In addition to the famous and infamous icons of the Old West known to almost anyone who has ever read a western novel or enjoyed a western movie, there were individuals who shaped its history without the benefit of becoming household names. These lesser known characters are familiar to historians and writers who have done in-depth research into past events and the participants therein, but with few exceptions their names fail to register or resonate with the casual western reader or movie buff. One such individual was John Selman.
John Selman first emerged onto the scene in 1877 at Fort Griffin as an inspector of buffalo hides, but soon found himself implicated in their theft and hid out in Mexico for a time. He resurfaces in 1879 when he becomes involved in the Lincoln County Range War and is driven out of New Mexico accused of various crimes including rape and murder. In 1880 he is arrested by Texas Rangers but his case never goes to trial and he slips once more into Mexico. When he finally resurfaces in 1893, he does so as a constable in El Paso arresting the very men he’d associated with over the years.
Still, John Selman would be but a footnote to history had his life not intersected with that of John Wesley Hardin, the most notorious gunman in all of Texas. Hardin claimed to have killed forty-two men before he was captured and incarcerated at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in 1878 where he would spend the next seventeen years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement.
Released in 1894, a now reformed Hardin moved to El Paso the following year to practice law. Nonetheless, he would soon run afoul of Constable Selman when he pistol whipped Selman’s deputized son for arresting his mistress on charges of public intoxication.
John Selman couldn’t allow the affront to stand, but also wasn’t prepared to face-off against the notorious gunman. Instead, as Hardin gambled at a local saloon, Selman shot him while his back was turned killing him instantly. Just for good measure, he stood over the body and shot him three more times.
Though a constable, Selman was arrested and charged with murder. During his trial he claimed self-defense stating that he had seen John Wesley Hardin go for his gun. The assertion was all the more amazing as as the initial shot had been to the back of Hardin’s head. Selman, however, claimed that he had seen the renowned icon reach for his gun in a reflection from a mirror hanging in the saloon. A hung jury released him on bond.
What went-around, came-around in the muddied waters that passed for “justice” in the Old West. John Selman would himself be killed by U.S. Marshall George Scarborough the following year. – excerpt from Palo Duro.
Today no one remembers the name of the man who killed John Wesley Hardin, while the memory of the famed pistoleer lives on in Texas and western lore.