By the time Wes Hardin’s 21st birthday dawned on May 26, 1874, the young killer had been a marked man for six years. He was extremely bright and extremely personable by all accounts. He was also known as the “fastest gun in the West,” and he was one of a very, very few gunmen who actually deserved the reputation.
Comanche sheriff, John Carnes, liked Wes, or Johnny, as his family called him, and the two men…sheriff and killer…often played cards together in one of the town’s six roaring saloons. Of course Carnes and his deputy, Frank Wilson, owned one of the saloons themselves, and Carnes was one of the few sheriffs who held no warrants for Hardin’s arrest.
Wes Hardin began his 21st birthday at the racetrack, which was located about 200 yards southeast of the present day junior high school. Comanche was well known during these days for its horse races, and hundreds of people had poured into the town on this particular day.
John Wesley Hardin, his brother, Jo, and his cousin, Bud Dixson (the son of doctor and Justice of the Peace William “Bill” Dixson in Navarro County), are reputed to have owned three of the best horses in the state. I suppose it is true because by the time race day was over, they had won over $3,000 (over $170,000 by today’s standards) as well as most of the wagons and mounts of the men who were there that day. These young men always claimed that they had to loan back the horses to most of the men so that they could get home that evening.
After cleaning up at the racetrack, JWH along with some family and friends headed downtown to celebrate in the various saloons around the square. However, Jo and Mr. Hardin went to Jo’s home. It was located about where the parking lot of the Comanche National Bank (100 East Central Street) is today. Jo’s wife had given birth to a new baby a couple of days earlier, and I’m sure that Mr. Hardin wanted a little Grandpa time.
Comanche County Sheriff John Carnes and Deputy Frank Wilson owned the Carnes-Wilson Saloon on the north side of the square in Comanche. That side of the square had burned in 1868 and in 1874, there were only two (possibly three) buildings that stood on the north side.
The Carnes-Wilson saloon was approximately 50 feet west of where Tiffany’s (107 West Grand Street) is today and it was, of course the first saloon the young men entered. The Hardin family considered Sheriff Carnes a good friend, and, of course, Wes had spent quite a bit of time with the man during his visit to Comanche.
John Wesley Hardin had his friend, James Taylor (of Sutton-Taylor fame) with him that day, and Taylor had a $4000 reward on him at the time due to his role in the famous feud. At some point in time, the two left the Carnes-Wilson by the front door and walked 50 feet or so up the street to the east and entered Jack Wright’s saloon. This saloon was the last building on the north side of the square and was located where Tiffany’s (107 West Wright) is today.
Since the saloon was the last building on the east end, it had a door that actually opened on the east side of the building although I feel sure there must have been on that opened facing the square as well.
Brown County Deputy Charles Webb was also in town on this day, secretly intending to kill or at the very least arrest, JWH, and he had brought with him fifteen members of the Brown County Mob. Hardin had been warned that Webb intended to gun him down, but to my knowledge, however, JWH had no idea that Deputy Wilson secretly hated him and was in cahoots with Webb.
Supposedly, Wilson had met with Webb and agreed that he would separate Hardin and Taylor to make it easier for Webb to kill Hardin, which I’m sure Webb saw as quite a coup. This would leave Taylor to the mob, whose members were, of course, after the $4,000.
All of this planning had been done secretly because Sheriff Carnes could not be allowed to know the plan. Since Wilson had been unable to separate Hardin and Taylor up until this point, he then told Webb that he would find a way to coerce Hardin out of Wright’s Saloon and into the back alley.