Serial killer John Wesley Hardin already boasted a staggering body count by the time he turned 21 on May 26, 1874. Tintype of John Wesley Hardin taken in Abilene, Kansas 1871 He marked the occasion of his 21st birthday in Comanche, Texas, where on that day his trio of fine racehorses all came up winners, earning young Hardin three thousand dollars in cash money, a small herd of cattle, a wagon and more than a dozen saddle broncs. That evening, Hardin, who preferred whiskey to cake, continued the celebration by making the rounds of Comanche's many saloons. When he reached Jack Wright's establishment, however, there was trouble. Soon after Hardin ordered a drink, Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb from nearby Brown County strolled through them swinging doors. Sheriff Webb had previously expressed his intention to bring Hardin down for all of his killings and other transgressions. At first, it appeared that nothing was amiss as the two men moved toward the bar to have a friendly swig, but then Webb suddenly went for his gun. Hardin, quick as a cat wheeled and fired at the same time, shooting Webb in the face. As he fell mortally wounded, some of Hardin's pals shot the Sheriff twice more to make sure he would not be getting up anytime soon. Charlie Webb was 25 years old. Webb's bullet grazed Hardin who had to leave his birthday winnings behind and beat a hasty retreat from a mob outraged at the killing of a lawman. Hardin's brother and two cousins were lynched as a result of the shootout, and Hardin became a fugitive, escaping to Florida with a four-thousand dollar bounty on his head. This gun periodically appears at NRA shows and is reportedly Hardin's gun he used in the killing of Sheriff Webb, the provenance has an unbroken chain of custody since Webb's murder. No one knows for sure how many people were killed by Hardin, the number swings from 27 to 42. In 1878 he was sent away for 25 years, in prison he studied law and after serving 17 years he got a pardon and started practicing law. But not for long, as justice prevailed when later that year, 1895, he was in the Acme Saloon in El Paso drinking, lawman/outlaw John Selman walked up behind him and put a bullet into the back of his head. As he lay on the floor bleeding out, Selman shot him three more times. Editorial (wherein we derail this thread into literary speculation): John Wesley Hardin is unknowable to us today as his rabid spree of killing was amplified at the time and ever since. Bob Dylan, who usually gets stuff right in many ways, sure got it real wrong in his song about Hardin. One of the really interesting fiction books that came out that wasn't about John Hardin, nor was it attributed to him, as it supposedly was inspired by another mass murder was Peter Matthiessen's "Watson Trilogy". For some reason every time I have read these books and later, his new rendering of the Watson legend, Shadow Country, I've had this feeling Matthiessen created an alternative universe that was inhabited by John Wesley Hardin. Peter Matthiessen (1927 - 2014) was one of the greats of American literature in the 20th century. He was a novelist, naturalist, wilderness writer, zen teacher and CIA agent. He was one of the co-founders of The Paris Review and the only writer to win the National Book Award in both fiction and non fiction. You might be familiar with him through his works such as The Snow Leopard, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse or At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In the 1990s he published his 1400 page magnum opus, the "Watson Trilogy". A story of E.J. Watson, spanning from about 1860 to 1910, taking place in pioneer Florida where Watson, having killed at least 57 men seeks opportunity and a place to hide. The books are broken into stories of Watson from different three different perspectives; Killing Mister Watson (1990) is told from the viewpoint of them that knew him, or thought they knew him, living in that harsh frontier community of coastal Florida. Lost Man's River (1997) is the story of Watson told my his son. Bone by Bone (1999) is Watson's story told by himself. And yes it takes a dedicated reader to get through these books. Matthiessen's writing has been compared to that of Cormac McCarthy, the difference cited as being somewhat less fiery in his lyricism, but every bit as steady and exacting. These books, and the story, haunted Matthiessen, he really was a zen teacher and he knew how to think, and more importantly, he knew how not to think. He went back to this story and rewrote it in 2008 and cut it down to the one volume 890 page Shadow Country. When I first read the trilogy I kept thinking of John Hardin. When I read Shadow Country I got an even stronger sense of him. A reviewer in the New York Times, Sven Birkerts, in 1999, nailed it when he explained what this literary masterpiece achieved, and why I feel it comes so close to the broken man John Wesley Hardin truly was; Birkerts: "He (Matthiessen) has shown us what happens when the heart's fine fiber gets twisted at the root, what a world of pain springs forth from that damage." While Mr. Birkerts is speaking to the main fictional character, E.J. Watson, that sounds like a pretty good summing up of the psychopathic personality that John Wesley Hardin exemplified.