History

Pat Garrett’s Murder, Unsolved Mystery to This Day

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Nearly everybody knows that Sheriff Pat Garrett of Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory, shot and killed a 21-year-old bandit named Henry McCarty, who usually went by Billy the Kid, in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom at Fort Sumner in July, 1881. What most people don’t know is that Pat Garrett was himself murdered in Dora Ana County, New Mexico 27 years later. The murder of Pat Garrett is one of the many unsolved mysteries of the West.

Garrett had been sheriff of several New Mexico counties, including Lincoln and Dora Ana. He also operated a ‘private detective’ company which traced and recovered stolen cattle, ‘taking care of’ the thieves,’ usually by leaving them full of holes. At one point he worked as a detective for Southern Pacific Railroad. While he was working for SP he was stationed for a time in Seguin, Texas. His youngest son, Jarvis, was born in Seguin. No matter what he did, Garrett never really made much of a success at life. In 1908 he was running sheep on rented land in Dora Ana County. That he’d made a number of enemies there was no doubt–anyone who works in law enforcement makes enemies. It goes with the job. However, Pat was not a likeable fellow–even a lot of other lawmen didn’t like him–and he apparently made enemies in just about everything he did. Garrett and two other men were in a wagon at a particularly desolate spot in Dora Ana County, either on the way to look over some sheep or on the way back from looking over some sheep Garrett was trying to buy. The stories differ. The wagon stopped and Garrett got down to relieve himself by the back wheel.

As he stood, someone fired a single rifle shot. It struck Pat Garrett in the back of his head, just at the base of his skull. He was dead when he hit the ground. Wayne Brazeal, who was along on the journey but was no friend of Garrett’s, rolled the dead man over and fired a single round from his pistol into Garrett’s chest. He then mounted a horse, rode into Las Cruces, confessed to murdering Garrett, and was arrested. However, he was acquitted of the crime since the third man testified that Brazeal shot a corpse–Garrett was already dead from the rifle shot to his head when Brazeal shot him. Who fired the shot that killed Pat Garrett? There’s never been a positive answer to that. In my discussions with Leon C. Metz, one of Garrett’s many biographers–though probably the most thorough of them–the name Jim Miller kept cropping up.

Pat Garrett Murder
Photo: friendsofpatgarrett.com

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