Descendants Fight To Claim Gunfighter’s Remains
EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ High noon, legally speaking, arrived Monday in a showdown over the remains of the Old West gunslinger John Wesley Hardin.
A historical group that wants to keep Hardin in an El Paso cemetery and descendants who want him reburied hundreds of miles away went to trial in state District Court to settle their feud over the man who put 30 notches on his pistol before he was gunned down in El Paso’s Acme Saloon at age 42 in 1895.
The dispute began in August when Hardin’s descendants slipped into town to try to move his body to Nixon, Texas, a small town east of San Antonio where he lived briefly and where his first wife, Jane, is buried.
Hardin’s great-grandson, John Billings, said he wanted to return Hardin to ``where the memory of him is better served by people who knew what he was.″
``He was a family man. He was a victim of the times, and he was viewed by many, many people as a friend,″ said Billings, who takes issue with those who portray Hardin as a ruthless gunfighter.
The family’s representatives, in cowboy hats and boots, made it as far as the historic Concordia Cemetery before being stopped by members of the Concordia Heritage Association and the Paso Del Norte Pistoleros, a historical group that stages mock gunfights.
There was a showdown. After an exchange of legal documents, including a temporary restraining order obtained by the Concordia group, the family members went away empty-handed.
The Concordia association, which helps oversee the cemetery, has since sued for a permanent injunction barring anyone from ever removing Hardin’s remains, which may now be little more than dust.
State District Judge Kathleen Olivares will rule on the group’s request following the trial, which is expected to be over by Tuesday.
The plaintiffs opened their case with testimony from two Hardin descendants who agreed that the body should remain in El Paso.
``Two generations ahead of me decided it should stay, and I’m in agreement with that,″ said Hardin’s great-grandson, E.C. Spellmann of Beeville.
Local historian Leon Metz testified that no one knows where Hardin’s grave is actually located. Metz, who has written a book on Hardin, said the tombstone is in the general vicinity of the grave, but not necessarily directly over Hardin’s casket.
The Concordia group argues that removing Hardin would hurt the area.
``A big drawing card would have left,″ Metz said. ``We would be poorer for it. We wouldn’t be impoverished, but the town would be much poorer if we lost Hardin.″
The group also points out the family never objected to Hardin’s burial in El Paso and refutes arguments that Hardin has greater ties to Nixon.
Metz said Hardin only lived in the area for a short while and ``had no occupation except fugitive″ there.
In fact, Hardin, spent a large part of his life as either a fugitive in Texas, Florida and Alabama, or in prison.
He killed his first man at 15, and was said to have put away seven men by the time he was 17. But he always maintained that he never killed anyone that didn’t need killing and always shot to save his life.
Hardin studied law while he was incarcerated and had opened a law practice in El Paso shortly before he was killed by Constable John Selman, with whom he had argued earlier.