Saturday, September 24, 2005

John Wesley Hardin: Reconstruction-era desperado

One of Texas' major outlaw icons from the Reconstruction era was John Wesley Hardin, who became a fugitive after murdering a black man in East Texas, then joined in Northeast Texas blood feuds on the side of anti-union clans against federalist supporters. Read this fine essay by Edward Southerland in the Sherman Herald Democrat on Hardin's criminal career for a flavor of that important period. (UPDATE: Here's part two.)

It's still astonishing to me how many aspects of Texas politics and culture to this day are influenced by ideologies prevalent during the war to end slavery and Reconstruction. After the Civil War, thousands of southerners fleeing Yankee occupation placed signs reading "GTT" on their homes -- "Gone To Texas" -- and headed west. Huge numbers came who were burned out by Gen. Sherman in Georgia, but also die-hard rebel holdouts from Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, etc., fled to the Texas frontier in droves.

Without knowing that history, it's really hard to understand local political attitudes in places like Brownwood, Tyler, Plano and Wichita Falls, where one still occasionally sees bumper stickers promising "The South Will Rise Again," and rebel battle flags are still a local icon.
Most of the rebel migrants came through northeast Texas, and thousands settled there. Before long, the area become a hotbed of the most radical ex-confederate sympathizers to be found anywhere. Hardin's terrible crimes were committed in the midst of that embittered political stew, though politics cannot justfy them. His importance as an icon, though -- a hero to the southerners and an enemy of the state -- can hardly be separated from the zeitgeist of the times.

1 comment:

elderbob - the blog boss said...

I was in Comanche yesterday for the Annual John Wesley Hardin days festival. While there, I had an opportunity to take a living history tour of Comanche historical sites put on by a local teacher and her students. Surprisingly, she very accurately portrays your take of the post re-contruction attitudes of the area which are so closely tied to the Hardin story.

I am a native of Comanche County with my family going back as far as the 1890's and being closely involved in the Newburg community not far from the original Cora, County seat. I think it serves the county well to preserve their history even though it is not always one which would put them in the best light. I enjoyed the two attached articles and found them quite factual in light of what I know about the truth of John Wesley Hardin.