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Legendary Lawman Pat Garrett

This month we'll look at a legendary lawman famous for an act some conspiracy theorists (you know who you are) doubt even occurred: the shooting of William H. Bonney, better known as "Billy the Kid" (but probably born as Henry McCarty). That man is Patrick Floyd Garrett and during his 57 years he held the title of cowboy, bartender, sheriff, and customs agent personally appointed by Theodore Roosevelt.

Born in Cusseta, Alabama (Chambers County) June 5, 1850, Patrick Floyd Jarvis Garrett was one of seven children born to John and Elizabeth Garrett. Three years later the family moved to a prosperous Louisiana plantation near Haynesville in northern Claiborne Parish, just below the Arkansas state line.

Pat Garrett was a tall, thin man with angular cheekbones and a gentlemanly prominence. In 1869 Garrett would leave home for Dallas County, Texas to work as a cowboy on the LS Ranch. He would eventually go out on his own to become a buffalo hunter in 1875. In 1878, Garrett shot a fellow buffalo hunter who charged at Garrett following a disagreement over stolen hides. Upon dying, the hunter reportedly brought Garrett to tears by asking him to forgive him.

In 1878, he had moved on to Fort Sumner, New Mexico just as the Lincoln County War was drawing to an end. The battle between these rival gangs resulted in decades of violence and lawlessness in southeastern New Mexico. Garrett would settle down in Fort Sumner and took a job as a bartender at a saloon called Beaver Smith's. In 1879, Garrett married Juanita Gutierrez. She died within the year and in January 1880; he married Gutierrez's sister, Apolinaria. The couple had nine children.

Following the early departure of the Lincoln County Sheriff (no, he wasn't shot; he resigned with two months left on his term), Garrett was appointed Sheriff. By all accounts Garrett took this responsibility seriously and set about putting an end to the bloodshed that has resulted from the Lincoln County Wars. This included rounding up all those involved, most notably, Billy the Kid. In December, 1880 Governor Wallace but a $500 price on Billy's head and Garrett set out to bring him to justice with earnest.

After several failed attempts with Billy always seemingly one step ahead, Garrett would finally capture Billy in Stinking Springs, just outside of Fort Sumner. After some four months of confinement and having been convicted in a court of law, Billy would escape by killing Deputy James W. Bell and long time nemesis Bob Olinger.

Once again it came to Garrett to track down Billy and return him to justice.

Months later, Garrett would receive some solid intelligence on Billy's location. Having thought that Billy would run for Mexico, he found that he had holed up somewhere around Fort Sumner. It was again time to run down Billy and he enlisted two deputies, John W. Poe and Tom "Kip" McKinney. Billy was staying at the Maxwell Ranch, as he was a friend with Pete and the rest of the Maxwell family - as was Garrett.

On July 14, 1881 at 9 PM, the three men would ride to the Maxwell home so Garrett could speak with Pete Maxwell in private. Near midnight, Garrett entered Pete's bedroom and woke him. Being aggravated at this point (he did wake up to an armed man in his bedroom) Pete heard Billy on the porch questioning Poe and McKinney in the darkness. Billy then entered Pete's bedroom with pistol drawn to ask him whom these men are outside.

When seeing that Pate wasn't alone he asked, "Quien es?" Those would be the last words he spoke, as Garrett drew and fired, striking Billy just above the heart. This event solidified Garrett's position as a legendary lawman and gunslinger (even though some of the specifics of the event are in dispute).

On December 20, 1901, Garrett was appointed customs collector of El Paso, Texas by Theodore Roosevelt. Garrett served for five years in this position, however he was not reappointed. This was possibly because he had embarrassed Roosevelt by showing up at a San Antonio Rough Riders reunion with a notorious gambler friend named Tom Powers. That resulted in a bit of bad press for Roosevelt because Powers had been run out of his home state of Wisconsin for beating his father into a coma. Garrett retired to his New Mexico ranch but had a great deal of money problems, including owing a large amount in back taxes.

Garrett would eventually be forced to sell his ranch to pay these debts and would enter into negotiations with a man named Adamson for the sale. He and Adamson were riding from Las Cruces in Adamson's wagon when they were approached by Jesse Wayne Brazel (who was renting land owned by Garrett). Garrett and Brazel began to argue about the goats grazing on this land and Garrett allegedly leaned forward to pick up a shotgun on the floorboard. Brazel shot him once in the head, and then once more in the stomach as Garrett fell from the wagon. Brazel and Adamson left the body by the side of the road and returned to Las Cruces, alerting Sheriff Felipe Lucero of the killing. Brazel claimed the shooting was in self-defense and Adamson backed up his story.

Garrett's body was too tall for any pre-made coffins available, so a custom one had to be shipped in from El Paso. His funeral service was held March 5, 1908. His body is interred at the Las Cruces Masonic Cemetery, Dona Ana County, New Mexico. Garrett's death is now commemorated by a historical marker, which can be visited off of the south of U.S. Route 70, between Las Cruces and the San Augustin Pass. The highway marker is not at the actual spot where Garrett was shot. Pat's son Jarvis Garrett marked the location of the shooting in 1938-1940 with a monument of his construction. The monument consists of cement laid around a stone with a cross carved in it. It is believed that the cross is the work of Pat's mother. Scratched in the cement are "P. Garrett" and the date of his killing.