Sheriff Pat Garrett is best known for having killed the outlaw Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. He was born in Alabama in 1850 and moved with his family to Louisiana where they owned a plantation but their business was destroyed by the Civil War and his father died a few years after the war’s end. Fewer people probably know that when he was younger, he spent some time working as a cowboy in the vicinity of Dallas, Texas. He then went on to work on the LS Ranch out in the Panhandle area (now Oldham and Hartley counties).
He eventually settled in Fort Sumner, a small town just across the New Mexico border, working as a cowboy on the Maxwell Ranch by 1878. He married and shortly thereafter his first wife Juanita Gutierrez died in childbirth. The then married Juanita’s sister Apolinaria to whom he would remain married a long time.
Garrett was elected sheriff of Lincoln County in the territory of New Mexico in late 1880. New Mexico territorial and state county boundaries changed many times over the years. Lincoln County was once much larger, but is now located in the southern central part of the state. New Mexico remained a territory until 1912 but gradually became more settled. In 1881, Garrett’s fateful encounter with Billy the Kid occurred at the home of his friend and former boss Pete Maxwell. Garrett declined to run for sheriff in the next election and moved back to Texas where he served for one year as a Texas Ranger before resigning his commission and returning to New Mexico. In the mid 1880s, Garrett settled near Roswell, New Mexico and unsuccessfully tried to establish himself in several businesses, although none of them were able to take hold.
He returned to Texas once more and moved his family to Uvalde in 1892 which appears to be his next to last time to live in Texas. Not a lot is known about the few years that he resided in Uvalde, other than he was engaged in the horse racing business. He seemed to like it, but spoke of not being able to make a passable living at it. He also became acquainted there with Uvalde lawyer politician John Nance “Cactus Jack” Garner, even naming a race horse after Garner, later appointed Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt. From the dates, it would have been early in Garner’s career while he was still practicing law in Uvalde. However, there are very few references to it in print and most likely, it was just a casual acquaintance.
This time, his tenure in Texas did not last too long and he moved once more to southern New Mexico, still a territory at the time, where he sought the position and was appointed sheriff of Doña Ana County. A major case during his time as sheriff was the possible murders of Judge Albert Jennings Fountain and his son Henry who disappeared while returning by buggy from Lincoln County to their home in Las Cruces. Their bodies were not recovered. Garrett tried to arrest local rancher Oliver Lee and several others for the crime. He was successful in apprehending two individuals who were tried but acquitted for the crime. The disappearance was never resolved.
In 1901, Garrett moved to Texas a final time. He was appointed as Customs Collector of El Paso by President Theodore Roosevelt. Garrett was criticized by several individuals during his five year tenure in that position, and Roosevelt replaced him in 1906.
Garrett returned to New Mexico for the last time after being terminated as Customs Collector. He was apparently operating a ranch leased from a land owner by the name of Brazel. The Albuquerque Citizen carried an article on February 29, 1908 with the headline, “Pat Garrett Who Killed Billy the Kid Meets Sudden Death in Gun Fight.” The article went on to remind the readers that Garrett had killed Billy the Kid, who was referred to as a boy outlaw, some twenty-five years earlier.
Garrett had been killed in a gun fight that happened on the roadway about five miles north of Las Cruces. The suspected killer was Jesse Wayne Brazel (also referred to as Wayne Brazil), a Doña Ana County rancher and Garrett’s landlord, as noted above. According to the article, the incident stemmed from an argument that the men had while they were riding back from nearby Organ, New Mexico involving a business dispute over rights to the land and use the leased land. Brazel was accused of running sheep on land leased to the Garrett family. Garrett was reportedly also interested in mining properties in the area. He was riding in a buggy driven by his associate named Carl Anderson while Brazel rode along side them on horseback. The group stopped on the road near a place called Alameda Arroyo in order for Anderson and Garrett to take a comfort stop. Brazel and Garrett continued the argument, which deteriorated into gunfire. Garrett was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest with a .45 Colt revolver fired by Brazel. Garrett’s body was left at the scene.
Brazel turned himself in to Doña Ana Sheriff Felipe Lucero, claiming self defense and stating that he feared for his life and believed that it was either himself or Garrett that would have been killed. Brazel maintained that Garrett got out of the buggy armed with a shotgun but that Brazel fired before Garrett could get off a shot. Other accounts say that Garrett was still unbuttoning his trousers when Brazel fired the first shot, hitting him in the back of the head. Brazel was brought to trial in April 1909 and, incredibly to some, was acquitted of murder.
Conspiracy theories include the supposition that Anderson had actually fired the fatal shot. Another theory was that Adamson’s brother in law, Jim Miller, killed Garrett with a rifle shot in an ambush from a concealed location. Yet another theory proposed that a local rancher paid Miller and Adamson to set up Garrett and commit the murder, though no one other than Brazel was ever tried for the assault.
Brazel, Garrett’s killer, came to a strange end, as well. After his acquittal, had moved to Lordsburg, New Mexico, married and started a family. His wife died in childbirth in 1914 and Brazel unexpectedly disappeared a short time later. He was never seen again. Garrett is interred at Masonic Cemetery, Las Cruces, Doña Ana County, New Mexico.
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