The Surprising Age John Wesley Hardin Saw His First Murder

The life of Wild West outlaw John Wesley Hardin is a perfect snapshot of the most vicious violence of the era. His time alive was punctuated by bloody face-offs, an endless life on the run from law enforcement, and an allegedly volatile temper. For this reason, it's no surprise that Hardin committed his first murder at the ripe age of 15, and even less surprising that he witnessed the loss of life even earlier.

In 1861, Hardin witnessed his first murder at just 8 years old. According to his autobiography, "The Life of John Wesley Hardin," the young soon-to-be-outlaw saw the slaughter in his childhood hometown of Sumpter, Texas. It was the indigent John Ruff who would introduce death to Hardin by taking the life of the wealthy Turner Evans, whom he owed a debt.

Unsurprisingly for the era, a night of drinking drove Evans' rage over the debt, which pushed him to seek out Ruff with a band of his friends. Eventually, Evans found Ruff at a local grocery store, which led to a clash between the pair. Evans began to beat Ruff with a cane in a fit of ferocious anger, which prompted Ruff to pull out a knife. The fight ended when Ruff managed to cut open Evans' throat and sever his jugular, causing him to bleed out and die shortly after.

The incident had a profound effect on Hardin

Death has as significant impact on people of all ages, even in the violence-fueled era of the Wild West. Given John Wesley Hardin's young age, it's not surprising that witnessing a death so early appeared to have a profound impact on his outlook on life.

In his autobiography, Hardin looks back on his early encounter with murder and its connection to Evans' life and state of mind. "Readers, you see what drink and passion will do," he wrote. "If you wish to be successful in life, be temperate and control your passions; if you don't, ruin and death is the inevitable result."

Sadly, Hardin was unable to completely release himself from the grip of his temper and passions. He was rumored to have shot and killed a man for snoring, and his proclivity for womanizing and drinking appeared to keep him in the cycle of savagery that was so common in the Wild West. Ultimately, Hardin's vicious life on the run came to an end when he was killed in a Texas saloon during an encounter that is debated to this day.