Pat Garrett and the Man Hunt
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By Emerson Hough in 1905
The deeds of the
Western sheriff often went un-chronicled, or were luridly 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, quietly stepped into the background of the past, and was
replaced by others who more loudly proclaimed 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
When young Garrett's
father died, the large estates dwindled under bad management; and
when, within a short time, his 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.
image available for photographic prints
He went to Lancaster, in Dallas County,
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 northbound cows, like many another youngsters 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
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
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
Fort Sumner, New Mexico
on the Pecos River, in the month of
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 the future.
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 any help.
"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
leggings 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?" he
"Ride anything with hair, and rope better than any man you've got
here," answered Garrett, casting a
critical glance at the other men.
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
spring on the bank of the Hondo River, and in the middle of what was then
the virgin plains. Here, he picked up land, until he had more
than 1,250 acres.
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
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 and 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.
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