On this day in 1877, Texas Ranger John Armstrong arrests John Wesley Hardin in a Florida rail car. Hardin was one of the most notorious outlaws of his time. Armstrong later returned the notorious Hardin to Texas to stand trial for a murder.
Some years earlier Hardin had killed a Deputy Sheriff near Austin, Texas. Webb’s murder was one in a long series of murders committed by Hardin. He claimed to have killed 39, although this has not been independently verified. Killing a lawman, however, was an especially serious offense and it meant that the authorities were determined to bring him to justice. The famous Texas Rangers were determined to bring Hardin to justice. They had been formed to bring law and order to Texas in the 1850s and they had brought to justice many outlaws.
For three years, Hardin was able to elude the Rangers. He hid first in Alabama and later went to Florida. He changed his name and even took to wearing a disguise, but he still kept his gun, ready for anyone who tried to capture him. Nonetheless, the Rangers eventually discovered him and they sent one of their best men, John Armstrong to track him down in Florida and bring him back to Texas.
On this date in 1877, Armstrong spotted Hardin in the smoking car of a train. An informant had told him where he would find Hardin. The train had pulled in at the Pensacola station and people were boarding it. Armstrong, was being helped by local law enforcement and he had some local deputies placed at both ends of the car, and the men burst in with guns drawn. Hardin was caught by surprise but he was quick on the draw as usual. But then something almost comical happened!
The gun caught in Hardin’s fashionable suspenders that were holding up his pants. The lawmen were lucky because Hardin was a dead shot. The lawmen had the crucial few seconds they needed and probably saving Hardin’s life–instead of shooting him, Armstrong clubbed Hardin to the floor and he was soon in handcuffs.
Technically, the Texas Rangers had no authority in Florida.Nevertheless, the local lawmen helped the Texas Ranger. Secretly the Ranger with the help of the local lawmen took Hardin back to Texas on the next train. Hardin was kept in chains.
At the trial in Austin, Texas, a jury found Hardin guilty of killing Sheriff Webb and sentenced him to life in the Texas state prison at Huntsville.
Hardin served fifteen years in jail before the governor pardoned him. Released in 1894, he did not enjoy his freedom long, he was killed by a sheriff in El Paso while he was drunk. Few mourned his passing.