The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 699
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sional historians toward an important segment of American history is a sad com-
mentary. The publication of these letters, most of which were written by John Wes-
ley Hardin while he was incarcerated in the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville
from 1878 to 1894, are revealing and have been little used by the biographers of
Hardin. Of all the infamous killers in the post-Civil War era, this son of a
Methodist preacher, who is the subject of the 281 letters presented here, also
penned an autobiography. Many of the gunslingers were basically illiterate so
Hardin is unique in the literacy department.
The Stamps are to be commended for transcribing these letters and providing
headnotes. But their purpose in doing so is certainly questionable. They seem to
have become interested in Hardin through an ancestor involved in the lynching
of Jim Miller, who was related to John Wesley through marriage. But sadly, their
historical context is distorted and simply wrong. They dedicate their book "to the
descendants of the Texans who suffered (italics mine) during Reconstruction, the
tragic era after the Civil War." In short, we have been transported back to neo-
Confederate interpretations of the Reconstruction period which are fifty years out
of date. In addition, they have Governor E.J. Davis being appointed after the war,
and "along with the dreaded State Police, he rode roughshod over the southern
people" (p. xi).
Their "brief look" at Hardin is nothing short of a disaster. One cannot simply
accept at face value Hardin's explanation for his exploits, political views, or even
the number of men he slew, given his extreme distaste for the former slaves. As
the letters make abundantly clear, Hardin never accepted responsibility for his ac-
tions, generally claimed self-defense in his killings, and obviously "sucked-up" to
the Democrats in order that he receive a pardon from Governor James S. Hogg.
Moreover, he attempted to justify some of the actions of his family, for example
his brotherJoe in Comanche. There, the latter was hanged by an angry mob of cit-
izens and John Wesley Hardin lived in utter fear of this same fate for the remain-
der of his life. In short, the Hardins were arrogant beyond the point of admitting
Hardin earned his reputation (basically between 1868 and 1874) during the
turbulent era following the Civil War when political turmoil reigned. Many times
he was viewed as a hero because of his attacks upon members of the United States
Army, the State and Special Policemen established by Governor Davis, or other lo-
cal and county law enforcement personnel. Hardin had often violated the law and
these individuals were engaged in constant pursuit to arrest and convict him of his
many crimes. If one accepts the Stamps interpretation of his life, then what is en-
visioned is some kind of vast conspiracy of all those despised officials tied to the
Reconstruction process, who sought to imprison Hardin for imaginary crimes.
The truth of the matter is that Hardin committed numerous illegal acts and de-
served to be incarcerated.
The Stamps have simply transcribed the letters with little or no editing. It is ob-
vious that they have little experience with original documents and how to process
them. Some serious intervention in the letters with punctuation and other marks
was imperative. Nevertheless, this cache of correspondence is relevant, the
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/755/: accessed September 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.