By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
A slice of Texas history is being preserved for future generations with the help of the Corsicana Public Library.
The original 1870 indictment of John Wesley Hardin for attempted murder was placed in the Corsicana Public Library by the Navarro County District Clerk Josh Tackett Thursday, in honor of Texas History Month.
The documents, which include the hand-written indictment by the grand jury, will remain at the library for at least a year and a half while the courthouse is being renovated.
During the demolition and renovation everything has to be moved out of the historic courthouse, including two enormous vaults of records dating from the 1800s of everything from criminal and civil court proceedings, births, marriages, land deeds, and death records.
“I want to have them here at least during the move,” Tackett said. “Just so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. I don’t want them to be by themselves where they could be lost or stolen.”
Hardin moved to Navarro County and became a school teacher in Pisgah Ridge in 1869. In 1870, he tried to kill a man named S.H. Presley, for which he was indicted.
Texas was in a period of reconstruction at the time, it was following the Civil War, and Governor E.J. Davis, a Republican Reconstruction governor who believed in centralized power from Austin, had formed a statewide militia-type police force. Disliking the outside authorities, local residents took it upon themselves to harbor the fugitive Hardin.
It’s unclear how much of the Hardin legend is true or not. Hardin’s autobiography was printed after his death. However, at least one account states that between 1868 and 1878, he had killed 40 men. He was supposedly 15 when he killed the first man in Polk County, according to an article in the Corsicana Daily Sun, printed Jan. 11, 1987.
Hardin ended up in Navarro County because he had family here, and his parents were worried about him getting in trouble for the 1868 killing, and sent him to live with relatives. After teaching for one year, he was offered a second term on his contract but he turned it down.
Later, Hardin was sentenced to prison for murder. He was pardoned and released in 1894.
The bound document, which has been restored in the last few years, will be on display in the glass display case in the foyer of the library, along with some historic photos and branding irons, all part of early Navarro County history, according to Dana Stubbs, genealogy librarian.
Beyond what’s written on the paper, the document has its own history. In the 1990s it was stolen from the courthouse by someone who came into the district clerk’s office claiming to be working on some research. In 1996, the thief was caught trying to steal documents in Presidio County and arrested. Among the items seized was the Hardin indictment and a few others from Navarro County.
They were returned to Navarro County by the Marfa Police Chief in 1996. When Tackett came into office, he found the documents in a file folder that had been set aside from the other records.
“This kind of things happens all the time across Texas and the country,” Tackett said.
Not only are security features expensive, but it’s difficult to allow the vaults to be open to researchers while still maintaining tight security, he said.
“Ultimately, that’s why I wanted it here (at the library) during the move for safekeeping,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of history and the upkeep of these records.”
People can collect things, such as guns and uniforms from the past, but a handwritten document from 100 years ago is a rare piece of history that needs special attention, he said.
“It’s very important to keep these things in good shape for future generations,” he said.
After the display is taken down, the papers will be put in a secure location in the library until they can be returned to the restored courthouse.
“March is Texas History Month, so we thought this would be pretty cool,” said Chief Librarian Chad Freeze.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com