John Wesley Hardin and Billings Family Connections

Marvin: Here is some of the material I promised to put together. There are tracks from here in Gonzales all the way into the Callahan, Bodie, Duderstadt and Walker families of Gillespie and Kerr counties, and into the local histories of Harper, Texas, and the Klein Branch community nearby. There is much of this developing at the Gillespie County website thanks to the work of Wanda Qualls. I am going to be copying an extensive obituary of Maggie Mae Bode who died in 1988. She had links to all of these families, and locations from Gonzales to the Klein Branch.

John Wesley Hardin and Billings Family Connections

My grandfather Rev. Link Hugh Billings (1872-1969) used to talk about the quietness that enveloped the darkness of his father's home in Gonzales County when John Wesley Hardin, the infamous Texas desperado, stopped to spend the night. It is unlikely that my grandfather was old enough to recall these visits himself, since Hardin was in jail in Austin by late summer 1877 and soon would be sent to prison. But during that short period, the infamous Taylor-Sutton Feud erupted in the Gonzales County area and Wes Hardin and his gang would touch many citizens of the area through participation in the Feud and through their own misdeeds. And the William Carroll Billings family, living in the Sandies Creek area of Gonzales County, near W.C.'s father Gipson Billings-who had brought his family from Tennessee in 1854-were just as likely to have have served as overnight hideouts for the fugitive Hardin as would others during the early 1870s.

By January 1871, when he was 18 and the killer of several dozen men, Hardin had moved his base of operations from the Waco area where his family lived to Gonzales County, home of several cousins, including Jim Clements who would marry 14-year old Ann Caroline Tennille on January 11, 1872-just a week before my grandfather Link was born. Ann was the daughter of George Culver Tennille and Amanda Jane Billings (1840-1916), the daughter of John Billings (1803-1872), brother of Gibson (1817-1882). Hardin and the Clements family were so closely identified that Wes for a time was mistakenly named a Clements by the authorities and press.

In turn, Hardin would marry the 14-year old Jane Bowen on February 29, 1872. Jane's father Neill Bowen owned a mercantile store in Nopal, Gonzales County, and Wes and Jane lived for a brief time on the second floor of the Bowen home on Coon Hollow, a short distance north of the store. By this time, Wes Hardin's companions included George Tennille, Jane's brother Joshua Robert "Brown" Bowen, Wes's two cousins Jim and Gip Clements, Rockwood Birtsell and Thomas J. Haldeman. One of the most frequently told Hardin stories, and one of the best documented, occurred shortly before Christmas, 1872. An extensive account of this drunken and murderous episode is included in the extremely readable "John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas," by Leon Metz (El Paso, TX: Mangan Books, 1996).

Like Ann Hardin's father Neill Bowen, William MacDonald Billings also operated a store in Nopal. (Although Metz calls William Billings a father-in-law to George Tennille, William (1834-1903) was actually the brother of Amanda Billings Tennille. W.M. Billings' son, John MacDonald "Mac" Billings was 14 and liked to hang around the store. He would later describe how he he observed Brown Bowen come around a corner of the store, lift a quilt from the sleeping, drunk Tom Haldeman and shoot him in the head. Tom had apparently been suspected by Hardin of being a spy for the State Police. Mac Billings' testimony helped convict Bowen of the murder.

According to court testimony, Mac said he saw "Haldeman's head rather sink at the fire of the piston." Inside the store, Hardin asked Mac who had fired the shot, and Mac informed him that Mr. Bowen had shot Haldeman. When William Billings asked Bowen why he had shot Haldeman, Bowen told him he had a right to kill him. When Billings asked Bowen why he had shot Haldeman in front of his son Mac, Bowen replied "I did not see Mac until my finger was was on the trigger, and it was too late to stop then."

Bowen and all the others in jail with him were soon "delivered the county jail" by Wes Hardin and a dozen other men, according to a San Antonio news story. Brown Bowen and his brother-in-law Hardin would both shortly flee to Florida, and each would be recaptured and returned to Texas. Bowen was hanged in front of four thousand spectators in Gonzales in May of 1878, and Hardin was sent to prison in September, to stay until he was pardoned and released in February, 1894.

Ann and Wes Hardin's daughter, Mary Elizabeth "Mollie," would marry Charles R. Billings, another son of William MacDonald Billings, in 1894. Strangely enough, in the mid-1990's grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Charles and Mollie, and other family members, would become involved in a court case involving the possible removal of Wes from his grave in the Concordia Cemetery, El Paso, to join Ann in the Billings Cemetery in Gonzales County. No one was moved.

Many relatively innocent persons had been dragged into the events of John Wesley Hardin's life, and especially his eventual participation in the Sutton-Taylor Feud in those years between 1873 and 1877. Ten years after George Tennille's death in 1874, Amanda Billings Tennille married James Monroe "Doc" Bockius, another individual close to the Hardin escapades and Sutton-Taylor Feud. Bockius, like others, would eventually shed the feud's legacy and complete their lives as upright citizens.

That the Billings family was not completely removed from the more violent activities of these times is proven in news stories from the Bonzales Inquirer. Frederick K. Gibson recounted these events in his Master's Thesis for The University of Texas in 1964, "A History of Gonzales County in the Nineteenth Century." Among the violent episodes described is the murder in June, 1894, near Ottine, of William Twellsing by Joseph Billings, who slit Twellsing's throat the day after he was "offended" by a remark made by the other man. A month later, he was acquitted by the jury for "avenging the 'grossest of insults.'"

It is likely that the violence of the Taylor-Sutton and Wes Hardin day helped convince many of these families to depart Gonzales County and move to the Texas Hill Country, many settling in the Harper, Texas area of Gillespie County. These groups included families like those of William Carroll Billings (who had married Mary Jane Hesskew, dauther of another Gonzales pioneer family) , John and his son Fred Duderstadt, who married Henrietta Tennille (daughter of Amanda Billings and George Tennille) and John's brother George Washington Duderstadt (who married Maggie Caroline Billings, a daughter of William MacDonald Billings and sister of Mac Billings, whose testimony had helped hang Brown Bowen).

It is apparent that the complex family relationships between the Billings Family and members of the Hardin Gang could be elaborated far beyond this summary. In addition, the intermarriages among the Billings Family, the Kent Family, the Zumwalt Family, in addition to the other families mentioned here, are also complex, but there is a great deal of information about these relationships growing on the World Wide Web, and more information will be added in future years.


More on the Higgenbotham family and Levicy Heskew here | Moses and Wm Heskew fought at the Battle of Salado in 1842.

Moses Heskew |William Alexander Hesskew