August 7, 1871
Charles Couger is sitting on a bed reading a newspaper in the American House in Abilene, Kansas.
Four shots are fired from outside his room, with the bullets coming through a “board partition,” one of which strikes him “in the fleshy part of the left arm, passing through the third rib and entering the heart, cutting a piece of it entirely off, and killing Couger almost instantly,” the Abilene Chronicle reports on August 10.
The newspaper also reports that the murderer, named as “Wesley Clements, alias ‘Arkansas,’” has escaped justice. Shortly after this, the legend is born that John Wesley Hardin killed Couger for snoring.
Aftermath: Odds & Ends
None of the newspaper accounts mention that Charles Couger was snoring. In fact, the Abilene Chronicle has him sitting up in bed, reading
Eighteen-year-old John Wesley Hardin was staying in the American House in Abilene, Kansas, with Gip Clements. Hardin’s biographer, Leon Metz, speculates that Couger arrived at the hotel before the two Texans and went to sleep.
Metz reports, “Clements and Hardin disrobed and crashed headlong onto the lumpy mattress as Couger’s raucous snoring ripped through the paper-thin walls. At first, Hardin and Clements drunkenly shouted for the man to roll over. Couger may have sat up in bed and tried to read a newspaper. Then he dozed off again. The snoring restarted, this time louder and more aggravating. To get Couger’s serious attention, Hardin and Clements fired a few rounds through the wall. The bullets were likely intended to demonstrate the limits of their exasperation, rather than kill Couger. However, when the snoring abruptly stopped, and a cold silence echoed from the adjoining room, the two cowboys realized they had fired a little low. Knowing [Marshal Wild Bill] Hickok would not understand, Hardin and Gip Clements decided this might be a good time to depart for Texas.”
Hardin does not take credit for the killing in his 1896 autobiography, The Life of John Wesley Hardin from the Original Manuscript, as Written by Himself. Gip Clements “denied the rumor of [Hardin] killing a man for snoring.” Still, the anecdote was being reported as early as 1877 and continues to this day.
Metz states Charles Couger became number 23 on Hardin’s death list (a list that would eventually reach 40).
Recommended: John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas by Leon Metz, published by Mangan Books.
Maps & Graphics by Gus Walker
Based on the research of Leon Metz