The only times I have ever heard the description "hard bark on [someone]" was in film. Specifically, just two films.
The first was a 1967 film, inspired by some short stories by Elmore Leonard, called Hombre:
Grimes: Mister, you've got a lot of hard bark on you walkin' down here like this. Now, I owe you. You put two holes in me.
John Russell: Usually enough for most of 'em.
The second was in 2007's No Country for Old Men:
El Paso Sheriff: He's just a goddamn homicidal lunatic, Ed Tom.
Ed Tom Bell: I'm not sure he's a lunatic.
El Paso Sheriff: Yea well what would you call him?
Ed Tom Bell: Well, sometimes I think he's pretty much a ghost.
El Paso Sheriff: Oh he's real all right.
Ed Tom Bell: Oh yea.
El Paso Sheriff: Yea all that over at the Eagle Hotel? Huh, it's beyond everything.
Ed Tom Bell: Yea. Got some hard bark on him.
El Paso Sheriff: Well... well, that don't hardly say it. He shoots the desk clerk one day, walks right back in the next and shoots a retired army colonel.
Now, I infer from these two passages that this is a colorful way of saying someone has behaved in a manner that is beyond audacious. It means someone has a lot of effrontery, or what some call "crust," which The Free Dictionary calls
- Informal Insolence; audacity; gall.
In any case, please don't respond to tell me the meaning. I feel I already know it. The important thing is, I have never heard this expression outside of these two movie instances.
Moreover, a web search only yields references to these two films. And an NGram search yields no instances of either, though there are some instances of the unadorned "hard bark" (almost always involving literal trees, but occasionally used metaphorically, as in a translation of Yukio Mishima's novel Decay of the Angel, which refers to "a hard bark of contempt.")
So my question is this:
Is referring to someone who demonstrates a certain egregious indulgence in effrontery or gall as having "hard bark on him" a cinematic neologism, or did it arise from actual usage? It certainly sounds like it could be a rural expression, but how can we know whether it is or not?
Note: The fact that it appears in two films is not sufficient for me to decide that these cases arose independently. The Coen brothers, who created No Country for Old Men from Cormac McCarthy's novel, are attentive students of film, and McCarthy himself may have heard the expression from the 1967 Paul Newman film. [It is worth noting that I have read all of Elmore Leonard's published work, yet don't recall reading that expression there, though Leonard was certainly capable of taut, expressive dialogue.]