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Historically Speaking: The good and the bad — Pat Garrett, just like Billy

Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Head of North Spring River and chuck wagons, ca. 1887. Identified are Pat F. Garrett (1 - far left), Charlie Perry (2), Charlie Ballard (3), Girtie Lea (4), Birtie Ballard (5). Approximately just west of Sycamore and south of Gateway School."

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Recently, I shared an article about the demise of Billy the Kid, who was killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett. Since Billy and Pat were known to be friends at one time, I thought it would be interesting to share a few newspaper clippings of the day about Sheriff Pat Garrett. Both of these men were either loved or hated in their time. Both garnered respect for who they were and what they did, and both were reviled for who they were and what they did. In those days of the Old West, vigilantism was prevalent, and sometimes it seems, one had to either kill, or be killed, as was the case with both Billy and Pat. So here is a glimpse into some of Pat Garrett’s life and his actions — you be the judge.

Rio Grande Republican

Sept. 19, 1882

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Lincoln, New Mexico

Editor Rio Grande


“A Cowardly Act

“Sheriff Beats Mr. Roberts Over the Head with a Revolver.

“On Suspicion of Writing a Letter That He Did Not Write

“Our most worthy and estimable (respectable) ‘sheriff and conservator of the peace,’ has appeared in a new role — that a violator of the laws he is supposed to aid in enforcing and of the laws he is so desirous of having a hand in making.

“It appears that a letter from Lincoln, entitled ‘ungrateful Garrett,’ printed in your newspaper sometime since, has caused Mr. Garrett to feel ‘wrathy;’ and in casting about for the author he at last hit up on Mr. W.M. Roberts, a young attorney practicing law in this town, and by way of showing the people of the county that the ‘slayer of the Kid’ was above criticism — no matter how gentlemanly it might be done — proceeded to beat Mr. Roberts over the head with a heavy revolver, striking him three times and inflicting severe wounds.

“This brutal and totally uncalled for assault on a worthy citizen has lost Mr. Garrett many supporters. People who know Mr. Roberts say that he is a quiet, peaceable young gentleman, and the last one to engage in a brawl. Honest and law abiding himself, as a matter of course, he was unarmed; conscious of having done no wrong, he least apprehended violence from the sheriff of the county.

“When Mr. Garrett allowed his name to be put forward as a candidate for office, he surely must have known that to a certain extent, his record and capacity were before the people; and if Mr. Roberts did write the article at which Mr. Garrett took umbrage, he merely did, as well as any other citizen, had a right to do.

“If Mr. Garrett desires to cast his lot with our people, the sooner he understands that bulldozing and brutal violence will not place him among our lawmakers at Santa Fe, the better will be his chance of getting there.”


Las Vegas Optic

July 19, 1881

“Gritty Garrett’s Gift

“The people of Las Vegas are perhaps as appreciative as any in the world, notwithstanding that they are all meaner than dirt and as barbarous as cannibals. When the news of the killing of the ‘Kid’ was brought to the city, it was decided that Garrett should be handsomely remunerated for his trouble, and when ‘The Optic’ urged the same thing last night, the matter was as good as settled. A fund was started and has reached nearly $1,000 already.

“Here is the way that list was headed:

“First National Bank $100.

“A.A. Larue $100.

“Scott Moore $100.

“Houghton, B.&M.,G., B.

“and Company $200.

“After this followed a number of smaller subscriptions and the good work is still going on. Garrett will get the $500 reward made by the Territory, and it is said John Chisum, a heavy cattle grower of Lincoln County, will hand over a cool $1,000 as a substantial evidence of his interest in the matter. Other citizens of Lincoln County and Fort Sumner are expected to chip in another thousand, so taking it all in, Garrett will have a snug little bank account when his friends get through with him. Then he got away with his life, which was quite an object.”

Roswell Daily Record

May 5, 1905

“Oppose Pat Garrett

“Former Resident of Roswell Being Fought on the Grounds That He is a New Mexican

“The following special from El Paso will be of interest here inasmuch as Pat Garrett, the man mentioned in the dispatch, is a former resident of the section, having been sheriff of Lincoln County when the city and vicinity were a part of Lincoln County and Garrett having been one of the three men who killed Billy the Kid.

“‘The Republican county executive committee today endorsed A.L. Sharp of this city, the only Republican representative in the legislature of Texas, for the position of collector of customs here, in opposition to the reappointment of Pat F. Garrett, a personal friend of the President. They will make the fight on him on the ground that he is a New Mexican, while the office is a Texas Office.’”

Albuquerque Morning Journal

March 2, 1908

“Friends of Pat Garrett Hint at Murder

“Claim Killing Was Outcome of Old Feud

“Prominent New Mexicans, It Is Declared, Are Involved in Conspiracy Against Former Doña Ana County Sheriff

“(By Morning Journal Leased Wire)

“El Paso, Texas, Feb. 29 — The body of Pat Garrett, the last of New Mexico’s famous gun fighters, will be interred tomorrow afternoon at 2 o’clock in the little village cemetery at Las Cruces. The funeral will mark the passing of a picturesque band of men who faced death until it met them ‘with their boots on,’ in an effort to quell the disturbances and lawlessness of frontier days.

“The family of the noted territorial sheriff, who was killed by Wayne Brazel yesterday, learned of his death at 1:30 this morning in their ranch in the Organ mountains and the widow and her youngest child, Pat Jr., 12 years old, set out immediately for Las Cruces where the body is awaiting interment.

“Today, a number of prominent men of this city who knew Pat Garrett in life, will go to the little New Mexico town to attend the funeral tomorrow.

“Friends of Garrett, who contend that his death was the result of a carefully planned conspiracy, claim that Garrett was hunted to death for the sake of an old grudge. They claim that Garrett was shot at the insistence of men who were once hunted by the then New Mexico sheriff, and against whom indictments were returned and vigorous prosecutions urged under Garrett’s leadership. This ill will they allege, has broken forth more than once, and blood was shed and conflicts between the men under Garrett and the men he had prosecuted. The alleged feud involves some of the most prominent men of this section of the country. It has developed that Garrett was going to Las Cruces to get J. P. Miller for a conference. Miller is known as “Killing Miller” (Killer Miller) and has been charged with several killings.

“Brazel will be defended by Judge A. B. Fall, formerly attorney general for New Mexico. He will be given a preliminary hearing before Justice Manuel Lopez tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.”

Las Cruces Rio Grande Republican

Las Cruces, New Mexico

September 9, 1898

“Posing As Bad Men

“There never was a time in the history of New Mexico when some individual or individuals did not pose in the character of tough, or bad men, and by careers of bloodshed and rapine have justly earned the commanding positions in crime that perseverance and industry begets in that, or any other calling in life. But of all the criminals that have passed and are passing, none have before presumed to assume the role of dictator as to just who the peace officer should be who would receive recognition at their hands.

“Lee and Gilliland have taken this course with sheriff Pat Garrett. They boast they will never surrender to or be arrested by Garrett, but if the latter be removed by the governor or is defeated at the polls in the coming election, they (the outlaws) may decide to assume harmonious relationship with Mr. Garrett’s successor.

“This grand stand of the outlaws is only for effect, and political effect at that. If Sheriff Garrett don’t bring them in before the day of election, the people of Doña Ana County owe it to themselves, to decency, to good government, to re-elect him. The law will finally do business with Messrs. Lee and Gilliland, and not Messrs. Lee and Gilliland with the law, and no matter at what time or place the curtain is hung down on this drama of blood, the law’s supremacy will be recorded. – San Marcial Bee.”

In the same newspaper, same page, next column:

“Oliver Lee is ready to sign the peace protocol, provided the county commissioners of Doña Ana County, New Mexico, will first appoint a commission to kick Pat Garrett out of the sheriff’s office. Before marching out of his block house and stacking his arms to surrender, Lee wants to make sure the long legged slayer of Billy the Kid, is not on his trail. — El Paso Times”

Such was the controversial life of Pat Garrett. He was a hero to many, and despicable to others — just like Billy.

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.