After he had finished his first season of work as a sheriff and as U.S. Deputy Marshal, Garrett ranched 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 Atascosa and thereabouts his headquarters for a year and a half. So great became his fame 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. By the early 1900s, it was covered with crops and fruits and worth sixty to one hundred dollars an acre.
Garrett then went back to Texas and settled near Uvalde, where he engaged once more in an irrigation enterprise. He was there 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 had 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 murder on United States Government ground — an offense against the United States law. A United States warrant was placed in the hands of Pat Garrett, then a U.S. Deputy Marshal and sheriff-elect, and he took up the trail, locating the men near Fort Sumner, at the ranch of one Wayne Brazel, about nine miles east of the settlement. With the Kid were Charlie Bowdre, Tom O’Folliard Tom Pickett, and Dave Rudabaugh, fellows of like kind. 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 away.”
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 manhunt, 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 the snow.
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 their hearts.