John Gresham Hardin, farmer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, was born to George W. and Eliza (Bills) Hardin on August 26, 1854, in Tippah County, Mississippi. About 1857 his family moved to Dyer County, Tennessee, where Hardin lived until he reached twenty-one. He received his education in a local subscription school and, upon its completion, became a schoolteacher. In 1875 he accompanied his father on a visit to Johnson County, Texas, and chose to remain in the state when the elder Hardin returned to Tennessee. In Johnson County Hardin worked on a farm and taught school. During his first year in the state he married Susan Adams, a former student, and settled on a farm near Cleburne. In 1879, dissatisfied with this farmland, Hardin moved his family-which included his wife, a small child, and his mother-in-law-to a 127-acre homestead that he had purchased in what was then northern Clay County (later Wichita County). They lived in a dugout for two years, while Hardin cultivated his land and operated a general store frequented by Kiowa and Comanche Indians from Indian Territory, as well as newly arrived homesteaders and cowboys from Samuel Burk Burnett's nearby Four Sixes Ranch. The settlement that developed around this store was known as Nesterville and was the first community at the site of Burkburnett.
Apparently using the profits accrued from his business, Hardin began buying land in the area for one to three dollars an acre. By the turn of the century his holdings totaled 4,000 acres, and he had become a leading wheat farmer and local financier. He had accumulated some 6,000 acres of land by about 1915, when farming, land sales and leases, and moneylending had increased his fortune to more than $1 million. Hardin's landholdings lay in the area that after 1918 became the Burkburnett oilfield. He leased portions of his land to oil companies beginning in 1918, and at one time as many as 100 wells-some producing up to 3,000 barrels a day-operated on his holdings. After the discovery of oil on his property he stopped lending money and invested his oil profits in bonds, through which he accumulated $5 million. During his career he served as president of the First National Bank of Burkburnett and was a member of the board of directors of the First National Bank of Wichita Falls.
After the discovery of oil on his property, Hardin released the mortgages that he held in Burkburnett-over one-fourth of the property in the community-so that those living on the oil-producing land might profit. With his second wife, Mary Catherine (Funk) of Harrisonburg, Virginia, whom he had married in 1888, he helped fund the construction of several churches in Burkburnett, donated land for playgrounds to the community, retired outstanding public school bonds, and financed a local electric power plant, which he gave to the community. In addition to providing financial aid to numerous individual college students, he donated $400,000 towards the construction of a four-year college in Wichita Falls. With a matching amount raised locally, Hardin Junior College, later Hardin College, a predecessor of Midwestern State University, was established in 1936. Hardin established trust funds with amounts ranging from $160,000 to $1.5 million for a number of educational and charitable institutions including Baylor Female College (now Mary Hardin-Baylor University) in Belton, Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University) in Abilene, Abilene Christian College (now Abilene Christian University), Howard Payne College (now Howard Payne University) in Brownwood, and Buckner Baptist Children's Home in Dallas. Before his death Hardin required yearly interest payments of 6 percent on his gifts. These payments were returned to the original trust funds so that the beneficiaries actually accrued money for themselves. Upon his death, the interest payments were ended, and the principal sums distributed to the respective institutions on an endowment basis.
Although he maintained a home in Burkburnett, Hardin spent the last years of his life in Baylor University Hospital in Dallas. He died there on December 16, 1937.