Patrick Floyd Garrett was born in Cusseta, Alabama, and grew up on a Louisiana plantation near Haynesville in northern Claiborne Parish, just below the Arkansas state line. His parents were John Lumpkin Garrett and Elizabeth Ann Jarvis. Garrett would always stand out because he was well over six feet tall. He is probably most famous for being the man who killed “Billy the Kid”.
Garrett left home in 1869 and found work as a cowboy in Dallas County, Texas. In 1875, he left to hunt buffalo. In 1878, Garrett shot and killed a fellow hunter who charged him with a hatchet during a disagreement over buffalo hides. As he lay dying, the hunter brought Garrett to tears by asking to be forgiven. Garrett moved to New Mexico and briefly found work as a cowboy before quitting to open his own saloon.
In 1879, Garrett married Juanita Gutierrez, who died within a year. In 1880, he married Gutierrez’s sister, Apolinaria. The couple had eight children: Ida, Elizabeth, Dudley, Anna, Patrick, Pauline, Oscar, and Jarvis.
On November 7, 1880, the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, George Kimbell, resigned and the county appointed Garrett, who promised to restore law and order. Garrett was asked to track down and arrest an alleged friend from his saloon running days, Henry McCarty, a jail escapee who often went by the aliases Henry Antrim and William Harrison Bonney, but who is better known as “Billy the Kid”. Garrett and Bonney were often seen gambling together in saloons, and earned the nicknames “Big Casino” and “Little Casino.” McCarty was an accused murderer who had participated in the Lincoln County War and was said to have killed 21 men. New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace had personally put a US $500 reward on McCarty’s capture. On December 19, 1880, Garrett killed Tom O’Folliard, a member of McCarty’s gang, in a shootout on the outskirts of Fort Sumner. On December 23, the sheriff’s posse killed Charlie Bowdre, and captured the Kid and his companions at Stinking Springs (near present-day Taiban, New Mexico). Garrett transported the captives to Mesilla, New Mexico, for trial. Though he was convicted, the Kid managed to escape from the Lincoln County jail on April 28, 1881, after killing his guards, J. W. Bell and Bob Olinger.
On July 14, 1881, Garrett visited Fort Sumner to question an acquaintance of McCarty to locate and arrest him. He learned that McCarty was staying with a mutual friend, Pete Maxwell. Around midnight, Garrett went to Maxwell’s house. McCarty was asleep in another part of the house, but woke up in the middle of the night and entered Maxwell’s bedroom, where Garrett was standing in the shadows. McCarty did not recognize the man standing in the dark. He repeatedly asked “who is it?”. Garrett replied by shooting at him twice. The first shot hit McCarty in the chest just above the heart, although the second one missed and struck the mantle behind him; he fell to the floor and gasped for a minute before dying.
Garrett’s reputation was hurt by popular stories that he and Billy had once been friends, and that the shooting was a kind of betrayal, but historians have found no evidence of such a friendship. Legends persist that Billy the Kid was not killed that night, and that Garrett staged it all so that the Kid could escape the law. Although Garrett was trying to help the community, most people in the area saw him as a villain for killing a favorite son. Garrett received about $20,000 dollars from appreciative citizens that Billy and gang had robbed or threatened.
His law enforcement career never achieved any great success following the Lincoln County War, and he mostly used that era in his life as his stepping-stone to higher positions. After finishing out his term as sheriff, Garrett became a rancher and released a book in 1882 titled The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. His book, a first-hand account about his experiences with McCarty, which helped raise the Kid to the level of historical figure, was in large part ghostwritten by his friend Ash Upson. Garrett lost the next election for Lincoln County sheriff and was never paid the $500 reward for McCarty’s capture, since he had killed him. In 1882, he ran for the position of Grant County, New Mexico sheriff, but was defeated by Sheriff Harvey Whitehill. In 1884, he lost an election for the New Mexico State Senate. Later that year, he left New Mexico and helped found and captain a company of Texas Rangers.
He returned to New Mexico briefly in 1885. In October 1889, Garrett ran for Chaves County, New Mexico, sheriff but lost. By this time, his rough disposition was beginning to wear thin with much of the populace, and rumors of his less than admirable killing of Billy the Kid were beginning to affect his popularity. Garrett left New Mexico in 1891 for Uvalde, Texas. He returned to New Mexico in 1896 to investigate the disappearance of Albert Jennings Fountain and Fountain’s young son, Henry. In January 1896, Colonel Fountain served as a special prosecutor against men charged with cattle raiding in Lincoln, New Mexico. With his work finished, Fountain left Lincoln with his eight-year-old son, Henry. The two did not complete their trip home; on the third day, they disappeared near White Sands.
Fountain’s disappearance caused outrage throughout the territory. Further complicating matters, the main suspects in the disappearance were deputy sheriffs William McNew, James Gilliland, and Oliver M. Lee. New Mexico’s governor saw that outside help was needed, and he called in Pat Garrett. One problem that Garrett encountered was that Lee, McNew, and Gilliland were very close with powerful former judge, lawyer, and politician Albert B. Fall.
Garrett was appointed Doña Ana County sheriff on August 10, 1896, and elected to the post on January 4, 1897. He believed that he would never get a fair hearing regarding his evidence while Fall was in control of the courts. Therefore, Garrett waited two full years before presenting his evidence before the court and securing indictments against the suspected men. McNew was quickly arrested, and Lee and Gilliland went into hiding. Garrett’s posse caught up with Lee and Gilliland on July 12, 1898. One of Garrett’s deputies, Kurt Kearney, was killed in the gun battle that followed. Garrett and his posse then retreated, and Gilliland and Lee escaped. They later surrendered, although not to Garrett. Both stood trial and were acquitted. The location of the Fountain bodies remains a mystery.
On December 20, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, who became a personal friend of Garrett, appointed him customs collector in El Paso, Texas. Garrett served for five years. He was not reappointed, however, possibly because he had embarrassed Roosevelt by showing up at a San Antonio Rough Riders reunion with a notorious gambler friend, Tom Powers. Garrett had Powers pose in a group photograph with Roosevelt, resulting in bad publicity for the president.
Garrett had been warned about his close association with Powers by friends. Years earlier, Powers had been run out of his home state of Wisconsin for beating his father into a coma. Garrett did not listen, and when his reappointment was denied, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak personally with Roosevelt. He had the bad judgment of taking Powers with him. In that meeting, Roosevelt told Garrett plainly that there would be no reappointment.
Garrett retired to his ranch in New Mexico but was suffering financial difficulties. He owed a large amount in taxes and was found liable for an unpaid loan he had cosigned for a friend. Garrett borrowed heavily to make these payments and started drinking and gambling excessively. He crossed paths regularly with Oliver M. Lee and Lee’s corrupt attorney, Albert Fall, always finding himself on the opposite end of their illegal land deals and intimidation of local ranchers and citizens.
Garrett’s main creditor, rancher W. W. Cox, who was brother-in-law to Oliver M. Lee, worked out a deal to repay the debt by using Garrett’s Quarter Horse ranch on the slopes of the San Andres Mountains as grazing land for one of his partners. There is no deal on record in the courthouse, and no deed from Garrett to Cox. Cox took over the ranch and razed the home. Garrett’s son, Pat, Jr., kept the upper ranch with the water until his death. Garrett agreed to the deal, not realizing Jesse Wayne Brazel would be grazing goats rather than cattle on the land. Garrett objected to the goats, feeling their presence lowered the value of his land in the eyes of buyers or other renters. By this time, questions surrounding the manner in which he killed Billy the Kid and Garrett’s general demeanor had led to his becoming quite unpopular. He no longer had any local political support, his support from President Roosevelt had been withdrawn, and he had few friends with power.
Garrett and Carl Adamson, who was in the process of talks with Garrett to purchase land, rode together, heading from Las Cruces, New Mexico in Adamson’s wagon. Brazel showed up on horseback along the way. Garrett and Brazel began to argue about the goats grazing on Garrett’s land. Garrett is alleged to have leaned forward to pick up a shotgun on the floorboard. Brazel shot him once in the stomach, and then once more in the head 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 to the killing.
Jesse Wayne Brazel confessed to the shooting and was tried for first degree murder, did commit the crime, and not in self-defense. Cox paid his bond and retained Fall as his defense attorney. Brazel did claim self defense saying that Garrett was armed with a shotgun and was threatening him. Adamson backed up Brazel’s story. The jury took less than a half-hour to return a not-guilty verdict. Cox hosted a barbecue in celebration of the verdict.
Garrett’s body was too tall for any coffins available, so a special one had to be shipped in from El Paso. His funeral service was held March 5, 1908, and he was laid to rest next to his daughter Ida. The site of Garrett’s death is now commemorated by a historical marker, which can be visited south of U.S. Route 70, between Las Cruces and the San Augustin Pass. The location of the shooting was marked by Pat’s son Jarvis Garrett in 1938-1940 with a monument of his construction. The monument consists of concrete laid around a stone with a cross carved in it. The cross is believed to be the work of Pat’s mother. Scratched in the concrete is “P. Garrett” and the date of his killing. Garrett’s grave and the graves of his descendants are in Las Cruces at the Masonic Cemetery.