His Ride to Destiny
In the frontier west, Pat Garrett has to be considered as one of the most famous and effective of legendary law officers. Six feet, five inches tall, he was an imposing and implacable foe of western criminals. An honest and honorable lawman, Garrett was much more than the "Slayer of Billy the Kid." A dreamer who was a major figure in the success of agri-business in the Pecos Valley, he was also an important figure in New Mexico and Texas politics.
Garrett became sheriff when trailing and dispatching of a group of Comanche raiders impressed Roswell's J.C. Lea and John Chisum who were searching for an effective sheriff to rid the area of outlaw gangs, especially a young malcreant called "Billy the Kid." Although he was successful in capturing the young outlaw, his efforts were marred by the youth's subsequent escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse after killing his two jailers.
The sheriffs "Ride to Destiny" began in early July 1881, when with his two deputies, he mounted his horse, checked his favorite pistol (a single-action 44-40 Colt), and rode the 80 miles to Fort Sumner. There at the nearby Maxwell Ranch near midnight on July 14, 1881 he met and dispatched Billy the Kid with a bullet through the heart, an incident which often haunted him for the rest of his life.
The killing was controversial and Garrett failed in his re-election bid. He retired to a large plot of land granted him by Roswell's town fathers as an incentive to become sheriff. Although it was his desire to become a gentleman farmer, he soon became a principal in a large water project which proposed using dams and canals to move water throughout the lower Pecos Valley.
Although partially successful in boosting agri-business for the area, Garrett was not financially able to meet requirements of the project and soon returned to law enforcement, politics and horse trading.
He associated with the great and near-great of the region, ran for public office unsuccessfully, headed a group of rangers, tried ranching and occasionally raised fast horses. When Colonel Albert Fountain and his son disappeared in the White Sands area, Garrett accepted the task of identifying and prosecuting the alleged murderers. Although he was successful in identifying the supposed killers, political maneuvering led to freeing the accused perpetrators.
Garrett later became a customs official in El Paso in an appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt. After his term he retired to a small ranch east of Las Cruces and leased some of his land to a young man named Wayne Brazel. The introduction of goat herds on the land led to violent arguments. On February 29, 1908, Garrett was shot in the back and killed by Brazel while en-route to Las Cruces. Brazel was tried and found "not guilty" by reason of self defense.
"He brought law and order to New Mexico," President Theodore Roosevelt said when he heard of the death of the famed lawman. The storied frontier sheriff was buried in Las Cruces. The grave bears a simple stone engraved "GARRETT". This statue is the only known recognition of his services as an early lawman.