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Hit the Road With Chet Garner

Afterlife Sentence

John Wesley Hardin remains behind bars even in an El Paso cemetery

Like many Texans, I grew up hearing legends of famous gunfighters who roamed the Wild West. They were quick with a pistol and even quicker to gun down anyone who crossed them. Among the most notorious was John Wesley Hardin, who claimed to have killed more than 40 people in his lifetime.

On a trip to El Paso, I stopped by the historic Concordia Cemetery to visit his grave and see if he could still send shivers down my spine like his stories did when I was a kid.

Concordia Cemetery looks like the set of an old Western movie. Tombstones and wooden crosses cover a landscape of dirt and cactuses. It holds more than 60,000 graves dating back to the 1850s, but it didn’t take long for me to find Hardin’s final resting place, which is protected by a canopy of iron and stone.

Hardin’s story is a violent one. Despite numerous arrests and escapes, starting in his teens, the native of Bonham was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a deputy sheriff in Comanche County. During his time in prison, Hardin studied law, led Sunday school and attempted to change his nefarious ways.

At the age of 41, he received a full pardon and moved to El Paso to practice law. Sadly, his old ways followed him westward, and he was shot in a saloon. The coroner famously said, “If Hardin was shot in the eye, it was excellent marksmanship. If he was shot in the back, it was excellent judgment.”

Hardin’s grave was covered with coins and tokens left by visitors and a pair of golden guns. It’s a fitting reminder that those who live by the sword die by the sword. Or in Hardin’s case—the gun.