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History: Killing Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in print

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By John LeMay

historian

Recently I reviewed a new Billy the Kid book from author David Turk. Today, I would like to review not only one, but two new fascinating Billy the Kid books by a different David: Dave Thomas.

The two new books include “Billy the Kid’s Grave: A History of the Wild West’s Most Famous Death Marker” and “Killing Pat Garrett: The Wild West’s Most Famous Lawman — Murder or Self-Defense?”

The first book I wish I had written myself, actually. As I was writing “Tall Tales and Half Truths of Billy the Kid” I thought to myself there was enough material on Billy the Kid’s grave that it could encompass a wonderful tome all to itself. Dave Thomas took the initiative and has now written “the” definitive book on the Kid’s grave. It makes a great companion piece alongside David Turk’s “Here Lies Billy the Kid.”

Believe it or not, the two books don’t cover the same exact ground and complement one another perfectly to get a complete history of the Kid’s restless bones. Thomas’ tome covers the history of the location itself, while Turk’s investigates efforts to relocate the Kid’s grave in the 1960s.

So, bottom line, if you think the subject matter of the Fort Sumner grave gets stretched thin, think again, because it most certainly does not.

As a historian who has read numerous books on the Kid, I commend Thomas for covering new ground — if you’ll forgive the pun. Thomas’ “Killing Pat Garrett …” surprised me even more. As you can deduct from the title, this book’s focus is the controversial 1908 killing of Garrett, shot in self-defense by Jesse Wayne Brazel. Or, at least, that’s what the courts ruled at the time. Years later, nearly all historians agreed that Brazel was merely the “fall guy” in a vast conspiracy to kill Garrett. The real killer, most experts agree on, was Jim Miller, who shot Garrett in the back from a distance. Brazel, being a well-liked young man, agreed to take the fall knowing full well he would be acquitted. As I said, this is what most historians have believed for years. Thomas’ research has found evidence that this is not the case, though, and Miller most likely did not pull the trigger. I won’t spoil the fruits of Thomas’ research. If you want to know who really killed Garrett, pick up his book and support your local historian. You can find the book online at various online retailers, and the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Museum should have copies in stock around the holiday season.