John Wesley Hardin, the bittersweet truth

The fabled Texas gunfighter John Wesley Hardin led the life of ten mortal men. Based on authenticated fact (as accurate as possible for the late 1800's anyway), his notorious life has become the stuff of legend. For the famous man-killer was a walking contradiction -- a trail boss and a two-gun, fast-draw sharpshooter even as a teenager, he became a lightning rod for pro-southern sentiment still festering in Reconstruction Texas for a decade after the Civil War. Wes became public enemy # 1 of the newly formed Texas Rangers, who tracked him all over Texas and finally down into Florida where they captured him on a train in Pensacola. This screenplay covers his childhood days when he first killed a black man in a fight and began his fleeting education on the run, to his confrontations with Indians as a trail drover up to Kansas, where he has another run-in with the famed Marshal of Abilene, Wild Bill Hickok, and accidentally shoots a man in another hotel room for snoring!

Back in Texas Wes courts and marries sweet Jane Bowen, his long-suffering wife, and has a series of bloody run-ins with the carpetbagging State Police force. He also begins to study law at night, while on the run! Forced to flee to Florida as a cattle broker, his son John Wesley, Jr. is born there.

This two-hour screenplay ends here, but Wes's exciting life is only half over, and his story really needs to be expanded into a four-hour mini-series for television. For Wes was convicted in a frame-up trial of killing Deputy Charles Webb, who had been stalking him and shot him from behind as he entered a Texas bar. Sentenced to twenty-five years at hard labor in Huntsville, Hardin quickly organized a number of other convicts and began to tunnel out. Betrayed by another inmate just before the breakout, Wes endured solitary confinement and went on to lead several more escape attempts, always being sold-out before getting away, though.

Finally settling down to his law studies, Hardin was let out by the Governor in 1884 with a full pardon after nearly 16 years behind bars. His beloved Jane had died only a year before his release, but Wes took his three kids to Gonzales and passed the state bar exam. Wes's man-killer reputation preceded him, however, and law business was slow, so he moved to the Texas hill country west of Austin at his brother's invitation and began his autobiography. There he met twenty-year-old Callie Lewis, but their lavish wedding reception was disrupted by his brother's jest about "robbing the cradle" and his young bride fled back to her home.

Romantically disgraced, Wes moved to the last and toughest of the border towns, El Paso, to finish writing his life story. He had hit bottom and had little luck practicing law. Unfortunately he also got involved in a case involving a fugitive's unstable wife and threatened her arresting officer's father, John Selman, a retired lawman himself. Selman backed down, but came back later that night to the Acme Saloon, where Wes stood at the bar rolling dice for drinks. John Selman shot John Wesley Hardin in the back of the head at distance with an unlucky shot from a Colt .45, and then two more times in the back for good measure as Wes crumpled to the barroom floor. The most dangerous man in America was dead! The preacher's son who killed more men than any shootist in the wild West had finally come to his own violent end, haunted by his notorious reputation and legendary quick temper. To the end he remained an uncompromising rebel's rebel, brutally assassinated at the age of only forty-two. John Wesley Hardin was buried in Concordia Cemetery in El Paso with no kinfolks present. The engraved plate on his casket bore the inscription: "At Peace."

Original screenplay available from Hoodwinks Productions in Los Angeles (310-578-5404).