The Surprising Age John Wesley Hardin Committed His First Murder

Throughout the years, evidence has continued to suggest a link between animal cruelty in a person's childhood and a subsequent descent into violent crime, including murder. Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy is believed to have tortured pets in his younger years, and went on to purchase pet mice — some he killed, and others he let live — for his own twisted and violent power games.

Others went through a somewhat accelerated descent into violence. It's frequently observed that life on the American Frontier, often violent, caused children to grow up quickly. John Wesley Hardin, who would go on to live a textbook Wild West life on the run that included a slew of murders, committed his first killing at the young age of 15. 

Hardin almost took his first life at age 14 when he stabbed a schoolmate, Charles Sloter, in the chest and back. Hardin claimed Sloter was a bully. Somehow Sloter survived the attack, but the incident would go on to be another dark predictor of the outlaw's violent future.

Years earlier, at the age of eight years old, Hardin, the Texas-born son of a preacher, witnessed his first murder, per the library of the University of Texas at Austin. This exposure to violence no doubt had a profound impact on his life; research indicates that this is often the case, as The Independent reported.

Hardin claimed his first killing was self-defense

The first time Hardin took a life was in November of 1868. In "John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas," historian Leon Metz described the series of events that led to the death of former slave "Mage" Holshousen at the hands of the future outlaw, Hardin.

Hardin was visiting his uncle. While there, he and a cousin wrestled Holshousen in a bout that turned exceptionally violent and ended with the former slave threatening Hardin. The next day, Hardin and Holshousen crossed paths again, but this time, the encounter would be fatal.

According to Hardin, Holshousen grabbed the bridle of Hardin's horse and stopped it in its tracks. They exchanged harsh words, writes Metz. Hardin dismounted and shot Holshousen repeatedly with a Colt .44. Holshousen died later of his wounds. Hardin claimed self-defense, but whether or not that was the case, the killing would pave the way for a life of bloodshed and death that cemented Hardin as a perfect example of the vicious lives of the outlaws of the Old West.