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Missing Document on Pat Garrett’s Demise Resurfaced over a Century Later

Stefan Andrews
Pat Garrett
Pat Garrett

One of the most acclaimed Old West lawmen in America was Pat Garrett. He was immortalized in history after tracking down and killing the notorious outlaw, 21-year-old Billy the Kid.

But Garret himself also lost his life in an infamous way: suffering two shots, one in the head, and another tearing through his ribs and shoulder. All while urinating? Perhaps. It is said his body was found with unbuttoned trousers. This nefarious event took place on February 29, 1908.

A man quickly confessed to the act. It was a rancher by the name of Wayne Brazel who turned himself in to the local deputy sheriff, Felipe Lucero. Brazel went on trial in 1909 and was acquitted of the crime.

Portrait of Sheriff Pat Garrett.

Portrait of Sheriff Pat Garrett.

The story of how the famous former sheriff received his fatal wounds remains incomplete, however. People close to Garrett believed there was more to it. That this was a conspiracy, and perhaps an enemy whom Garrett made over the course of his career was at the center of things.

Historians and researchers have wondered if there were perhaps missing documents that described details of Garrett’s final day. One such document took 108 years to appear, thanks to the alert eye of Doña Ana County office employee Angelica Valenzuela, who was reportedly reviewing a pile of unclipped documents in November 2016. 

Sheriff Pat Garrett (2nd from right) with friends on the porch in Roswell, New Mexico.

Sheriff Pat Garrett (2nd from right) with friends on the porch in Roswell, New Mexico.

In the bunch of yellowed papers, there was the original coroner’s report from 1908 that referred to Garrett’s deceased body. Inscribed in cursive letters, the document also states, that the deceased came to his death by gunshot wounds inflicted by one Wayne Brazel.

Several people signed the document, handwritten hours after Garrett was gone. “We the undersigned Justices of the Peace and Coroners Jury have attended the investigation of the body of Pat Garrett who was reported dead within the limits of Precinct No. 20, County of Doña Ana, territory of New Mexico on about five miles northeast of the town of Las Cruces.

Cover of Garrett’s book.

Cover of Garrett’s book.

While the document resurfaced at the end of 2016, it was kept secret for several more months before it was finally made public on June 16, 2017, at a special event hosted in the Commission Chamber of Doña Ana County Government Center.

Hundreds of people attended the event. Garrett’s original coroner’s report was unveiled alongside other historical documents important to the local history of the county.

It unquestionably stirred up excitement, with some calling the document gold. Event attendees were able to ponder on the contents of the report, in their attempts to grasp more details of how exactly Garrett got killed.

Unauthenticated greyscale group photo allegedly of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett with three other men.

Unauthenticated greyscale group photo allegedly of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett with three other men.

Attending the event was Susannah Garrett from Santa Fe, one of Pat Garrett’s grandchildren. She had learned about the find from friends and described the entire situation as very powerful and emotional.

The killing of Pat Garrett took place in the morning hours of February 29, 1908, sometime around 10:30 a.m. The alleged killer, Brazel, was quickly seized and imprisoned. Supposedly there was only a single eyewitness of the wrongdoing, Carl Adamson, who was accompanying Brazel.

Portrait of Pat Garrett from The Story of the Outlaws.

Portrait of Pat Garrett from The Story of the Outlaws.

In the months before that fateful day, Garrett was attempting to build up his life as a rancher. It didn’t go as planned, therefore he opted to lease a portion of his property to his alleged future killer.

It is known that the two of them started to quarrel over the leasing terms in January 1908. On February 29th, Brazel met Garrett on horseback as he was on the road to Las Cruces.

Portrait of American gunman Billy the Kid (1859–1881).

Portrait of American gunman Billy the Kid (1859–1881).

As El Paso Times writes, according to Adamson, Garrett had his weapon ready before he met Brazel. The Sheriff supposedly threatened to resolve the conflict with Brazel, if not with words then with a weapon. But the second was faster with his Colt .44 caliber revolver.

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Brazel fired two shots, one after another. Immediately after the gunfire, he told Adamson something like, This is hell, ain’t it. I am going to town and give myself up to the sheriff.”

The pair abandoned the body by the road, close to a small canyon midway between Las Cruces and Organ. The first of the bullets had pierced the back of the Sheriff’s head, making its way out through the left eyeball. Was he shot from behind?

Garrett family burial site

Garrett family burial site

The second wound seemed no less confusing. In this case, the munition progressed in between the seventh and eight ribs and pierced his shoulder blades. Some say it was fired at Garrett after his body fell lifeless. When the Coroner’s Jury arrived on the scene to inspect the remains, the Sheriff’s body was resting on it’s back. The arms of the corpse were outspread and the trousers allegedly appeared unbuttoned.

New Mexico Official Scenic Historic Marker: Pat Garrett Murder Site. Photo by Samat Jain CC by 2.0

New Mexico Official Scenic Historic Marker: Pat Garrett Murder Site. Photo by Samat Jain CC by 2.0

People came up with different postulations following the end of Garrett. How was he really killed? Was there more than one shooter? Were the two wounds inflicted by two different weapons? Some discrepancies between the eyewitness statement and the analysis of the wounds and crime scene fueled doubts in the entire case. Another thing was that if Garrett was really intent on shooting Brazel, he probably wouldn’t have turned his back on the enemy.

Memorial marking spot where Garrett was killed. Photo by Mblitch CC BY SA 3.0

Memorial marking spot where Garrett was killed. Photo by Mblitch CC BY SA 3.0

The original coroner’s report that was revealed only last year does not answer all such questions, however. Some even described the document as “very sparse in details,” such as historian Robert J. Stahl, a professor emeritus from Arizona State University.

Stahl explained that these were different times, when the jury was not provisioned with specific guidelines and details on how a certain investigation should unfold. The document has only increased by a fraction our understanding of Garrett’s mysterious demise.

Related Article: The Story of Billy the Kid – From Humble NYC Beginnings to Wild West Rockstar

What still remains certain is that Garrett filled an alleged prophecy he personally once declared. That the day he dies he will have his boots on; which is exactly how he left.