I want to back up here just for a moment in our Hardin story, to remind those who may have come into the story late just how it was that John Wesley Hardin even came to be in the town of Comanche, Texas in the first place.
JWH married Jane Bowen in 1872, and his father’s idea of his living in Mexico never happened. Life in Texas was hard in 1872 but, luckily, one resource was available to Texans that the rest of the South didn’t have. It was backbreaking work, but for those who were willing, range cattle did offer the possibility of cash money. Of course, it also guaranteed months of being alone to the wives and children who were left behind.
During the time that he lived with his Anderson, Barekman, and Dixson cousins in Navarro County, JWH was exposed to the business, and it was cattle that in a round about way brought Hardin to Comanche. He had driven his herd to the town of Hamilton (just 30 miles from Comanche) where they were to be held until time to drive them north, and as usual, some of his Anderson, Barekman, and Dixson cousins were with him. With the rest of his family, (including Jane and the baby) in Comanche, it only made sense to visit the little frontier town.
In our last segment, we left the family at the Hardin home with Johnny Hardin and James Taylor trying to surrender once again to Sheriff John Carnes. Carnes told the boys to hide themselves on Round Mountain until things cooled down and, as silly as it may sound, Carnes also promised to contact the newly reorganized Texas Rangers for help. Remember that during the war years and beyond there were no Texas Rangers in Texas. The Rangers did not reorganize until 1874.
Hardin, Taylor, Alec Barekman, and Ham Anderson grabbed what they could and heeded the sheriff’s suggestion. Unfortunately, they did not have time to bring much, if any, food with them.
Well, as we know today, things did not cool down in Comanche, Texas. If anything, as talk circulated, it created a frantic frenzy among those who heard about the incident. The next day, Jo spent hours in the saddle as he worked to elude those following him. He finally arrived on Round Mountain with food, supplies, and Hardin’s and Taylor’s horses since they had fled on two mounts that were not their own.
While there, Jo tried to make his brother and cousins understand just how serious things were back in town, telling them that there were armed men everywhere and that they were watching all of them until the women were nearly in hysterics from fright. (And as I type, it dawns on me that this was the first time the family, other than Jo, had been this close to any of Hardin’s killings.)
Jo finally left everyone there on the mountain, taking with him the two horses that his brother and Taylor had grabbed for their flight out of Comanche. I think everyone knew that you might beat a murder charge in 1874, but you probably weren’t going to get off for stealing another man’s horse! Of course, the problem was that if Jo openly returned the horses, people would know that he had seen his brother.
Before Jo left, JWH penned a note to the owner of one of the horses which belonged to Bill Carnes, a brother of Sheriff John Carnes. “Bill, here’s your horse; I ate your beef.” Apparently Bill had been to the butcher shop shortly before tying his horse to the bush, and once again we see how comfortable John Wesley Hardin felt with the Carnes family.
With the passing of two more days, the spirits of the men on the mountain were very low. The supplies brought by Jo Hardin were running low; JWH’s side had become infected, and no one understood why Jo had not returned to bring them more food. Only JWH seemed to realize that there was no way his family would leave him wounded on Round Mountain unless something was really wrong at home.
Of course, what the men didn’t know was that Jo Hardin, and remember that Jo was an attorney, a Postmaster, a realtor, etc., Bud and Tom Dixson (sons of JWH’s doctor and Justice of the Peace uncle in Navarro County), and Jim Anderson (son of the murdered Doctor William Nicks Anderson of Navarro County) had been arrested.
Ironically, Comanche had no jail in 1874, and Jo Hardin had been actively raising funds to build one! But, lacking a jailhouse, the men were placed in a building that was being used as a temporary jail. I believe it was located on the east side of the square. The rest of the family was under house arrest with constant guards watching their every move.
No matter how hard he tried, JWH could not make cousins Ham Anderson and Alec Barekman understand how much trouble they were in since both of them believed that Webb had been killed in self-defense. They also knew that the Hardins were well thought of in Comanche and believed that the people of the town would rise up and take their side.
On the evening of May 31, and against the pleadings of their cousin, Ham Anderson and Alec Barekman left Hardin and Jim Taylor on Round Mountain, left still not knowing that their family had been arrested. They had been on the mountain since May 26 and had had no outside communication since Jo brought them their horses on May 27.
What happened next is, of course, what has made the telling of JWH’s time in Comanche County so controversial for so many years.
Unbeknownst to Anderson and Barekman, Jo Hardin, Bud and Tom Dixson, and Jim Anderson had been in the temporary jail in Comanche for some days and three of them, the Dixsons and Jo, (Jim Anderson was left in the jail.) were that very night taken from the jail by a mob and walked out what I still call the Lake Eanes Road.
There, where the road forks to go down to the old park, the three young men were hanged in an oak tree. (The large stump of that tree can be viewed at the Comanche County Historical Museum.) As usual, the mob put out the word that its members would kill anyone who cut the boys down.
At the very time that the cousins were hanged, Ham Anderson and Alec Barekman were slowly making their way around those looking for them, heading out of the county toward the east or northeast. It is here that the water gets a little muddy. I can tell you what the Stone family has maintained for years, but I can also tell you that there is a good possibility that they could be wrong.
Many years ago, I was contacted by some of the Stone family who wanted to tell me about the killing of Anderson and Barekman. According to family members, on the night the boys were killed, the Leon River was out of banks and impossible to cross so Mr. Stone, who thought the boys would be heading to his place at some time, sent someone across the river to tell them that they couldn’t get across and for them to camp on the Comanche side of the Leon.
Sound a little strange? No one could get across, but Mr. Stone sent someone across?
To be honest, this is only one of several questions that I have about Mr. Stone and his brothers, including the fact that they claim that it was a Stone son-in-law who was on duty in the temporary jail when a mob of men came in and took Jo Hardin and his Dixson cousins from it.
Anyway, Anderson and Barekman, according to the Stone family, made camp in a grove of trees on Stone’s property* on the Comanche side of the river. Sometime in the early hours of the morning, a posse came upon the sleeping cousins. It is my belief that Henry Ware killed them in their sleep, but there are those who say that it wasn’t Ware but Dave Cunningham who did the killing, and that is certainly a possibility.
Of course, this tangles the web a little more because it was Cunningham who went with the others and took possession of Jo’s herd of cattle in Brown County. Could there have been a reason why he would now murder some of the ones involved? I don’t know.
Then, don’t forget that there was Sheriff John Carnes who was supposedly leading a posse, trying desperately to find the cousins in order to save their lives, or was he? I don’t know, but I tend to think that was the case. Of course, if the sheriff truly was mixed up with Jo in some land deals gone south (to say the very, very least) as a lot of things seem to indicate, the sheriff might have been working hard to save his own neck as well.
I suppose it’s also possible that Carnes and Cunningham needed to be off leading posses in order not to be implicated in any way with the hanging that was happening on the other side of the county. It is also possible that they knew nothing of the plan to murder the three cousins…that is the school of thought that I tend to take.
It is all of these muddy facts and half-facts that sealed the lips of Comanche County residents years ago, and their descendants have followed suit, afraid of what people would think should the identity of the men who did these horrible deeds come to light.
The same is true for those who did the lynching. There has always been a lot of controversy over whether or not there were Comanche County men in this mob or whether it was comprised of only Brown County residents. I’ve spent a lot of years looking into that very thing and one of the biggest clues came from the old Comanche Masonic records from that night.
Many years ago I was told that the minutes to that night’s meeting read, “The meeting was adjourned to take care of business at the jail.” However, the minutes do not, in fact, say that, but when I was finally able to actually hold the book in my hands, it became apparent to me that there is a huge discrepancy between the way every other entry (in a several year period) is written and the way the entry for the meeting on the night of the hanging was written, which is interesting to say the least, telling me that the minutes for May 31, 1874, were added at a later date. It is the only thing that makes sense.
BUT…..here’s another problem. Jo Hardin was a Mason. Does a brother Mason turn on another brother? If a brother swindles another brother he just might, I suppose. So, is this another reason to consider the phony land deals that Jo and the Sheriff possibly worked between themselves? Again, I don’t know.
Now, if you will remember, I told you that another cousin, Jim Anderson, was left in the temporary jail the night Jo and the Dixson brothers were hanged. Apparently Jim Anderson was the “runt” of the group of cousins, and apparently there was at least some honor among the members of the crazed mob. Because of his small stature, the mob believed Jim to be much younger than he actually was, and they left him in the jail when they took the others to their death.
Comanche County is, of course, very thankful for this because some of Jim’s grandchildren are leading citizens of Comanche today! I assume that while Jim Anderson certainly wanted to live, he almost felt guilty for doing so. I have a letter that he wrote to JWH later, telling him about the event and it is easy to see that Jim wanted to be sure that his cousin understood that there was nothing he could have done to save the boys…and, of course, there wasn’t.
As I told you, mob members put out the word that they would kill anyone who cut down the bodies of Jo and his cousins. Apparently people believed this because still in existence is a sworn statement made by one of JWH’s sisters saying that on June 5, 1874, she went to the hanging site and there viewed her brother’s body still hanging in the oak tree. Can you even start to imagine this horrible scene?
Eventually, one of the pillars of the town, Mart Fleming, took a hired man with him, cut down the three bodies, and buried them under an oak on the Hardin property. This site can be seen today from CR 2247.
*My friend, James Rucker, and I spent many hours tramping this property, narrowing the possibilities until we came up with a spot that just might be where the boys were killed. Of course, James’ wife, Jane, descends from the Stone family so we had a little inside knowledge…and we still could be completely wrong!