Peace Officer, a Quiet Citizen Who Works for a Salary
and Risks His Life The Trade of Man
Hunting Biography of Pat Garrett,
a Typical Frontier Sheriff.
The deeds of the Western sheriff have
for the most part gone unchronicled, or have luridly
been set forth in fiction as incidents of blood, interesting
only because of their bloodiness. The frontier
officer himself, usually not a man to boast of his
own acts, has quietly stepped into the background
of the past, and has been replaced by others who more
loudly proclaim their prominence in the advancement
of civilization. Yet the typical frontier sheriff,
the good man who went after bad men, and made it safe
for men to live and own property and to establish
homes and to build up a society and a country and a
government, is a historical character of great interest.
Among very many good ones, we shall perhaps best get
at the type of all by giving the story of one; and
we shall also learn something of the dangerous business
of man hunting in a region filled with men who must
be hunted down.
Patrick Floyd Garrett, better known
as Pat Garrett, was a Southerner by birth. He
was born in Chambers county, Alabama, June 5, 1850.
In 1856, his parents moved to Claiborne parish, Louisiana,
where his father was a large landowner, and of course
at that time and place, a slave owner, and among the
bitter opponents of the new regime which followed
the civil war. When young Garrett’s father
died, the large estates dwindled under bad management;
and when within a short time the mother followed her
husband to the grave, the family resources, affected
by the war, became involved, although the two Garrett
plantations embraced nearly three thousand acres of
rich Louisiana soil. On January 25, 1869, Pat
Garrett, a tall and slender youth of eighteen, set
out to seek his fortunes in the wild West, with no
resources but such as lay in his brains and body.
He went to Lancaster, in Dallas county,
Texas. A big ranch owner in southern Texas wanted
men, and Pat Garrett packed up and went home with
him. The world was new to him, however, and he
went off with the north-bound cows, like many another
youngster of the time. His herd was made up at
Eagle Lake, and he only accompanied the drive as far
north as Denison. There he began to get uneasy,
hearing of the delights of the still wilder life of
the buffalo hunters on the great plains which lay
to the west, in the Panhandle of Texas. For three
winters, 1875 to 1877, he was in and out between the
buffalo range and the settlements, by this time well
wedded to frontier life.
In the fall of 1877, he went West
once more, and this time kept on going west.
With two hardy companions, he pushed on entirely across
the wild and unknown Panhandle country, leaving the
wagons near what was known as the “Yellow Houses,”
and never returning to them. His blankets, personal
belongings, etc., he never saw again. He
and his friends had their heavy Sharps’ rifles,
plenty of powder and lead, and their reloading tools,
and they had nothing else. Their beds they made
of their saddle blankets, and their food they killed
from the wild herds. For their love of adventure,
they rode on across an unknown country, until finally
they arrived at the little Mexican settlement of Fort
Sumner, on the Pecos river, in the month of February,
Pat and his friends were hungry, but
all the cash they could find was just one dollar and
a half between them. They gave it to Pat and sent
him over to the store to see about eating. He
asked the price of meals, and they told him fifty
cents per meal. They would permit them to eat
but once. He concluded to buy a dollar and a half’s
worth of flour and bacon, which would last for two
or three meals. He joined his friends, and they
went into camp on the river bank, where they cooked
and ate, perfectly happy and quite careless about
As they finished their breakfast,
they saw up the river the dust of a cattle herd, and
noted that a party were working a herd, cutting out
cattle for some purpose or other.
“Go up there and get a job,”
said Pat to one of the boys. The latter did go
up, but came back reporting that the boss did not want
“Well, he’s got to have
help,” said Pat. So saying, he arose and
started up stream himself.
Garrett was at that time, as has been
said, of very great height, six feet four and one-half
inches, and very slender. Unable to get trousers
long enough for his legs, he had pieced down his best
pair with about three feet of buffalo leggins
with the hair out. Gaunt, dusty, and unshaven,
he looked hard, and when he approached the herd owner
and asked for work, the other was as much alarmed
as pleased. He declined again, but Pat firmly
told him he had come to go to work, and was sorry,
but it could not be helped. Something in the quiet
voice of Garrett seemed to arrest the attention of
the cow man. “What can you do, Lengthy?”
“Ride anything with hair, and
rope better than any man you’ve got here,”
answered Garrett, casting a critical glance at the
The cow man hesitated a moment and
then said, “Get in.” Pat got in.
He stayed in. Two years later he was still at
Fort Sumner, and married.
Garrett moved down from Fort Sumner
soon after his marriage, and settled a mile east of
what is now the flourishing city of Roswell, at a spring
on the bank of the Hondo, and in the middle of what
was then the virgin plains. Here he picked up
land, until he had in all more than twelve hundred
and fifty acres. If he owned it now, he would
be worth a half million dollars.
He was not, however, to live the steady
life of the frontier farmer. His friend, Captain
J. C. Lea, of Roswell, came to him and asked if he
would run as sheriff of Lincoln county. Garrett
consented and was elected. He was warned not
to take this office, and word was sent to him by the
bands of hard-riding outlaws of that region that if
he attempted to serve any processes on them he would
be killed. He paid no attention to this, and,
as he was still an unknown quantity in the country,
which was new and thinly settled, he seemed sure to
be killed. He won the absolute confidence of
the governor, who told him to go ahead, not to stand
on technicalities, but to break up the gang that had
been rendering life and property unsafe for years
and making the territory a mockery of civilization.
If the truth were known, it might perhaps be found
that sometimes Garrett arrested a bad man and got
his warrant for it later, when he went to the settlements.
He found a straight six-shooter the best sort of warrant,
and in effect he took the matter of establishing a
government in southwestern New Mexico in his own hands,
and did it in his own way. He was the whole machinery
of the law. Sometimes he boarded his prisoners
out of his own pocket. He himself was the state!
His word was good, even to the worst cutthroat that
ever he captured. Often he had in his care prisoners
whom, under the law, he could not legally have held,
had they been demanded of him; but he held them in
spite of any demand; and the worst prisoner on that
border knew that he was safe in Pat Garrett’s
hands, no matter what happened, and that if Pat said
he would take him through to any given point, he would
take him through.
After he had finished his first season
of work as sheriff and as United States marshal, Garrett
ranched it for a time. In 1884, his reputation
as a criminal-taker being now a wide one, he organized
and took charge of a company of Texas rangers in Wheeler
county, Texas, and made Atacosa and thereabouts headquarters
for a year and a half. So great became his fame
now as a man-taker that he was employed to manage the
affairs of a cattle detective agency; it being now
so far along in civilization that men were beginning
to be careful about their cows. He was offered
ten thousand dollars to break up a certain band of
raiders working in upper Texas, and he did it; but
he found that he was really being paid to kill one
or two men, and not to capture them; and, being unwilling
to act as the agent of any man’s revenge, he
quit this work and went into the employment of the
“V” ranch in the White mountains.
He then moved down to Roswell again, in the spring
of 1887. Here he organized the Pecos Valley Irrigation
Company. He was the first man to suspect the presence
of artesian water in this country, where the great
Spring rivers push up from the ground; and through
his efforts wells were bored which revolutionized
all that valley. He ran for sheriff of Chaves
county, and was defeated. Angry at his first
reverse in politics, he pulled up at Roswell, and
sacrificed his land for what he could get for it.
To-day it is covered with crops and fruits and worth
sixty to one hundred dollars an acre.
Garrett now went back to Texas, and
settled near Uvalde, where he engaged once more in
an irrigation enterprise. He was here five years,
ranching and losing money. W. T. Thornton, the
governor of New Mexico, sent for him and asked him
if he would take the office of sheriff of Donna Ana
county, to fill the unexpired term of Numa Raymond.
He was elected to serve two subsequent terms as sheriff
of Donna Ana county, and no frontier officer has a
better record for bravery.
In the month of December, 1901, President
Theodore Roosevelt, who had heard of Garrett, met
him and liked him, and without any ado or consultation
appointed him collector of customs at El Paso, Texas.
Here for the next four years Garrett made a popular
collector, and an honest and fearless one.
The main reputation gained by Garrett
was through his killing the desperado, Billy the Kid.
It is proper to set down here the chronicle of that
undertaking, because that will best serve to show the
manner in which a frontier sheriff gets a bad man.
When the Kid and his gang killed the
agency clerk, Bernstein, on the Mescalero reservation,
they committed a murder on United States government
ground and an offense against the United States law.
A United States warrant was placed in the hands of
Pat Garrett, then deputy United States marshal and
sheriff-elect, and he took up the trail, locating
the men near Fort Sumner, at the ranch of one Brazil,
about nine miles east of the settlement. With
the Kid were Charlie Bowdre, Tom O’Folliard,
Tom Pickett and Dave Rudabaugh, fellows of like kidney.
Rudabaugh had just broken jail at Las Vegas, and had
killed his jailer. Not a man of the band had
ever hesitated at murder. They were now eager
to kill Garrett and kept watch, as best they could,
on all his movements.
One day Garrett and some of his improvised
posse were riding eastward of the town when they jumped
Tom O’Folliard, who was mounted on a horse that
proved too good for them in a chase of several miles.
Garrett at last was left alone following O’Folliard,
and fired at him twice. The latter later admitted
that he fired twenty times at Garrett with his Winchester;
but it was hard to do good shooting from the saddle
at two or three hundred yards range, so neither man
was hit. O’Folliard did not learn his lesson.
A few nights later, in company with Tom Pickett, he
rode into town. Warned of his approach, Garrett
with another man was waiting, hidden in the shadow
of a building. As O’Folliard rode up, he
was ordered to throw up his hands, but went after his
gun instead, and on the instant Garrett shot him through
the body. “You never heard a man scream
the way he did,” said Garrett. “He
dropped his gun when he was hit, but we did not know
that, and as we ran up to catch his horse, we ordered
him again to throw up his hands. He said he couldn’t,
that he was killed. We helped him down then,
and took him in the house. He died about forty-five
minutes later. He said it was all his own fault,
and that he didn’t blame anybody. I’d
have killed Tom Pickett right there, too,” concluded
Garrett, “but one of my men shot right past my
face and blinded me for the moment, so Pickett got
The remainder of the Kid’s gang
were now located in the stone house above mentioned,
and their whereabouts reported by the ranchman whose
house they had just vacated. The man hunt therefore
proceeded methodically, and Garrett and his men, of
whom he had only two or three upon whom he relied
as thoroughly game, surrounded the house just before
dawn. Garrett, with Jim East and Tom Emory, crept
up to the head of the ravine which made up to the
ridge on which the fortress of the outlaws stood.
The early morning is always the best time for a surprise
of this sort. It was Charlie Bowdre who first
came out in the morning, and as he stepped out of
the door his career as a bad man ended. Three
bullets passed through his body. He stepped back
into the house, but only lived about twenty minutes.
The Kid said to him, “Charlie, you’re
killed anyhow. Take your gun and go out and kill
that long-legged before you die.”
He pulled Bowdre’s pistol around in front of
him and pushed him out of the door. Bowdre staggered
feebly toward the spot where the sheriff was lying.
“I wish I wish ”
he began, and motioned toward the house; but he could
not tell what it was that he wished. He died
on Garrett’s blankets, which were laid down on
Previous to this Garrett had killed
one horse at the door beam where it was tied, and
with a remarkable shot had cut the other free, shooting
off the rope that held it. These two shots he
thought about the best he ever made; and this is saying
much, for he was a phenomenal shot with rifle or revolver.
There were two horses inside, but the dead horse blocked
the door. Pickett now told the gang to surrender.
“That fellow will kill every man that shows
outside that door,” said he, “that’s
all about it. He’s killed O’Folliard,
and he’s killed Charlie, and he’ll kill
us. Let’s surrender and take a chance at
getting out again.” They listened to this,
for the shooting they had seen had pretty well broken
Garrett now sent over to the ranch
house for food for his men, and the cooking was too
much for the hungry outlaws, who had had nothing to
eat. They put up a dirty white rag on a gun barrel
and offered to give up. One by one, they came
out and were disarmed. That night was spent at
the Brazil ranch, the prisoners under guard and the
body of Charlie Bowdre, rolled in its blankets, outside
in the wagon. The next morning, Bowdre was buried
in the little cemetery next to Tom O’Folliard.
The Kid did not know that he was to make the next
in the row.
These men surrendered on condition
that they should all be taken through to Santa Fe,
and Garrett, at the risk of his life, took them through
Las Vegas, where Rudabaugh was wanted. Half the
town surrounded the train in the depot yards.
Garrett told the Kid that if the mob rushed in the
door of the car he would toss back a six-shooter to
him and ask him to help fight.
“All right, Pat,” said
the Kid, cheerfully. “You and I can whip
the whole gang of them, and after we’ve done
it I’ll go back to my seat and you can put the
irons on again. You’ve kept your word.”
There is little doubt that he would have done this,
but as it chanced there was no need, since at the
last moment deputy Malloy, of Las Vegas, jumped on
the engine and pulled the train out of the yard.
Billy the Kid was tried and condemned
to be executed. He had been promised pardon by
Governor Lew Wallace, but the pardon did not come.
A few days before the day set for his execution, the
Kid, as elsewhere described, killed the two deputies
who were guarding him, and got back once more to his
old stamping grounds around Fort Sumner.
“I knew now that I would have
to kill the Kid,” said Garrett to the writer,
speaking reminiscently of the bloody scenes as we lately
visited that country together. “We both
knew that it must be one or the other of us if we
ever met. I followed him up here to Sumner, as
you know, with two deputies, John Poe and ‘Tip’
McKinney, and I killed him in a room up there at the
edge of the old cottonwood avenue.”
He spoke of events now long gone by.
It had been only with difficulty that we located the
site of the building where the Kid’s gang had
been taken prisoners. The structure itself had
been torn down and removed. As to the old military
post, once a famous one, it offered now nothing better
than a scene of desolation. There was no longer
a single human inhabitant there. The old avenue
of cottonwoods, once four miles long, was now ragged
and unwatered, and the great parade ground had gone
back to sand and sage brush. We were obliged
to search for some time before we could find the site
of the old Maxwell house, in which was ended a long
and dangerous man hunt of the frontier. Garrett
finally located the place, now only a rough quadrangle
of crumbled earthen walls.
“This is the place,” said
he, pointing to one corner of the grass-grown oblong.
“Pete Maxwell’s bed was right in this corner
of the room, and I was sitting in the dark and talking
to Pete, who was in bed. The Kid passed Poe and
McKinney right over there, on what was then the gallery,
and came through the door right here.”
We paused for a time and looked with
a certain gravity at this wind-swept, desolate spot,
around which lay the wide, unwinking desert.
About us were the ruins of what had been a notable
settlement in its day, but which now had passed with
the old frontier.
“I got word of the Kid up here
in much the way I had once before,” resumed
Garrett at length, “and I followed him, resolved
to get him or to have him get me. We rode over
into the edge of the town and learned that the Kid
was there, but of course we did not know which house
he was in. Poe went in to inquire around, as
he was not known there like myself. He did not
know the Kid when he saw him, nor did the Kid know
“It was a glorious moonlight
night; I can remember it perfectly well. Poe
and McKinney and I all met a little way out from the
edge of the place. We decided that the Kid was
not far away. We went down to the houses, and
I put Poe and McKinney outside of Pete Maxwell’s
house and I went inside. Right here was the door.
We did not know it at that time, but just about then
the Kid was lying with his boots off in the house
of an old Mexican just across there, not very far away
from Maxwell’s door. He told the Mexican,
when he came in, to cook something for him to eat.
Maxwell had killed a beef not long before, and there
was a quarter hanging up under the porch out in front.
After a while, the Kid got up, got a butcher knife
from the old Mexican, and concluded to go over and
cut himself off a piece of meat from the quarter at
Maxwell’s house. This is how the story
arose that he came into the house with his boots in
his hand to keep an appointment with a Mexican girl.
“The usual story is that I was
down close to the wall behind Maxwell’s bed.
This was not the case, for the bed was close against
the wall. Pete Maxwell was lying in bed, right
here in this corner, as I said. I was sitting
in a chair and leaning over toward him, as I talked
in a low tone. My right side was toward him,
and my revolver was on that side. I did not know
that the Kid was so close at hand, or, indeed, know
for sure that he was there in the settlement at all.
“Maxwell did not want to talk
very much. He knew the Kid was there, and knew
his own danger. I was talking to him in Spanish,
in a low tone of voice, as I say, when the Kid came
over here, just as I have told you. He saw Poe
and McKinney sitting right out there in the moonlight,
but did not suspect anything. ’Quién es?’ ’Who
is it?’ he asked, as he passed them.
I heard him speak and saw him come backing into the
room, facing toward Poe and McKinney. He could
not see me, as it was dark in the room, but he came
up to the bed where Maxwell was lying and where I
was sitting. He seemed to think something might
not be quite right. He had in his hand his revolver,
a self-cocking .41. He could not see my face,
and he had not heard my voice, or he would have known
“The Kid stepped up to the bedside
and laid his left hand on the bed and bent over Maxwell.
He saw me sitting there in the half darkness, but did
not recognize me, as I was sitting down. My height
would have betrayed me had I been standing. ‘Pete,
Quién es?’ he asked in a low tone of
voice; and he half motioned toward me with his six-shooter.
That was when I looked across into eternity.
It wasn’t far to go.
“That was exactly how the thing
was. I gave neither Maxwell nor the Kid time
for anything farther. There flashed over my mind
at once one thought, and it was that I had to shoot
and shoot at once, and that my shot must go to the
mark the first time. I knew the Kid would kill
me in a flash if I did not kill him.
“Just as he spoke and motioned
toward me, I dropped over to the left and rather down,
going after my gun with my right hand as I did so.
As I fired, the Kid dropped back. I had caught
him just about the heart. His pistol, already
pointed toward me, went off as he fell, but he fired
high. As I sprang up, I fired once more, but did
not hit him, and did not need to, for he was dead.
“I don’t know that he
ever knew who it was that killed him. He could
not see me in the darkness. He may have seen
me stoop over and pull. If he had had the least
suspicion who it was, he would have shot as soon as
he saw me. When he came to the bed, I knew who
he was. The rest happened as I have told you.
There is no other story about the killing of Billy
the Kid which is the truth. It is also untrue
that his body was ever removed from Fort Sumner.
It lies there to-day, and I’ll show you where
we buried him. I laid him out myself, in this
house here, and I ought to know.”
Twenty-five years of time had done
their work in all that country, as we learned when
we entered the little barbed-wire enclosure of the
cemetery where the Kid and his fellows were buried.
There are no headstones in this cemetery, and no sacristan
holds its records. Again Garrett had to search
in the salt grass and greasewood. “Here
is the place,” said he, at length. “We
buried them all in a row. The first grave is the
Kid’s, and next to him is Bowdre, and then O’Folliard.”
Here was the sole remaining record
of the man hunt’s end. So passes the glory
of the world! In this desolate resting-place,
in a wind-swept and forgotten graveyard, rests all
the remaining fame of certain bad men who in their
time were bandit kings, who ruled by terror over half
a Western territory. Even the headboard which
once stood at the Kid’s grave and
which was once riddled with bullets by cowards who
would not have dared to shoot that close to him had
he been alive was gone. It is not likely
that the graves will be visited again by any one who
knows their locality. Garrett looked at them
in silence for a time, then, turning, went to the
buckboard for a drink at the canteen. “Well,”
said he, quietly, “here’s to the boys,
anyway. If there is any other life, I hope they’ll
make better use of it than they did of the one I put
them out of.”