Origins: John Wesley Hardy? / Harding / Hardin
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Origins: John Wesley Hardy? / Harding / Hardin

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Lyr Req: John Wesley Harding (Bob Dylan) (2) (closed)

Inükshük 05 Sep 03 - 11:42 AM
GUEST,BTMP 05 Sep 03 - 12:29 PM
GUEST,pdq 05 Sep 03 - 12:36 PM
Amos 05 Sep 03 - 12:39 PM
GUEST,pdq 05 Sep 03 - 01:15 PM
Candyman(inactive) 05 Sep 03 - 02:38 PM
Joe Offer 05 Sep 03 - 03:43 PM
Joe Offer 05 Sep 03 - 04:04 PM
Little Hawk 05 Sep 03 - 04:14 PM
Joe Offer 05 Sep 03 - 04:19 PM
Inükshük 05 Sep 03 - 06:15 PM
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Subject: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: Inükshük
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 11:42 AM

I have been reseaching this song all afternoon. All kinds of lyrics, some so sad that you would not want to ever sing them. I just want to know if there was an actual case. I've not been able to find any evidence at all, even though all he lyrics point to a historical occurance.

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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 12:29 PM

Try searching on John Wesley Hardin. I believe this is the character to which Bob Dylan's song refers to.

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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: GUEST,pdq
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 12:36 PM

Dylan's song is "John Wesley Harding", and is thought by some to be about Lyndon Johnson. It is not historically factual.

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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: Amos
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 12:39 PM

HEre's the short history on JW Hardin, Texas badman: click here.


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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: GUEST,pdq
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 01:15 PM

The song "John Wesley Harding" is typical Dylan in that words bring up images and make people think. It has no real connection to the badman John Wesley Hardin, other than the vague suggestion that Harding is from the wild west and is operating outside the law. BTW, Tim Hardin claimed to be decendant of John Wesley Hardin.

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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: Candyman(inactive)
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 02:38 PM

Johnny Cash also has a song about John Wesley Hardin called "Hardin Wouldn't Run."

I'm wondering if the original poster was somehow combining John Wesley Hardin with John Hardy, who was, himself, a desperate little man.

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Subject: ADDPOP: John Wesley Harding (Dylan)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 03:43 PM

For the sake of discussion, here are the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song. Seems reminiscent of Woody Guthrie's Pretty Boy Floyd.
-Joe Offer-

(Bob Dylan)

John Wesley Harding
Was a friend to the poor,
He trav'led with a gun in ev'ry hand.
All along this countryside,
He opened a many a door,
But he was never known
To hurt an honest man.

'Twas down in Chaynee County,
A time they talk about,
With his lady by his side
He took a stand.
And soon the situation there
Was all but straightened out,
For he was always known
To lend a helping hand.

All across the telegraph
His name it did resound,
But no charge held against him
Could they prove.
And there was no man around
Who could track or chain him down,
He was never known
To make a foolish move.

Copyright © 1968; renewed 1996 Dwarf Music


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Subject: ADDPOP: Hardin Wouldn't Run (Johnny Cash)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 04:04 PM

Here's the Johnny Cash song, obtained from It doesn't seem to have much of a connection to the Dylan song, or to John Hardy.
-Joe Offer-

Words and music by Johnny Cash
As recorded by Johnny Cash on "Johnny Cash Sings the Ballads of the True West" (1965)

I know a man whose plow-handle hand is quicker than a light.
Wes Hardin is his name, they say; he travels in the night,
For he might have to kill or walk around a fight.

And if you ever saw Wes Hardin draw, you know he can skin his gun.
He won't say how many tried and died, up against the top hand,
Up against the wrong man, 'cause Hardin wouldn't run.

He rode in like a Texas wind, took the eastbound train,
Goin', goin' with Jane Bowen till the lawmen caught up.
"So long, Janie; chin up! I'll be back again."

Off he went to Huntsville Prison. "So long, Jane," he cried.
Fifteen years she waited till her heart broke and she died,
And she left that bad land to wait up in the sky.

Free at last, the payin' past for all the wrong he did,
First free air they let him breathe since he was a kid.
So let him come and let him go; let him deal and bid.

Near the border in El Paso, lawyer reads a sign.
You won't find him there for business every day at nine,
For business is real bad; one client's all he's had in quite a long long time.

Then sheriff Selman's boy broke into Wes's woman's place.
Up she jumped and pistol-whipped him, kicked him in the face,
And John Selman demands revenge for this disgrace.

You could see ever' night by candlelight in Hardin's favorite bar,
She'd be hangin' on his arm and very late they'd leave there,
Headed for the Goose Hair, glad it wasn't far.

Right through the swingin' doors, John Selman came with a blazin' gun,
Wes Hardin chug-a-luggin' redeye, got him in the back of the head
John Wesley Hardin fell dead; Hardin wouldn't run.

© 1962 Southwind Music

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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: Little Hawk
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 04:14 PM

I heard recently that Bob was writing that one, intending it to be a many-verse story song, but he lost interest part way through, and just decided to record it as it was. It does have many parallels with "Pretty Boy Floyd". I can't imagine for a minute that it's about Lyndon Johnson, but others have suggested it's about Bob himself, and that the "lady by his side" was Joan Baez, when they were both supporting civil rights workers down in Chaney Country. That sounds much more likely than LBJ to me. Dylan loves casting himself as the noble outlaw on the run from the powers that be, and like John Wesley Harding, Bob was very seldom known to make a foolish move, given the fact that he rocketed to success in an unprecedented fashion for a folk musician.

- LH

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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: Joe Offer
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 04:19 PM

Up above, Amos linked to a page at that gives a good biography of John Wesley Hardin. I think I'll post the entire text.
-Joe Offer-


Old West outlaw and gunslinger John Wesley Hardin was born May 26, 1853, in Bonham, Texas. Rumored to be so mean he once shot a man for snoring, Hardin was shot to death in El Paso on August 19, 1895, by a man he had hired to kill someone else.

John's father, James G. Hardin, was a Methodist preacher, lawyer, schoolteacher and circuit rider. His mother was Elizabeth Hardin. At age fourteen, John stabbed a schoolmate. At age fifteen, he shot a black man to death in Polk County. While fleeing from the law following that murder, he killed at least one, and possibly four Union soldiers who were attempting to apprehend him.

As a cowboy on the Chisolm Trail in 1871, Hardin killed seven people. He killed three more upon arriving in Abilene, Kansas. Back in Texas,following a run-in with the State Police back in Gonzales County, Hardin got married, settled down and had three children. But he soon resumed his murder spree, killing 4 more times before surrendering to the Cherokee County sheriff in September 1872. He broke out of jail after a couple of weeks, however.

Hardin next killed Jack Helm, a former State Police captain, who led the fight against the anti-Reconstructionist forces of Jim Taylor in the Sutton-Taylor Feud. Hardin had become a supporter of Taylor's from 1873 to 1874.

In May 1874, Hardin killed a deputy sheriff in Brown County while visiting the town of Comanche. Fleeing to Florida with his family, Hardin was captured by Texas Rangers in Pensacola on July 23, 1877. During that flight, he killed at least one, and perhaps as many as five more victims.

On September 28, 1878, Hardin was sentenced to twenty-five years for the Brown County deputy's murder. He was pardoned on March 16, 1894. Having studied law while in prison, Hardin was admitted to the Texas bar soon after his release.

In 1895, Hardin went to El Paso to testify for the defense in a murder trial. Following the trial, he stayed and established a law practice. Just when he seemed to finally be going straight, Hardin began an affair with one of his married female clients. Her husband found out about the affair and Hardin hired some law officials to kill him. One of the hired gunmen, however, Constable John Selman, shot Hardin instead.

Legend has it that his last words were, "Four sixes to beat, Henry." When killed, Hardin was shooting dice with local furniture dealer Henry Brown at the Acme saloon in El Paso. Thus ended the life and career of one of Texas deadliest gunslingers. Despite his killing of over thirty people, Hardin had a reputation as a gentleman among those who knew him, and he always claimed he never killed anyone who didn't need killing.

Bibliography: Wendy Brabner, ed., Texas Monthly Texas Characters Datebook 1985 (Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, 1984). Ron Tyler, ed., The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 3 (Austin, Texas: Texas State Historical Association, 1996) pp. 454-55.

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Subject: RE: Origins: John Wesley Hardy
From: Inükshük
Date: 05 Sep 03 - 06:15 PM

Thank all of you. When all else fails, you can depend on Mudcat.

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