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Old West Legends IconOLD WEST LEGENDS

John Selman - Wicked Lawman and Vicious Outlaw

Regional and State DVD's

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Though by far, not the most well-known of the Old West's infamous characters, John Henry Selman's life was certainly one of the most notorious. Sometimes referred to as "Old John," or "Uncle John," he would variously operate in a number of roles, including soldier, lawman, vigilante and vicious outlaw.

 

Born in Madison County, Arkansas on November 16, 1839, the family later moved to Grayson County, Texas in 1858. A few years later, on December 16, 1861, Selman's father died and the young man joined the 22nd Texas Cavalry, fighting as a private in the Civil War. However, just 15 months later, he deserted from Fort Washita, Oklahoma in April, 1863.

 

He then moved to Stephens County, where in 1864, he enlisted in the Texas State Militia. He must have done a better job in this regiment, as the following year, he promoted to the rank of lieutenant in April, 1865.

 

Just a few months later, on August 17th, he married Edna Degrafenreid, who would soon be pregnant with his first son. Over the years, the couple would have four children.  Selman moved his family to Colfax County, New Mexico briefly before returning to Texas and settling in Fort Griffin.

 

 

John Henry Selman

John Henry Selman, both an outlaw and a lawman,

 killed John Wesley Hardin.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!

John LarnHe soon began to work as a deputy sheriff under Shackelford County Sheriff John M. Larn. Fort Griffin during these days was a very lawless place, filled with a number of notable characters that Selman, no doubt, came in contact with. In the decadent settlement that was called the "Babylon on the Brazos” were the likes of  Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Big Nose Kate; Dave Rudabaugh, Lottie Deno, Pat Garrett, and John Wesley Hardin.

 

Sheriff John Larn, however, was not what he appeared to be. Shortly after taking the sheriff's position, Larn had entered into a private contract with the local territorial garrison to deliver three steers of cattle per day. However, Larn had no intentions on filling these contracts legally. When Selman came on board, the pair rustled the cattle from neighboring ranchers. Before long, Larn and Selman, instead of controlling the area crime, were controlling the vigilantes, rustling even more cattle and otherwise terrorizing the county.

 

However, suspicions were soon raised as a number of ranchers noticed that while their herds were slowly shrinking, Larn's remained unaffected. Larn then resigned as sheriff on March 7, 1877 and was replaced by William Cruger. He and Selman then moved to outright cattle rustling, as the complaints grew louder and a number of violent acts were perpetuated by the pair as they drove off cattle, shot horses, and fired potshots at the homes of terrified citizens.

 

Finally, a warrant was issued for Larn's arrest in June, 1878 and William Cruger was tasked with arresting his former boss. On June 22nd, Larn was taken to the Fort Griffin jail where Cruger had the local blacksmith shackle Larn to the floor of the cell to prevent a breakout by Larn's supporters. Instead, the next night, the Tin Hat Brigade, stormed the jail intending to hang Larn. When they found they couldn't lynch the shackled man, they shot him in his cell.

 

Selman wisely disappeared, next landing in lawless Lincoln County, New Mexico. There, he formed a gang of vicious outlaws called Selman's Scouts. For two months in September and October, 1878, the Scouts rustled horses and cattle, murdered innocent men and boys, and pillaged businesses and homes. They were finally stopped when Governor Lew Wallace issued a proclamation threatening martial law.

 

Lincoln, New Mexico, 1800's

Lincoln, New Mexico in the late 1800's.

This image available for photographic prints

 and  downloads HERE!


Selman returned to
Texas and his wife died in 1879. The following year, he was captured by Texas Rangers and taken to Shackelford County to stand trial for his previous crimes. However, he soon escaped and made his way to Chihuahua, Mexico where he lived until 1888, when the Texas charges were dropped.

 

He then moved to El Paso where he remarried and made his living primarily as a gambler and sometimes as a City Constable.

 

On April 5, 1894, John Selman met Texas Ranger, Bass Outlaw. Outlaw, who was in a drunken stupor, made his way to Tillie Howard's brothel and Selman followed. As Selman sat in the parlor, Outlaw made his way to the back. A short time later, Bass dropped his gun and it accidentally went off. All hell broke loose. Selman, as well as Texas Ranger, Joe McKidrict who was in the neighborhood, ran to see about the commotion.

 

As both tried to calm down the drunken gunman, Outlaw pointed his gun at McKidrict and shot him in the head and back, killing him instantly. Outlaw then fired at Selman, nearly striking him in the face and causing deep powder burns. Selman returned fire, hitting Outlaw just above the heart. As Bass staggered back he fired two more shots, hitting Selman above the right knee and in the thigh. He then staggered into the street where surrendered to Texas Ranger, Frank McMahon. He died four hours later. John Selman was then put on trial for killing Outlaw, but the judge instructed the jury to find him not guilty.

 

El Paso, Texas, 1888.

El Paso, Texas, 1888.

This image available for photographic prints  and downloads HERE!

 

The following year, on August 19, 1895, Selman arrested John Wesley Hardin's prostitute girlfriend. Unhappy, Hardin soon confronted Selman and the two argued. Hardin then went to the Acme Saloon, where he began playing dice. Just a short time later, Selman followed him into the saloon and without notice shot Hardin three times from behind, killing him.

 

While out on bond, he ran into U.S. Deputy Marshal George Scarborough who had been close friends with another man Selman had killed. In no time, their talk elevated into a dispute, then to gunplay. In the end, Scarborough shot Selman four times. Selman died on April 6, 1896 and Scarborough was acquitted of murder.

 

Selman was buried in El Paso's Concordia Cemetery in the Catholic section, but his grave was unmarked, and all attempts to locate it have been unsuccessful.

 

Scarborough, himself, was mortally wounded in a gunfight with two robbers and died on April 5, 1900, exactly four years after he shot John Selman.

 

 

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December, 2012.

 

From Legends' General Store

Camera - Vintage Photos IconVintage Photographs of the Old West - From our personal Photo Print Shop, you can now order prints that provide dramatic glimpses into the rich heritage of the American West. From notorious outlaws, to Indian Chiefs, buffalo roaming the range, and pioneers on the trail, this varied collection grows daily.

               

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