Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Lawman Pat Garrett

 We all love the romancing of the west. However, compared to the Hollywood heroes that have portrayed Pat Garrett, he would fall far short. 

Pat Garrett has been portrayed on screen by the  likes of Patrick Wayne, James Coburn, Glenn Corbett, and later Ethan Hawke. All these men were bigger than life. Or as a westerner might say, they cast a large shadow. The REAL Patrick Floyd Jarves Garrett, was neither broad shouldered or lean at the hip. He was more Ichabod Crane-ish.  Tall and lanky, he was soft spoken, modest man and not a braggart. There is no doubt to his claim to fame. He was the man who killed Billy the Kid.

He didn't initially set out to become a lawman. Born on June 5th of 1850 in Alabama. He was the second of five children. His early childhood was spent on John Greer Plantation in Louisiana. Most likely, he would have become a farmer like his father, but the Civil War changed everyone's perspectives. Both Garrett's parents died early and the children were split up among relatives. At 18, Garrett gave into wander lust and headed west to Texas.

There, he tried his hand at farming in an area once called Lancaster just south of Dallas. When that didn't pan out, he moved to cattle punching. By 1876, he had joined a group of Buffalo Skinners partnering with Willis Skelton Glenn. It was during this stint, Garrett killed his first man, a friend named Brisco. There was a disagreement that led to heated words, which escalated to fist being thrown. When Brisco grabbed the cooks ax, Garrett drew the company pistol and shot him at point blank range. Being an honest man, Garrett rode into Fort Griffin and turned himself in for the murder. He recounted the story but the law didn't have time to go back and dig up the body or talk to witnesses.  They instead ruled self defense and let him go.

By 1874, the buffalo had all but been eradicated in Texas, so the group moved to the Territory of New Mexico and broke up. Garrett found himself alone near Fort Sumner. His height and thin frame gave rise to the nickname of Juan Largo - Long John.  Again, he tried a variety of jobs to make ends meet. He tried hog farming, being a butcher, saloon proprietor, and grocery store merchant. He made enough to persuade Juanita Martinez to become his wife. However, she took ill on their wedding night and died the next day. He would marry again in 1880 to Apolinarea Gutierrez, who bore him eight children.

Now the story of Billy the Kid....

It was in Ft. Sumner, Garrett ran across Billy. They attended town functions, drank a few drinks, played a few hands of poker. While they knew one another, neither considered the other a friend. Garrett once said of 'the Kid', "He minds his business and I mind mine." Billy was known to Garrett's wife's family but, Garrett had sense enough to keep his distance from the young outlaw. "He has nothing to fear from me as long as he does not interfere with me and my affairs." This would change in 1880 when Garrett was elected Sheriff of Lincoln County.

By the 1880's, Billy the Kid was considered the most notorious Outlaw in the New Mexico, Territory. Garrett was elected to 'clean up' the territory. Thus, Billy had interfered with Pat's affairs. Even before his election, Garrett was already lining up a posse to go after the outlaw. He searched the eastern part of the Territory through on of the harshest winters on record. Finally, finding 'The Kid' near Ft. Sumner. There, 'The Kid' and his gang were ambushed. One was killed. Billy and rest surrendered and were brought to trial. 

Because of the outcry, Garrett protected Billy from a mob which planned on a good lynching. The mob dispersed and Billy was reprimanded to the jail to await his fate. Garrett was called out of town on Tax business. While Garrett was away, Billy killed the two guards that were protecting them and broke out of jail and escaped by train. Garrett had no choice but to go after him once again.

Using sightings, Garrett found out that Billy was staying with this sweetheart's family near Ft. Sumner. Surrounding the house, Garrett caught sight of the outlaw in the bedroom of his sweetheart's brother and he shot him dead. This confrontation gave birth to the legend.

Garrett found his notoriety bitter.  He was quoted as saying, "I sometimes wish that I had misfired and that the kid had got his work in on me."

Garrett's life would be forever changed. Those that thought him a hero believed in him. Those that thought him a scoundrel despised him. He lost the next election for sheriff and moved on to the Pecos Valley. There with a group of investors, he devised a plan that would turn the Pecos Valley into a farmer's paradise. Unfortunately, being way to generous, he went bankrupt and lost his land to the group of investors. His next move was to return to Texas where he raised and raced trotters.

Racing usually involved gambling and drinking which led to more lost income. It wasn't long before Garrett was looking for work. Back in New Mexico a rancher and his son had been murdered. Garrett traveled back to 'round up' the men responsible. They were captured and brought to trial only to be acquitted by corrupt Judge. Times were changing. No one wanted Garrett's guns. His fame was too much of a burden.

He did become an El Paso Custom's Collector. However his zeal for his post led to many disliking his tactics. Eventually, gambling and drinking cost him his position. Destitute, he moved in with his son on a ranch near El Paso. Problems over cattle and goats led to a confrontation with a neighbor, Brazel. The dispute went to court. Several tried to smooth over the ruffled feathers. When a buyer for the goats was found, Brazel, the buyer, Adamson, and Garrett agreed to meet and iron out the sale.

On a back road, heading from Las Cruces, Garrett was killed. His body left by the side of the road as Brazel, Cox returned to town where Brazel walked into the sheriff's office and asked to "Locked up, for I have just killed Pat Garrett."  Brazel was acquitted on charges even though the death certificate states he killed Pat Garrett.


Next month we will be looking at William Allison said to be the most efficient sheriff in Texas.

Until, then, Happy Trails.....


1 comment:

Julie Lence said...

Nice detail of Garrett's life. Thank you, Nan!