John Wesley Hardin was one of the most violent Wild West outlaws in the violent and notorious 1870s and 1880s.
He claimed to have killed over 40 men by age 25, when he went to prison (in 1878) — that’s a lot of killin’ in just ten years, especially for the son of a preacher who was named after John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church — but news accounts and law enforcement could only confirm about half of those.
Either way, still a lot of killin’.
He arrived in Abilene on the first of June 1871 and somehow became friendly with lawman Wild Bill Hickock. One classic story from his short stay there:
During his stay in Abilene, Hardin rented a room at the American House Hotel. One night, a stranger in the next room began to snore loudly. Hardin became so annoyed that he began firing bullets through the wall to quiet him. The first bullet was high, and it merely woke the man. The second bullet silenced the unsuspecting stranger permanently.
Hardin realized that his friendship with Hickok would not save him. “I believed,” Hardin later said, “that if Wild Bill found me in a defenseless condition, he would take no explanation, but would kill me to add to his reputation.” Wearing only his undershirt, Hardin escaped through the hotel window and jumped down to the street. He spent the night hiding in a haystack, stole a horse at dawn, and returned to the cow camp. The next day he left for Texas, never to set foot in Abilene again.
About that he allegedly said this:
“They tell lots of lies about me,” he complained. “They say I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain’t true, I only killed one man for snoring.”
While serving a 25 year term in prison he studied law and wrote an autobiography.