This gun battle came about over cattle shenanigans. Joe Hardin, John Wesley's older brother was a rather important man in Comanche County Texas. Being a postmaster, a practicing attorney, and a mason. Joe had become involved in what was an extremely convoluted cattle deal. He was in charge of the paper and had buried what occured in rather deeply. It seems clear that honest cattlemen were being flim-flamed. Joe had even involved his wife, Allie, at least, on paper.
Joe Hardin had gained control but not ownership of a large lot of cattle.
Sixteen angry cattlemen went to Brown County Sheriff J.H. Gideon and demanded action be taken. (The county was neighboring Comanche County.) The sheriff immediately assigned ex-Texas Ranger and now deputy sheriff, Charles (Charlie) Webb to the case. Webb was a tough guy and had a solid reputation as a Ranger.
The first encounter with Joe Hardin for Charles Webb occurred in April of 1874. A Mexican rancher had been lynched in Brown County and Joe, along with Jim Taylor, Alex Barekman, as well as Tom and Bud Dixon were present when Deputy Webb came over from Brownwood to investigate. Hardin and his friend unleashed a tirade of curses and insults and told him to get gone and to never show his face in Comanche County. "They roundly cursed the deputy. . . and warned him to stay out of Comanche County."
Enter the Dark Angel. . . He rose into Comanche county on or near May 21 and went straight to the Sheriff and asked for some help in taking possession of the cattle that Joe had dominion over. (Wes being prior informed by Joe that the cattle were in dispute. But intended to take possession of them and drive them to be sold.) The sheriff sent Deputy Millican and Deputy Cunningham with Wes.
The group with the addition of Joe Hardin went to get the cattle and were halted by Henry Ware (in the Hardin manuscript quoted above he is refereed to as a "bully from Canada") as soon as he opened his moth, Joe yanked a sixgun and put the Canadian bully (surely a contradiction in terms) to route. Kind of like the old saying, he may not be a chickensh-t but he sure showed hen house ways. . . off to the Brown County sheriff's office. The Hardins left with the cattle.
Charles Webb had no clue where the Brown County cattle had been hidden but he knew two residents that were likely involved in the scheme, and indeed they were in on the overall scheme, their names were James Beard and Jim Buck Waldrip. The two men were lodged in the Brown County jail but were shortly transferred to a neighboring county as the cattlemen of Brown County were threatening to lynch them.
Hardin and cohorts went to the Waldrip Ranch and were grabbing a supper and lodging when Mrs. Waldrip lamented about her son's arrest and the terrible cursing and abuse she had received from Deputy Webb.The Hardin gang agreed, it was indeed horrible.
The last weekend in May was celebrated with a big horse race in Comanche. Hardin, an expert in horseflesh and an avowed gambler won big. His horses actually swept the top three spots. He won cash,and prizes (50 head of cattle and 3K USD) and even people's riding stock. Flush with the 3,000 dollar cash prize and celebrating his birthday, Hardin threw $20 gold pieces around like tokens. He went from one bar to the next. . .
To boil the story down, Hardin was definitely plastered. Sheriff Carnes and his deputy tried to get Hardin to go home and sober up. Hardin told him he was not packing in the bar (a prohibited thing) and that his gun was behind the bar. He opened his coat. But, of course Hardin NEVER was unarmed and indeed had a hideout tucked into his waistband. Nevertheless, the sheriff was insistent but to no avail. Carnes came up with a plan to separate Hardin and his friend Jim Taylor who was also drunk- however, even he agreed Hardin was becoming dangerous- and place both under arrest. So, the deputy and the sheriff went about putting their plan into action when the sheriff discovered that his revolver wasn't functioning correctly and immediately set out to have a smith put it in order. Unfortunate for Charles Webb.
Odd but true, The sheriff's brother actually alerted Wes that Webb was coming down the street, in a guttural intonation he said "Here comes that ****ed Brown County sheriff."
Webb was pacing down the street near the front of the Jack Wright's saloon where Hardin and his group were. They had come outside to see check Webb's oil pressure. Webb was carrying a pair of sixshooters and kept his hands behind his back. Strange. He paused 15 feet from Wes. Which was immediately interpreted by Wes as provocation and he barked loudly and provocatively, "Have you any papers for my arrest?" Webb acted as if he had no idea who he was and in a quiet tone asked for his name. "My name is John Wesley Hardin", was the reply he received. Webb, still playing along, then says, "Now I know you, but have no papers for your arrest." Hardin went on to tell him that the Brown County sheriff had insulted the Comanche County sheriff by stating that he was no sheriff if he allowed the likes of Wes and his pals to hang around Comanche. Webb, merely replied that he was not responsible for what the sheriff said and that he was only a deputy. Uh-huh.
Wes was somewhat disarmed by Webb, after he asked a final question as to what he had behind his back. He was shown a cigar. He now felt a bit more comfortable and invited Charles Webb into the saloon for a smoke and a drink. Webb accepted.
Evidently Webb put his plan into action and as Wes was turning, he attempted to draw a sixshooter. Bud Dixon instantly yelled and Hardin spun like a pit viper strikes, both men fired. Hardin, drunk and all put a .44 ball into Webb's face. Hardin was hit in the left hip near his belt line. As Webb was falling his sixgun barked once more, an errant round. It seems the others rushed over to him and pumped a few rounds into a dead man.
Webb was a decent guy and a good lawmen but had run afoul of a Texas pit viper known as Wes. According to Metz, Webb was the 32nd notch on Hardin's belt. Metz later says that this might be a slightly exaggerated number. At this late date there is no way to know for certain, my guess is it put him over 20. . .
The Dark Angel, indeed.
The following is an alternative account from the web (I followed the version of Hardin and Metz):
"In any case, Webb approached and John confronted him. He asked Webb if he had the papers to arrest him. Webb denied this. There was an exchange back and forth with John being verbally aggressive while Webb being rather soft and calm. A friend of Webb, seeing what was about to happen, called over to Webb since they were to eat dinner together. John held Webb and said something to the effect of, “Your not just going to leave me here are you?”
The next bit of dialogue has Webb saying that he was "not afraid" of John. It seems that some dialogue is missing in the accounts here because it seems that John said something accusing Webb of being a coward. At least that is what I get out of his response of not being afraid.
At this point, both John and Webb both go for their guns. Some say that Webb drew first, but both men seem to fire at about the same time. Webb grazes John's side, but John hits Webb in the left cheek. Jim Taylor and Bud Dixon (John's cousin) start firing their guns to finishing the job. "
A funny ending. . . The following was printed in Comanche, Texas in the Comanche Chief on May 22, 1879. The government wants its guns back. TWO YEARS after Hardin has been put into the hoosgaw! Ironic, ain't it. . .
“All parties having guns in their possessions that were issued to the Comanche Guards during the Hardin troubles are requested to bring them in and deposit them with Wm. Carroll or the state authorities will take steps to punish all who refuse to deliver up the guns.”–J.A. Wright, J.D. Stephens
Wes Hardin (?):
Joseph Gipson Hsrdin: