5 Deadly Gunfighters of the Old West

William H. Bonney, aka "Billy the Kid." The Famous People

Just mentioning the words “The Old West” conjures up images of gunslingers, outlaws, and lawmen battling for territory and honor on dusty streets in towns throughout the American frontier. Men headed west during the 1800s in search of riches and fame . Many of them lived short, violent lives and ended up on the wrong side of a revolver. This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but is just a taste of some of the deadliest gunslingers who roamed the Wild West, leaving a trail of bloodshed and bodies behind them.

John Wesley Hardin

John Wesley Hardin was truly one of the most feared gunfighters of the Old West, killing dozens of men during his reign of terror. Hardin was born in Bonham, Texas in 1853. His father was a Methodist preacher, and the Hardin family traveled frequently throughout Texas before settling in southeast Texas in 1859.

John Wesley Hardin. True West Magazine

Hardin’s father established a school where the family settled, but just because he was the schoolmaster’s son, he didn’t stay out of trouble. When he was only 14-years-old, Hardin stabbed and nearly killed a classmate over a minor disagreement. The next, year, 15-year-old Hardin committed his first murder, shooting his uncle’s former slave to death. Hardin claims he then murdered three Union troops sent to arrest him, putting his body count at four before he even turned 16.

Hardin went on the run, well aware that he would probably hang for killing soldiers. Hardin roamed throughout Texas, killing anyone who got in his way. It’s rumored that he once shot a man’s eye out over a bet to win a bottle of whiskey. Hardin’s luck ran out for the first time when he was arrested in 1871 for the murder of a Waco city marshal. He was on the loose once again when he killed one of the men charged with returning him to face trial in Waco. John Wesley Hardin was still only 17-years-old at this point.

Following the advice of his cousins, Hardin ventured to Kansas to find work driving cattle. Although the newly converted cowboy did drive cattle, he also found time to kill anyone he had a disagreement with, whether over a card game or keeping cattle herds separated. On August 6, 1871, Hardin killed a man in Kansas for snoring too loud at a hotel.

From 1871 until 1877, Hardin led a murderous existence, disposing of men throughout Texas who he didn’t see eye to eye with. He was finally captured by authorities on August 24, 1877 on a train in Pensacola, Florida. Hardin stood trial for one murder (out of the many he had committed) and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in Texas. He served 17 years of his sentence and was released in 1894. Hardin studied law in prison, and, amazingly, passed the Texas bar exam and was certified to practice law in July 1894. He relocated to El Paso, which is where he met his demise. In August 1895, Hardin was shot and killed in a saloon by a man he had argued with earlier in the day. Hardin was 42-years-old at the time of his death.