from bad to worse. In November of 1868, 15-year-old John fired five rounds from his Colt cap and ball revolver into Maje Holshousen, who died three days later. He then waylaid three Union soldiers sent to bring him to trial. So began his career on the run.
The following years aged him without mellowing him in the least. He ended up in Pisgah, Texas where he briefly taught school, and amused himself by shooting the eye out of an acquaintance in order to win a bottle of whiskey. Not a very nice person, our boy John. His life continued in like manner until he was arrested for the murder of Waco, Texas Marshal Laban Hoffman. Only 17 at the time, he managed to acquire a revolver from another prisoner and shot Officer Jim Smalley while making his escape.
Later life found him in Abilene in 1871, where he went by the alias “Little Arkansaw.” There he had the fortune, or should it be misfortune, to run into James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. Fortune prevailed and neither shot the other. Rather, Hardin took pleasure in being seen in company with such a celebrated gunfighter.
Later that year, he took offense at a Charles Couger who was staying in the American House Hotel in a room next to Hardin. Loud snoring seemed to be the chief complaint. Several pieces of lead through the adjoining wall seemed to be the solution. Couger was killed instantly with a bullet to the head.
John was arrested on August 23, 1877, for murder. He served 15 years in Huntsville prison where he studied law and passed the bar. He eventually settled in El Paso, where he made more of a legend of himself by shooting .45-caliber holes in his business cards and playing cards. He also began hitting the bottle very heavily while holding down the bar in the Acme Saloon.
Along about midnight, August 19,1895, Constable John Selman entered the Acme. There was bad blood between him and Hardin and Selman wasn’t known to ever back away from a fight. Selman walked up behind Hardin and tapped off a round into the back of John Wesley Hardin’s head, killing him instantly.
As the story goes, the bullet exited Hardin’s left eye and continued on to the back bar mirror, shattering it, and falling into a shot glass. A few years ago, the bullet was auctioned by Greg Martin and Associates for the princely sum of $80,000. Did the shot glass come with it?
When John Selman killed Hardin in the Acme Saloon, Hardin was armed with a Colt .38 Lightning
similar to this 1877 model. He was also known to carry a .41 Colt Thunderer.
Photo: John Taffin
Hardin would shoot playing cards, sign them, and hand them out as souvenirs. Photo: Goldberg Coins