Pat Garrett

Written by on June 6, 2014 in Southwest Characters - Comments Off on Pat Garrett

Pat Garrett was the Lincoln County Sheriff who tracked down and killed Billy the Kid.

Pat Garrett was the Lincoln County Sheriff who tracked down and killed Billy the Kid.

Pat Garrett, famous in song and story as the man who killed Billy the Kid, was a rather colorful character. Born in Alabama, he grew up on a prosperous plantation. But the settled life wasn’t for him. He yearned for adventure, so in 1869 he left home and became a cowboy in Texas.

In the next 10 years, he moved around quite a bit, from Texas, to New Mexico, where he opened his own saloon. That’s where he met his first wife, Juanita Gutierrez. She died in the first year of their marriage. A year later, Garrett married Apolonaria, Juanita’s sister, and together, they had nine children.

Garrett became sheriff in Lincoln County New Mexico, charged with tracking down and arresting the area’s most wanted — Henry McCarty and William H. Bonney (Billy the Kid). Both had participated in the Lincoln County Wars. His hunt was resoundingly successful. By December 1880, Garrett had tracked down McCarty’s gang, killed one member and captured the rest, including Billy the Kid.

Needless to say, Garrett was seriously irritated when the men guarding the kid at a Mesilla jail, managed to let him escape less than four months later as he was waiting to stand trial. The Kid killed two guards while escaping. Once again, Garrett was back on Billy’s trail, and followed leads that led him to the Fort Sumner area. He learned The Kid was staying with a lady friend. Garrett paid the home a midnight visit. The stories say that Billy woke up hungry in the middle of the night and wandered into the kitchen where Garrett was standing in the shadows. Garrett shot twice. The first bullet hit The Kid in the heart, killing him instantly, the second shot missed.

There is yet another version of this tale. According to some experts, Garrett went first to Paulita Maxwell’s bedroom and tied her up. When The Kid came to investigate, Garrett ambushed him with a single blast from a Sharps rifle.

Unfortunately, only Garrett knew the truth of that night and he took the secret to his grave. But two facts are evident — The Kid wasn’t given the chance to surrender and he was very likely unarmed when he was gunned down, making Garrett a cold blooded murder. Garrett maintained Billy was armed (with a gun or knife) and that he’d already killed two lawmen so shouldn’t have be given a chance to surrender, but the controversy over The Kid’s death that night sullied Garrett’s reputation.

His law career over, Garrett became a rancher and unsuccessfully ran for Lincoln County Sheriff and then for the New Mexico State Senate. In the succeeding years, Garrett bounced around from New Mexico to Texas.

His next notable activity was to investigate the disappearance of Albert Jennings Fountain and his son. Fountain was serving as a special prosecutor against men charged with cattle rustling in Lincoln, New Mexico. After the trial, Fountain and his young son left to return home, but disappeared around White Sands. His disappearance outraged the territory, especially since the main suspects in his disappearance where three deputy sheriffs. The governor called in Garrett to investigate.

Because the three men had powerful connections to lawyers, politicians and judges, Garrett waited two years, until those powerful men were no longer in control, before presenting the evidence he had gathered. One of the deputies was arrested immediately, while the other two went into hiding. Garrett tracked them down and one of Garrett’s posse members was killed in an exchange of gunfire with the two men, who subsequently escaped again. The two fugitives later surrendered, although not to Garrett. Both stood trial and were acquitted. Fountain and his son’s bodies were never found.

In 1901, Garrett became personal friends with Theodore Roosevelt, who appointed him customs collector in El Paso, Texas. Garrett held the position for five years but was not reappointed. Rumor has it that Garrett showed up at an event with a notorious gambler, and when pictures were circulated of the two together, Roosevelt was angered by the bad publicity he received over the incident.

Garrett returned to his ranch in New Mexico. His financial situation was not good. He took out huge load and owed large sums of money. He took to drinking and gambling heavily. In an attempt to help make the loan payments, he leased a portion of his land. He wasn’t aware that his leasee (Jesse Wayne Brazel) would be grazing goats on the property. Garrett felt goats lowered the value of the cattle ranch and in a heated discussion, legend says that Garrett leaned down to pick up a double barreled shotgun from the bed of the wagon. Brazel shot him once in the head, then again in the stomach. His body tumbled from the wagon. Brazel left Garrett dead by the side of the road and alerted the local sheriff to the shooting.

Brazel stood trial, but was acquitted of the murder. Garrett’s reputation had made him extremely unpopular so many townsfolk celebrated Brazel’s acquittal with a large party.

Pat Garrett was a tall man, and his body wouldn’t fit into a standard coffin. A special one had to be shipped in from El Paso, so his funeral was delayed. He was interred on March 5, 1908, in the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Thanks to his less than stellar reputation, few attended the services.

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