During his life, John Wesley Harden killed about 22 men. However, there was another death that could quite possibly be laid at his feet. That was the death of a whole town.
There are several great stories about John Wesley Harden, one of the Old West’s best-known outlaws. One is how he hunted down and killed Juan Bideno. When Harden told the story, he said he found Bideno in Bluff City. The town was actually Sumner City.
In 1871, Sumner City was a young thriving town. Just a year after it was founded the town had 12 buildings, including two hotels, post office, hardware store, bakery, two clothing stores, a livery stable and blacksmith shop. And a newspaper was soon to open.
Although Sumner City was located in the center of Sumner County, Sumner County had no county seat, and Sumner City looked to be the obvious choice.
Then, on July 6, John Wesley Harden and three others came into Sumner City looking for Juan Bideno, because Juan had killed a trail-boss friend of Harden’s. Harden caught up with Juan at a café. And Juan ended up dead.
Leaving $20 to cover the costs of cleaning up the café, and burying Juan, Harden and his friends left town.
People of the county couldn’t believe that the men weren’t arrested. Newspapers asked for officers who would carry out their duties, saying the county needed officials to stem this violence.
When the county seat election took place, there were four towns in contention. And, Sumner City came in dead last.
It was but a short time before Sumner City’s buildings were removed and relocated to the county seat. And, Sumner City became just another notch on John Wesley Harden’s gun.
Dakota Livesay is the editor of the Chronicle of the Old West. For more information about the Old West, visit www.ChronicleoftheOldWest.com You can hear Dakota 10 a.m. each day on KZUZ 93.5 in Show Low and KZUA 92.1 in Holbrook.