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Historically Speaking: Pat Garrett — good or bad?

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives Clipping of Pat Garrett — "Pat Garrett, famous sheriff, who killed Billy the Kid, 1881"

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily


While researching something else, I ran across this letter to the editor about Pat Garrett, which peaked my curiosity, so of course, I had to do more research. I found Garrett’s reply letter, which I am sharing in this week’s column.

I guess politics have always been contentious — even in 1882 — when these letters were written. This reminded me of a joke I read recently, which made me smile. It was about the word politics: “Politics is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many,’ and ‘ticks,’ meaning ‘blood sucking parasites.’”

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Pat Garrett was loved by many and was scorned equally by many in his time — much like politicians today. At any rate, you can be the judge here, and enjoy a bit of history of our area, and the life and times of those days.


“Las Cruces Rio Grande Republican, Las Cruces, New Mexico, Sept. 2, 1882

“‘Ungrateful Garrett’

“Lincoln, N.M., Aug. 26, 1882

“Editor Rio Grande Republican:

“Two years ago there was a Convention at Lincoln. Mr. Kimball and Pat Garrett were the contestants for the office of Sheriff before that Convention. Kimball was a strong man and nearly succeeded in capturing the nomination. To D.M. Easton, LaRue, Dowlin, Dolan, and the man whom Mr. Garrett is today opposing, at that time he owed his nomination. LaRue was Chairman of the Convention, Easton spoke for over an hour, and by great effort Garrett’s nomination was forced. After the nomination these men made the fight for him, and his election as effected by a small majority. These are the men who sustained him before and after the election.

“One year ago last July, D.M. Easton and J.J. Dolan, circulated in Santa Fe a subscription paper for Garrett’s benefit, raising $1,150 and paying the same to him in person. In Las Cruces the Garrett fund, raised for his action in killing the ‘Kid,’ came from the men whom today he is opposing. This opposition to Mr. Easton and to the interests of the people of Las Cruces, is easily explained. Mr. Garrett, as is well known, is an illiterate man; the newspaper notoriety he received from his success in killing the ‘Kid’ has upset his brain, and flattery from designing men who now seek to use him, has turned his head and clouded his better judgement, just as many another poor man has been cajoled and fooled, and flattered by scheming politicians in times past.

“While all law abiding citizens concede due credit to Mr. Garrett for his connection in the ‘Kid,’ affair, yet at the same time they are not willing to endorse treachery and double dealing. This, Garrett has been guilty of, and it is well known that up to a few months ago he was loud in his professions of friendship for Easton, and repeatedly urged him to run for the Council. Today he is in the hands of Sligh, of the ‘Golden Era,’ and Delaney, (Post Trader at Fort Stanton.) All that can be said of Sligh is, that he temporarily has control of a small paper, and that he has used it to puff, blow, and brag, and to malign such men as Governor Sheldon, Gen. MacKenzie, Judge Axtell, and other Government officials, besides many citizens of the Territory. In regard to DeLaney, he is not a citizen of the county; under the law he is a camp follower and not entitled to a vote.

“In a short time the record of these two pinks of morality, who are seeking to use Garrett’s supposed popularity, will be completely unmasked. The ‘Golden Era’ is the only paper published in that county at present. It can make the best of its short time to exist under its present management, and in the meantime, I can assure you that the people of this county are waking up to the true situation of affairs and many new citizens are daily becoming posted, and on those questions that are now agitating the county the November election will speak for itself — and it won’t endorse the Sligh-DeLaney cabal by a long ways, either.

“(Signed) X.”


Garrett’s Reply…

“Las Cruces Rio Grande Republican, Las Cruces, New Mexico, Sept. 23, 1882.

“Lincoln County

“Pat Garrett’s Reply to ‘X.’

“Roswell, New Mexico,

“Sept. 18, 1882

“Editor Rio Grande Republican:

“Dear Sir: I notice in your issue of the 2d. inst. an article from some party at Lincoln signing himself ‘X,’ and I deserve space in your paper to say that I am perfectly willing to plead guilty to so much of his charge as is true. I must confess that a part of X’s communication is true; and as much as I did receive the nomination for sheriff, two years ago, with the help of Messrs. Easton, LaRue, Dowlin, Dolan, and others; and while I shall always have a grateful feeling towards these gentlemen, I do not remember having sold out to them my right to accept the nomination for any office to which the people may deem it my duty or their pleasure to advance me.

“As X says, one year ago my friends Mssrs. Easton and Dolan, circulated a subscription paper in Santa Fe for my benefit, raising $1,150 for me. Permit me to say that this was altogether a voluntary and friendly act upon their part and I am sure that, neither of these gentlemen have the slightest idea that by accepting this favor at their hands, that I had forever forfeited to them my rights as an American citizen.

“As to X’s charge of ingratitude, I most emphatically deny the charge. I suppose that X thinks that because of a few (some half dozen) of my friends have seen fit to cast their lot with the opposition, that I should be ruled by them, or be considered ungrateful.

“Allow me to state here that I have had, and have still, friends who are willing to assist me, without making public (as X seems to think is the proper thing to do) my poverty, dependence, or ignorance. X claims that it is well known that I am very illiterate. If this be true, I claim that it is more my misfortune than my fault, and I must say that it does not look very generous of X to blame me for faults over which I have no control.

“As to the ‘newspaper notoriety’ that I received for killing the ‘Kid,’ X says that it has upset my brain, and flattery has turned my head and clouded my better judgment. I think that I know my mind at least as well as X does, and if there is a higher court than Judge X’s, I beg leave to appeal from his decision.

“As to X’s charge of ‘double dealing,’ I am sure that he himself knows the charge is false, and cannot be substantiated. I have thought well of Mr. Easton, and personally have nothing against him; and if I have changed my mind as to his candidacy, for the council it is because he, like ‘old dog Tray,’ has been caught in the company of X, and others of his tribe, whom I am proud to oppose. So much for my opposition to Mr. Easton.

“As to my opposition to the people of Las Cruces, I think, and shall always try to act upon my belief, that the voice of the people is, and shall be, my law. I deny being in the  hands of any ‘ring’ or ‘set of men,’ and had it not been for the urgent request of many of the most prominent citizens of Lincoln and Dona Ana Counties, I should probably not have been a candidate for the council to this day.

“As to X’s saying that I am in the hands of Messrs. Sligh and DeLaney, I deny. I am happy to say however, that I count them among my friends, and I have every confidence that they will not so far avail themselves of my ‘upset brain’ and ‘clouded mind’ as to attempt to use me for unjust ends.

“Pat. F. Garrett.”

Janice Dunnahoo is chief archivist at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.


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