Ghosts of Our Ancestors

Several months ago, a couple walked into my sweetheart’s manufactured home store with questions about buying a new home. They talked for a long time – my sweetheart is a good talker and very charming — and somehow the conversation came around to their Texas ancestors. The gentleman, we’ll call him John Parr, had said that his family had a long history in Texas. As bona fides of his Texan roots, he mentioned that he was descended from John Wesley Hardin.

Hardin was one of those Texas outlaws of the old west that movies are made about. He had trouble with the law from an early age, including stabbing one of his classmates after being accused of writing a naughty poem about a girl on the classroom wall. Apparently he was “almost” expelled from school after that. Later in prison, Hardin studied law, and even tried to make a living as an attorney after his release. He didn’t seem to be able to stay on the right side of the law, though, and was shot to death by lawman John Selman in the Acme Saloon in El Paso in 1895.

John Wesley Hardin after his death. I’m sure he’s looked better.

What Mr. Parr didn’t realize when he was telling this story was that for several months before that, I had been working on an extensive family tree for my sweetheart. As of now, there are about 7000 people on this family tree, over 2500 pictures, and over 6400 records. It spans twelve generations and into the 16th century on his surname side alone. (Sometimes OCD and general persnickety-ness can be beneficial.) Through my research, I had discovered that John Selman (Yes, the John Selman mentioned above as John Wesley Hardin’s killer) is my sweetheart’s third cousin, three times removed. (In other words, John Selman’s great-great-grandfather is my sweetheart’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.)

John Selman, sporting a fine looking mustache. Maybe this picture will inspire my sweetheart to grow one. (Read: “Don’t Trash the Stache”.)

John Selman was quite a character himself, who also ran afoul of the law from time to time, despite his position as a county sheriff. When reading newspaper accounts of the murder of John Wesley Hardin, some opinions seem to be that Selman was justified and defending himself against a wanted criminal. Others seem to indicate that there was a dispute over some money lost in a card game and a warrant for the arrest of Selman’s son (who was hiding out in Mexico with his fourteen year-old Latina lover) that led to Selman sneaking up and shooting Hardin in the back of the head. He also seemed to have some moral flexibility: In a letter I found dated from May of 1879, his description is being given to those who are hoping to find and apprehend him. Included in this narrative is his association with “Hurricane Minnie” a local “businesswoman.”

My sweetheart said he hesitated for just a moment, before saying, “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this. But…” and then he proceeded to explain how he was related to the man who had shot Mr. Parr’s famous ancestor in the head.

Now, if we lived in a world that was ruled by the physics of horror movies, at that point the spirits of both old gunmen would have possessed my sweetheart and Mr. Parr, six guns would have somehow materialized, and there would have been an epic, ghost vs. ghost shootout that would have resulted in justice somehow being served, and the wrongs of the past being righted. Then again, if we wanted to have a sequel they would both have to die, and then there would be a scene showing my sweetheart’s grandson and Mr. Parr’s grandson each visiting their respective grandfather’s grave at the end, just before the credits rolled.

Fortunately, we do not live in such a world. Also fortunately, Mr. Parr was not offended and didn’t hold it against my sweetheart that their family trees had some murder weeds growing between them.

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