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Who Killed Sheriff Pat Garrett?
Pat Garrett, An Unlucky Lawman
By Kathy Weiser
Born in Chambers County, Alabama on June 5, 1850, Patrick Floyd Jarvis Garrett was one of seven children born to John and Elizabeth Garrett. Three years later, Pat's father, John Garrett, purchased a Louisiana plantation in Claiborne Parish, where young Garrett grew up.
A tall, thin angular man with prominent cheekbones, Garrett left Louisiana for Dallas County, Texas at the age of 19. There, he worked on the large LS Ranch in west Texas as a cowboy and cattle gunman when rustling was rampant in the area. From there he joined up with W. Skelton Glenn as a buffalo hunter. He soon got into a disagreement with a fellow hunter over some hides. The altercation soon led to gunplay and when the other man drew on Garrett, Pat shot him dead.
By 1878, he had moved on to Fort Sumner, New Mexico during the Lincoln County War. The battle between rival gangs spawned a storm of lawlessness and violence that would continue in southeastern New Mexico for the next two decades. Garrett first went to work on Peter Maxwell's ranch. A year later he quit and worked as a bartender at a saloon called Beaver Smith’s. Soon after, he married a woman named Juanita Gutierrez, but she died before the end of the year. A little more than a year later, on January 14, 1880, he married Juanita’s sister Apolinaria. The two would have nine children over the years.
It was at Beaver Smith’s saloon that Pat Garrett met and often gambled with William Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. The two were seen together so often they soon took on the nicknames of "Big Casino” and "Little Casino.” But when Garrett was appointed as the Lincoln County Sheriff on November 7, 1880, friends or not, his first vow was to bring the current reign of lawlessness to an end with the primary goal of apprehending Billy the Kid.
On December 15, 1880, Governor Wallace put a $500 reward on Billy's head and Garrett began the relentless pursuit of his former card playing associate. Garrett set-up many traps and ambushes in an attempt to apprehend him, but the Kid seemed to have an animal instinct that warned him of danger--that was not to last.
Within the week, Garrett confronted Billy and his gang when they rode into Fort Sumner. Killing Tom O'Folliard, the rest of the gang escaped. Soon, Garrett and his posse tracked the outlaws down to Stinking Springs and surrounded the hideout. After a several day siege, the posse killed Charlie Bowdre and captured Billy the Kid, Dirty Dave Rudabaugh, Tom Pickett and Billy Wilson on December 23, 1880. Billy was tried and sentenced to hang in Lincoln, New Mexico on May 13, 1881. He escaped from jail on April 18, 1881, killing two guards in the process.
Garrett went after the Kid again and arrived at Peter Maxwell's ranch on July 14, 1881 to question him about Billy's whereabouts. As Maxwell and Garrett sat in Peter's darkened bedroom in Old Fort Sumner, Billy unexpectedly entered the room. The Kid didn't recognize Garrett in the poor lighting conditions and asked "¿Quien es? ¿Quien es?" ("Who is it? Who is it?), to which Garrett responded with two shots from his revolver, the first striking Billy's heart.
Billy the Kid was buried in a plot in-between his dead friends Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre the next day at Fort Sumner's cemetery.
Although the Santa Fe New Mexican said, "…Sheriff Garrett is the hero of the hour," most people in the southern area of the state saw him as a villain for having killed a favorite son. Although he had put his life on the line for his community, he lost the next election for sheriff of Lincoln County.
Garrett then turned to ranching and began to write a book about Billy the Kid, published in 1882, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, the Noted Desperado of the Southwest, did not sell well as eight books had already beat him to the press.
In 1884, Garrett ran for New Mexico state senator where he again lost the election. Fed up, Garrett moved his family to Tascosa, Texas where he became captain of the LS Texas Rangers. This role would not last long; Garrett quit within just a few weeks and returned to Roswell in southeastern New Mexico.
In 1890 he ran for sheriff of the newly-created Chaves County. Bitterly he left New Mexico again when he lost, taking his family to live in Uvalde, Texas, where he raised and raced horses. A decade later, Garrett purchased a ranch in the San Andres Mountains of New Mexico and in October, he was appointed sheriff of Doña Ana County. His family stayed on the ranch while Garrett worked in Las Cruces, Mesilla and Doña Ana.
On December 16, 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt, infatuated by gunfighters in the West, appointed Pat Garrett as a United States Customs Collector at El Paso, Texas. It was a controversial appointment and when his term was over in 1905, Roosevelt refused to reappoint him. Garrett and his family returned to the ranch only to find Garrett in the midst of financial difficulties due to back taxes and liability for a loan he had co-signed for a friend.
Becoming increasingly morose over the situation, he began to drink and gamble too much. Still trying to make a living, he started a new horse breeding operation. To help with his financial problems, Garrett leased part of his land to a man named Wayne Brazel who was to graze cattle upon the land. However, he soon found that Brazel had brought in several thousand goats, which were considered to be worse than sheep, as far as cattlemen were concerned.
Owing money to many people in the Roswell area, Garrett desperately approached a another rancher named Carl Adamsson in January, 1908 to see if he might be interested in buying his ranch. When he neared the Adamsson home, Carl's wife, Amanda, ordered him off the property at gunpoint.
Adamsson and Garrett met later and agreed on the sale, but Wayne Brazel refused to break his five-year lease unless Garrett bought his goats. Brazel and Garrett made the deal, but soon Brazel wanted even more money. Though angry, Garrett finally agreed to Brazel’s terms.
On February 29, 1908, Garrett and Adamsson were in a buckboard bound for Las Cruces, where they would meet Brazel to close the deal. On the way, Brazel caught up with them and as words grew heated, Adamsson threatened to back out of the purchase. Afterwards, Brazel rode on while Garrett and Adamsson continued in the buckboard.
Just miles outside of Las Cruces, they stopped the wagon and while Adamsson was relieving himself off the back of the buckboard, three shots rang out. Pat Garrett lay dead. Adamsson left his body in the desert and continued on to Las Cruces. Once there, Adamsson swore he never saw who shot Garrett and Brazel confessed to the shooting, claiming it was self-defense.
When the body was retrieved, numerous cigarette butts were found off the trail, indicating that someone had been waiting for them. This led to the belief that the shooting was an obvious conspiracy, involving two more people. Allegedly, Brazel took the fall for the murder because he was single. Also implicated in the killing was hired assassin, Killin' Jim Miller because Carl Adamsson, who was married to a cousin of Jim Miller's wife, Sallie. However, most historians deem this unlikely.
While Garrett's remains lay in the undertaker’s parlor, dozens of gawkers came to see the man who had killed Billy the Kid. On March 5, 1908, he was buried in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Brazel was later tried; however, he was acquitted of the crime.
Controversy still exists over whether Garrett's murder was a conspiracy in order to gain his land or if it was just simply the dispute with an irate Brazel.
©Kathy Weiser/Legends of America.