An Overview, Part 1
It’s a story I’ve told and written about for years…and years because it interests me for all kinds of reasons. And then, one day I decided to give John Wesley Hardin and his family a rest, or maybe I decided to give our readers a break from the Andersons, Barekmans, Dixsons, and Hardins, I don’t know. However, with all of the talk about making a historically accurate movie (about time!) about the Texas bad guy, I decided it was time to resurrect these people once again and look at just how it was that they traveled from point A (doctors, lawyers, merchants, and chiefs) to point B (well, we all know what Point B was, don’t we?).
The story is long, almost as long in the telling as it was in the living, but there is just no way to understand it without at least some background. John Wesley Hardin wasn’t born an outlaw…in fact…he really never was an outlaw in the true since of the word. No, John Wesley Hardin grew into being a killer…the gentleman killer, he was called; however, you and I would have had no reason to fear the man. We probably would actually have found him quite charming…as long as we were southern and Anglo.
The thing that we have to keep in mind is that, right or wrong, John Wesley Hardin was a product of the times in which he lived, and he made his own bad choices within the context of those times just as people do today. So…let’s go back and look at those times…back before Hardin was even born…it’s long, but it is also very interesting.
I think to help us better understand the story, we need to first take a look at the family that eventually produced JWH, and to do that we’re going to have to go back to Hardin’s grandfather on his mother’s side…a man by the name of Dr. William Dixson.
Dr. Dixson was born in the Virginia of 1790, and he (like every one of us today) was a product of his time. He came of age, so to speak, during the land grant era, and he took advantage of the system and prospered because of it. His first grant was given to him because he served this country during the war of 1812 and as payment for his service, he was given a land grant in Indiana where he built a life for himself and his family.
Then, in 1846 when the government decided to open up Texas, Dr. Dixson decided to take advantage of another piece of government land. However, this time he probably could not even have imagined the horrible problems that would come with this grant.
By 1846, many of what we refer to today as the old Texians had already claimed land in Texas, and they were willing to do whatever it took to keep it, regardless of what the government said. People like Dr. Dixson were considered “squatters,” and the Texians were willing to do whatever it took to protect land that they believed to be theirs.
Again, you have to also look at these old Texians within the context of the times in which they lived. They had come to Texas and fought the elements, the Indians, the outlaws, and Santa Anna’s army. They were a tough breed of people…to be honest….probably not people like you and me, and they believed that they had the right to fight for what was theirs and to use any means necessary to hold on to their property…if they had to kill…so be it.
Well, Dr. Dixson didn’t have a crystal ball, and it was with high hopes that he and his family prepared for their move to Texas! Unfortunately, before they could get underway, tragedy struck the family. Dr. Dixson’s eldest daughter, Jane, was married to a man by the name of Joshua Barekman, and Josh died unexpectedly before the family left Indiana, leaving Jane with two small sons to raise without him. There was nothing to do but for Jane and young Will and Alec, to travel with the family to Texas.
As the head of his household, Dr. Dixson could claim 640 acres himself, and single men could claim ½ that amount. Since Dixson had several sons and three of them were grown, you can see that the family was going to be able to claim quite a bit of land. All they had to do was to live on their land for three years, make improvements on it, cultivate at least fifteen acres, and promise not to sell either weapons or alcohol to the Indians.
Things are seldom as easy as they sound, are they?
Anyway, the Dixsons joined with the Mercer Colony people, and the caravan began to snake its way from Indiana to Texas. Shortly after crossing the Red River, the group was met by agent William Anderson, a renowned doctor and the Texas land agent for the Mercer Colony.
From the start, Doctor Anderson was taken with Dixson daughter, Susannah, and it wasn’t long until he had invited the Dixsons to settle on land which bordered his plantation. After arriving in Navarro County, Anderson opened his home, inviting all of the women and children to stay there until shelter for them could be built.
At this point, Anderson warned the men of the family that there were old Texians living on some of this land, and that they were very antagonistic toward the Mercer people, publically making threats against them.
It was agreed that all of the women except Doctor Dixson’s wife would remain in the Anderson home. The elder Dixsons decided that they would remain together no matter what happened. However, almost as soon as their tent was thrown up, the fighting between the old Texians and the Dixsons began. It escalated until the Texians burned the tent the Dixsons were living in as well as all of their possessions.
It wasn’t long until Susannah Dixson agreed to marry Doctor William Anderson, taking on the role of immediate mother to his three children by two other wives. To show that his was a serious commitment, Doctor Dixson presented Susannah with the ownership of six slaves, and on December 29, 1846, the two were wed by a young minister named James G. Hardin.
The joy was taken out of the celebration by the death of Dr. Dixson’s wife who died the night before the wedding. She just seemed unable to recover after the Texians burned them out.
Dixson moved into the town of Corsicana, where he died from the strain in 1848, a short two years later.