Selman, John Henry (1839–1896)

By: Leon C. Metz

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 19, 2019

John Henry (Old John, Uncle John) Selman, outlaw cum lawman, was born in Madison County, Arkansas, on November 16, 1839, the son of Jeremiah Selman, an Englishman. In 1858 the Selmans moved to Grayson County, Texas, where Jeremiah died, and on December 15, 1861, John joined the Twenty-second Texas Cavalry as a private. He deserted from Fort Washita, Choctaw Nation (Indian Territory), in April 1863 and joined his family at Fort Davis, a Stephens County settlement at the fort on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. On August 17, 1865, John married Edna DeGraffenreid. They had four children. In the mid-1870s the Selmans moved to Fort Griffin, Texas, where John became a deputy for Shackelford County sheriff John M. Larn. The two controlled the vigilantes, rustled cattle, and at times terrorized the county, until the vigilantes locked Larn in his own jail and shot him to death. After Selman's wife died in 1879, he fled to Lincoln County, New Mexico, and organized the "Selman Scouts," a band of desperados accused of murder and rape during the late 1870s. In 1880 strong law enforcement drove Selman to Fort Davis in Jeff Davis County, Texas, where the Texas Rangers captured him; they took him to Shackelford County for trial. He escaped, however, and fled to Chihuahua, where he lived until 1888, when Texas charges were dropped. That year Selman moved to El Paso, where he married Romula Granadine on August 23, 1893. He lived mostly as a gambler and city constable. On April 5, 1894, he killed former Texas Ranger Baz (Bass) Outlaw during a wild brawl in Tillie Howard's brothel. Selman killed the famous gunman John Wesley Hardin on August 19, 1895, by putting three bullets in him as he rolled dice in the Acme Saloon. Selman went on trial for murder, but because of a hung jury he was released on bond. After leaving the Wigwam Saloon late one night, he met United States deputy marshal George Scarborough, and the two fought. Scarborough shot Selman four times, and he died on the operating table on April 6, 1896. Scarborough was acquitted of murder. Selman was buried in El Paso's Concordia Cemetery in the Catholic section, but his grave was unmarked, and all attempts to locate it have been unsuccessful.

Leon C. Metz, John Selman (New York: Hastings House, 1966; 2d ed., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). C. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande (2 vols., El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968, 1980).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Outlaws, Criminals, Prostitutes, Gamblers, and Rebels
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Leon C. Metz, “Selman, John Henry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022,

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February 19, 2019