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Part 3: Red Hall's Detectives Capture John Wesley Hardin

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Big Shoes to Walk In and a Tall Shadow to Follow


Before Red Hall took command of the Special State Troops, * Captain Leander McNelly went after John “King Fisher”, only 22-years-old and in charge of a large company of desperadoes and hundreds of stolen cattle headed for the Mexican market. King Fisher operated his outlaw sanctuary in the Nueces Strip. McNelly had spent two years organizing a network of spies in Texas and Mexico dedicated to disrupting illegal Texas cattle sales in Mexico.


At King Fisher’s headquarters on Pendencia Creek ten miles west of Carrizo Springs on June 4, 1876, McNelly made his move. His men were inside of the ranch house with pistols drawn before King Fisher’s men knew they were there. McNelly put King Fisher and nine outlaws in irons, carted them off without protest to Eagle Pass, and handed them to the Maverick County sheriff.


McNelly then rode forty miles to gather up witnesses—none of who would testify. His efforts were fruitless; he sent the witnesses home and set six to eight hundred head of cattle free to roam. King Fisher’s legal technicalities reigned and in 1881, he was appointed sheriff of Uvalde County. He wanted to run for the elected office in 1884. King Fisher and gunman Ben Thompson attended a performance at the Vaudeville Variety Theater in San Antonio on March 11, 1884, where Thompson had an argument with the theater owners. A gunfight ensued. Thompson and King Fisher died in the gunfight.


McNelly’s Time to Die


After his failure to convict King Fisher, McNelly retired to his bed with tuberculosis and directed his company from there. It was during this time that the Texas legislature deemed it necessary to terminate the Special State Troops. Governor Hubbard issued orders for Lieutenant Red Hall to muster out the company, and muster in a new company with only 24 men.


Texas regarded McNelly as a hero. The press chastised Governor Hubbard for his ignoble treatment of the man who spent two years risking his life and the lives of his men trying to stop the enormous amount of Texas cattle thieves selling stolen beeves across the Mexican border. At age 33, Leander McNelly died surrounded by his family.


Richard King, of the famous, and still in operation today, King Ranch, especially mourned Captain McNelly. McNelly took special care to guard King’s cattle so close to the Mexican border. In gratitude, King supplied McNelly’s company with Winchester repeating rifles after the Las Cuevas affair. King installed a pink granite monument over McNelly’s grave in Mt. Zion Cemetery near Burton, Texas.


Captain "Red" Lee Hall Takes Command


Captain Lee Hall, as he was now referred to, with Sergeant Richard Armstrong, a.k.a. McNelly's Bulldog, immediately had to find vindication for Dr. and George Brassell’s execution. Within a month, Red had procured enough witnesses for a grand jury to indict seven men. Red, outfitted with 16 Rangers and arrest warrants, busted into a wedding party that the indicted men were attending and arrested the accused.


As Red’s predecessor had found with King Fisher, the capture of the Sutton party indicted for the Brassell executions led to one of the longest legal battles in the history of Texas concerning the Sutton-Taylor Feud with little results. Red turned his attention to the one killer no one had been able to find—John Wesley Hardin. In 1877, Texans no longer considered John Wesley an anti-Union rebel who had to guts to confront Reconstruction law. John Wesley was a cold-blooded, murdering outlaw on the loose.


The shootout and killing of Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Comanche, Texas, put a $5,000 price on John Wesley’s head, dead or alive. ** Even though John Wesley left Texas in 1874 after he killed Webb, McNelly searched far and wide for him that year. Red heard that John Wesley was living in Florida in 1877. Red conscripted Dallas criminal investigator, John Duncan, to the Texas Rangers. Duncan moved into DeWitt and Gonzales counties where Hardin’s relatives lived. He put on the pretense of a Taylor sympathizer. Duncan established a friendship with John Wesley’s father-in-law, Neal Bowen. Duncan read John Wesley’s Florida address on an envelope at Bowen’s house.


McNelly’s Bulldog (Lieutenant Armstrong) accidentally shot himself in the hip in May 1877. No longer able to ride a horse and using a cane, he worked with Duncan on the Hardin case. Red planned on accompanying Duncan to Florida, but Duncan had found John Wesley’s address in less than a month, and Red was busy on another mission. He chose Armstrong to go with Duncan.


The two hopped an eastbound train in Austin. Armstrong stopped off in Montgomery, Alabama, to receive two arrest warrants Red was forwarding from Texas. The warrants were issued under the names of John Wesley Hardin and John H. Swain. Duncan moved on to Pollard, Alabama, where he dug up new evidence. He found a crucial tip, wired Armstrong to join him, and headed to Pensacola, Florida.


Where Is John Wesley Hardin?


After killing Webb, John Wesley sent his 13-year-old brother, Jeff, to a Kansas City stockyard for $500 it owed him for a cattle sale. With that money, John Wesley moved his wife and baby daughter to the Florida panhandle. He assumed the alias of John H. Swain. Swain worked hard at operating saloons, butchering beef, and compulsively drinking and gambling. His wife bore him a son. He then moved his family to Alabama because both the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the Texas Rangers were hunting John Wesley. John Swain was carrying on as if he was just another redneck in the living it up in the Deep South.


Duncan and Armstrong engaged Florida's Escambia County Sheriff William Hutchison to aid in the arrest of John Swain without letting on who Swain really was. On August 23, 1877, Duncan received word that John Wesley bought a ticket to Whiting, Alabama. *** Duncan immediately deputized eight men and secretly commandeered the train station, platform, and train.


John Wesley boarded the smoking car with three friends. Duncan and his men boarded the express car coupled next to the smoking car. At the same moment, Duncan entered one end of the smoking car with three men behind the Hardin party, and Armstrong entered the other end facing John Wesley. Armstrong pulled his pistol. John Wesley recognized the long-handled colt pistol and yelled, “Texas, by God!”


Smoking Car Gunfight


Sheriff Hutchison jumped on John Wesley. John Wesley desperately tried to pull his gun, but an entangled suspender strap prevented him from reaching it. As John Wesley’s friend tried to dive out a window, gunfire roared and sent him to the station platform dead. Duncan, Hutchison, and a deputy sheriff continued to struggle with John Wesley. McNelly’s Bulldog simply walked up to John Wesley and cracked him on the head with his pistol barrel. The lawmen immediately shackled him and took him to Montgomery, Alabama.


This Is Not Over


The Hardin-Swain warrants were lost in their first transfer from Texas. The Florida lawmen went home. Duncan and Armstrong waited through a stalemate on the next legal tactics. John Wesley hired a lawyer, claimed he was John Swain, kidnapped, and tried to get free through a writ of habeas corpus. An Alabama judge stayed John Wesley’s incarceration and gave Texas five days to present the arrest warrants.


Governor Hubbard sent a telegram to Alabama Governor George Houston which legalized John Wesley’s arrest. Finally, on August 28, 1877, Duncan and Armstrong delivered John Wesley Hardin “within the jailhouse door of Travis County” as ordered by the state of Texas. Throngs of people had followed Duncan, Armstrong, and John Wesley from Montgomery, Alabama, to Austin, Texas. The Texas Rangers had to lift John Wesley over the heads of the impenetrable crowd to put him in a jail cell. Duncan and Armstrong split the reward money.


John Wesley stood trial in Comanche County, Texas, and received a 25-year sentence. He first severely resisted prison institutionalization at Huntsville Prison and suffered from harsh punishment. Then, he turned around, studied law and theology, taught Sunday school, and wrote his autobiography. Texas pardoned John Wesley in 1894, and he opened a law practice in El Paso. There, John Wesley became embroiled in an extra-marital affair with the wife and ex-lady-of-the-night, Beulah Morose, of one of his clients. When husband Martin Morose learned of the affair, John Wesley hired local lawmen to kill the man. After the assassination, one of the hired killers, John Selman, shot John Wesley dead in El Paso’s Acme Saloon possibly because he had not been paid for Morose’s assassination.


John Wesley left Texas shortly after he killed Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in Jack Wright’s Saloon. Sheriff John Karnes and posse caught Joe Hardin, Bud Dixon, and Tom Dixon on June, 1, 1874. They jailed the boys in a rock building in Comanche, Texas. At midnight, a mob of men overpowered their guards and carried the prisoners a few miles south where they hung them from an oak tree. The base of that tree sits at the Comanche County Museum. John Wesley is buried in the Concordia Cemetery in El Paso, Texas. ****


Red Hall’s Legacy


Denison, Texas, can be proud of providing the training ground for Red Hall. Because of Red’s investigation and subsequent capture of America’s most wanted murderer, Red is credited with professionalizing the Texas Rangers. He developed an effective administrative process to deal with the financial limitations put on the Texas Rangers by the governor’s office and legislature and introduced top-notch detective operations to the company.


Red Hall married Bessie Weidman in 1880 and retired from the Rangers. Bessie hated the lifestyle of a Texas Ranger. They had five daughters. Red managed the Dull Ranch and alleviated fence-cutting wars. He served as an Indian Agent to the Anadarko Indians. Red re-entered military service during the Spanish-American War in 1898. He raised two companies for the First United States Volunteer Infantry regiment and commanded one of them. After the army released Red's regiment from duty, he again joined the army as a leader of the Macabebe Scouts in the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). Red was cited for his gallant service and discharged in 1900.


Jessie Lee “Red” Hall died on March 17, 1911, and is buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery. Wilburn H. King, Confederate States Army colonel and adjutant general of Texas from 1881 to 1891, characterized Hall as "a man of daring and almost reckless physical courage, of fine physique and resistless energy".


Notes


* The Texas Rangers were instituted in1835. The names of the Special State Troops and the Texas Rangers are used interchangeably.


** The wanted posters show a $5,000 reward, and research reports both a $4,000 and a $5,000 reward. I am going with the poster’s information.


** Whiting, Alabama, no longer exists as a town. I could not find where it was. From my research, it appears that it was located somewhere on Mobile Bay and named for whiting fish.


*** John Wesley wrote his autobiography in Huntsville Prison. It was found after his death and published by his family in 1896. Leon Metz studied John Wesley’s papers and the book. Metz researched extensively to separate John Wesley’s truth from fiction.


Pictures


1. Red Hall
2. Leander McNelly
3. John King Fisher
4. John Wesley’s El Paso, Texas, circa 1880s.
5. John Wesley, circa 1889s
6. Jack Wright’s Saloon, Courtesy Comanche County Museum
7. John Wesley Hardin’s restoration of citizenship after his pardon
8. Red Hall’s Grave
9. Leander McNelly’s Grave
10. John Wesley’s Grave


Sources


This story comes from the research of:


Gammel, H.P.N. The Laws of Texas. 1822-1897


Godbold, Mollie M. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Vol. 67, No. 2 (Oct., 1963), pp. 247-266


Hardin, John W. The Life of John Wesley Hardin as Written by Himself. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.


Metz, Leon. John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. chap. 21-28


Miller, Rick. Bounty Hunter (The Early West). College Station, Creative Publishing Co, 1988. chap. 4.


Parsons, Chuck. The Capture of John Wesley Hardin. College Station, Creative Publishing Co., 1978.


Utley, Robert M. Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers. New York, Oxford University Press, 2002. chap. 9


Webb, Walter P. The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1935. pp. 299–301.


Online Sources


https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fga13


https://truewestmagazine.com/wanted-dead-or-alive/


https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffi20


https://truewestmagazine.com/mrose/


https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fha63


https://billiongraves.com/grave/Jessie-Lee-Hall/15023229?referrer=myheritage


https://www.geni.com/people/Jesse-Lee-Red-Hall-Texas-Ranger/6000000014082032193


https://www.texasranger.org/texas-ranger-museum/hall-of-fame/jesse-lee-hall/


http://www.texasescapes.com/AllThingsHistorical/Hardin-Brothers-BB706.htm


http://www.texasescapes.com/AllThingsHistorical/Hardin-Brothers-BB706.htm


https://visitcomanchecountytx.com/2019/06/17/more-comanche-county-history/




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