Friday, October 8, 2010

Pat Garrett: Folk Hero and Murder Victim

On July 14, 1881 Pat Garrett shot and killed famed outlaw Billy-the-Kid. He became an instant celebrity, but his reputation as a drunk, gambler and debtor eventually overshadowed his claim to fame, climaxing with Garrett’s own death by murder.

Following the killing of William Bonney, Garrett wrote a book that helped to spread the folk hero story many know today. However, over the three decades after the killing, Garrett’s life was a series of failed business ventures, gambling debts and numerous embarrassing moments.

In 1898, he somehow managed to acquire a 160 acre ranch in Doña Ana County, New Mexico. In 1902, he mortgaged the land to Las Cruces, NM businessman Martin Lohman. Eventually, Lohman tired of carrying the unpaid mortgaged and he sold it to W.W. Cox, who owned a ranch adjacent to Garrett’s. Cox neither wanted nor needed the land, so he never called in the mortgage and did actually help Garrett several times to avoid foreclosure on the land and seizure of his cattle. Garrett lived on the homestead, even though he had technically given up the right by not paying the mortgage.

The events leading to Garrett’s death started innocently enough in 1907, when Garrett’s son Dudley leased part of the property to Jesse Wayne Brazel. In reality, Dudley didn’t have the right to lease any property, because it was owned by Cox who held the lien. Cox, however, didn’t protest the lease, and, in fact, helped financed Brazel’s goat herd. The lease and goat herd, however, infuriated Garrett, who still thought of the land as his own.

In January 1908, Garrett was presented with a proposition that would pay off his mortgage and get him back on his feet financially. James B. Miller, a former Texas Ranger, now a cattleman an hired assassin (who by the way, didn’t smoke, drink or cheat on his wife), offered Garrett $3,000 to 1) sell part of his land to Miller, who would then fatten his newly bought cattle before driving them to Oklahoma and 2) have Garrett drive the cattle to Oklahoma.

There was, however, one small problem to this financial windfall: Brazel and his goats.

A February 1908 meeting between Garrett, Miller and Brazel settled the problem when Miller agreed to buy the 1,200 goats for $3.50 a head. A few weeks later, however, Brazel informed the duo that he had miss-counted. He had 1,800 goats and Miller would need to buy them all or the deal was off.

Miller didn’t want any goats, let alone an extra 600, but he agreed to a second meeting to see if things could be worked out to seal the deal.

On February 29th, Garrett and Miller’s brother-in-law headed out from the ranch to Las Cruces and the meeting. Somewhere along the road, Brazil met up with them and rode along side their wagon on horseback. Words were exchanged and later testimony would declare that Garrett was very enraged by the current situation and cussed at Brazil, as well as threatening to get him and his goats off the land.

Shortly, Garrett pulled the wagon to the side of the road, got out, walked to the back of the wagon and proceeded to urinate. With his back to Brazel, a glove in his shooting hand and his fly open, Garrett was shot in the back of the head, dead before he hit the ground. For good measure, he was then shot in the shoulder.

Brazil rushed into town and confessed the shooting to the sheriff, claiming he shot in ‘self-defense.’ Miller’s brother-in-law backed up Brazil’s claim.

On April 19, 1909, Brazil was tried for murdering Garrett. After fifteen minutes of deliberations, the jury found him not guilty. As author Dale M. Walker puts it in THE CALAMITY PAPERS, the jury “divined that shooting a man in the head and back, a man who was urinating with his back turned to his assailant, was ‘self-defense.’”

There have been many speculations as to why Garrett was killed, including one claiming Cox had him murdered for the mortgaged land. This makes no sense, however, as Cox already owned the land due to the lien and could have foreclosed on the property at any time during the previous decade. The most likely scenario, however, is what actually happened. “The two men argued bitterly, and when Garrett turned his back, Brazel took the safe way out and shot him. It was simply a case of hate and fear erupting into murder along a lonely New Mexico back road,” Leon Metz relayed in an interview in with Dale Walker.

Pat Garrett was buried in the Odd Fellow Cemetery in Las Cruces on March 5, 1908.

I found this story on Pat Garrett’s death interesting, because I lived in Las Cruces, NM and most likely travelled the road on which he was murdered. However, I don’t recall my family visiting Garrett’s grave or me being aware of the story during my time living there. AKL

What historical places have you visited? Or would you like to visit?

Resource: THE CALAMITY PAPERS: Western Myths and Cold Cases by Dale L. Walker

Further reading:

Visit my blog this weekend, Chatting with Anna Kathryn, and join the Think Pink Blog Jog....I'm spreading the news (with two other authors) about breast cancer awareness and giving away a Think Pink Prize Packet.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats


  1. That is such a cool story and I love the pictures. I applaud all your research, Anna Kathryn!

  2. Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks. I found it interesting and just wish I'd paid more attention to the story when I lived there (high school years). I did visit the building (a jail, then a gift shop) where Billy-the-Kid was held and escaped prior to his death. But didn't know the rich history of Pat Garrett in the area.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Thank you for a wonderful post about Pat Garrett! Admittedly, I did not know much about the man who shot Billy-the-Kid. I found your post so very interesting.

  4. Anna Kathryn, that was a very interesting story and one that I had not heard before. There are so many stories going aroound about Pat Garrett and William Bonney that it's nice to have some facts. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for sharing such an interesting story, Anna Kathryn. Can't say I heard it during my time in New Mexico, but I do remember driving through Lincoln and hearing something about Billy the Kid. You'd think I would have paid more attention, but I've never been much of a fan of Billy the Kid.

  6. Great accounting on an interesting time in history. I grew up on a street that had an old cemetery at the opposite end. The notorious stage robber Black Bart was buried in the cemetery. You've tweaked my interest and maybe it would be fun to do a future blog on the bandit.

  7. ANNA KATHRYN--Many places lay claim that Billy the Kid is buried there. In the heart of Texas, the tiny town of Hico claims Billy the Kid is buried there, and years ago someone sued to dig up the grave and find out. Nothing ever came of it, so the little town gets to keep its claim.
    I always though Pat Garrett was a great character. Wasn't a movie made about him? Someone like Kevin Costner? I should look that up.
    This is a wonderful article, very "western-y" for sure. I knew you'd put something great together. Love those old photos. Celia

  8. Hi Anna Kathryn,
    Great post--I always think of that John Wayne movie--can't think of the name of it--where Pete or Geoffrey Duel was Billy the Kid. VERY GOOD LOOKING, which, Billy truly was not. LOL But that's Hollywood. And Pat Garrett was a good looking guy in the movie, too--man, I'm getting old--can't remember who played him. Might've been John Wayne's son. Anyhow, very informative post--lots of stuff I didn't know.

    One historic place that I go on a regular basis is to visit Geronimo's grave at Fort Sill. That cemetery is just so "out of the way" and peaceful. Lots of his men are buried there, too, and his family. It's a prisoner of war cemetery on the base, and then on the actual base cemetery is where Quanah Parker and some of his family members are buried, along with many of the chiefs who signed treaties. Very interesting place to visit.

  9. Wow, I hadn't heard that before, Anna Kathryn. What a fascinating blog post.

    I'm with Caroline--it's nice to have some facts to go with the stories we've all heard over the years.


  10. My first time on Sweethearts of the West. What a beautiful blog with so many friends there. I will visit often. Very interesting post about Pat Garrett.

    I visited many, many historical places around the world. In my opinion, the most beautiful ones are in Egypt, with well preserved temples, obelisks, pyramids and sphynxes.

  11. Anna K, what a great and informative post. Love the pictures that brought the words to life. Thanks for sharing the link, and congratulations on being asked to join Sweethearts of The West. Looks like a great group.

  12. Hi, everyone! I've been out of the house having lunch and shopping with my mom. Thanks for stopping by. I love going to historical places. Also in the area of Las Cruces is a fort (can't remember the name, but it's close to Sumner (not the one in CA with the gold find). Anyway, Gen. McCarther's father was stationed there in early 1900's. I remember visiting that, cause there was a picture of the General as a toddler dressed in a very facny gown....typical wear for infants/toddlers in that time period, but I found it funny to see the general dressed such.

  13. Anna, you have certainly done a lot of research. Very interesting material. (I've printed out my PDF of Salvation Bride and can't wait to start reading!)

  14. Anna,What a fascinating and well researched post. I'd never heard this event. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Anna Kathryn,
    Great account of Pat Garrett and his land dealings. I belonged to a gardening club years ago, and one of the descendants of the Cox family, who is a veterinarian near my town, invited our club, through his wife who was a member, to visit the Cox ranch. It was an amazing day trip. We heard some of the history about the family, the cattle ranching, and Pat Garrett, and took a tour of the ranch house, which is a beautiful territorial style home that has been preserved. They were still raising cattle in the rocky foothills on the east side of the Organ Mountains that rise east of Las Cruces. That area of New Mexico holds so many incredible stories of the old west. Thanks for the reminder of those days. :-)

  16. Very interesting blog,you certainly must ahve done a freat deal of research. I loved the photographs, too.



  17. Hi! Wow, I'm so glad ya'll like my post. I found it very interesting. Actually, most of my research came from Dale L. Walker's book THE CALAMITY PAPERS. It's a great little book with about a dozen well-researched stories on the Old West. I've found the book to be a great read. A few of the teasers: Who ws the first American to make a transcontinental journey across the Western US to the Pacific?

    What is the real story behind Sam Houston's disastrous wedding night and short-term marriage?

    What was the real relationship between Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane? And did Jane have his baby?

  18. The only famous place I've been to is Will Rogers Museum in Oklahoma. It was a very interesting trip.

    seriousreader at live dot com

  19. Anna
    enjoyed your post! I've visited Deadwood, South Dakota and the OK Corral and several famous cemetery's of the old west. I love historical stuff!


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