February 29, 1908 | Pat Garrett Assassinated

 Pat Garrett, Sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico

“Well, here’s to the boys, anyway. If there is any other life, I hope they’ll make better use of it than they did of the one I put them out of.”

Pat Garrett at the grave of Billy the Kid, 1905

In 1905, retired lawman Pat Garrett visited Old Fort Sumner with western author Emerson Hough. Fort Sumner had changed a lot in the twenty-four years since Garrett had killed Billy the Kid at Pete Maxwell’s place on the edge of town. Garrett recalled the events of the night with Hough while wandering through the town until they found the grave of the outlaw. Garrett raised his canteen in toast to Billy, an acknowledgement of lost youth and promise. Three years later, Garrett himself was shot dead on the side of a road.

On February 29, 1908, Garrett was riding into Las Cruces, New Mexico, with some business associates to finalize a land deal. Garrett stopped to urinate on the side of the road and was shot in the back of the head from about 50 feet away. A second shot that ripped through his torso was unnecessary—Garrett was already dead.

Garrett’s personal orneriness and strong desire for justice had led him afoul of a powerful crime ring that thrived in this region of New Mexico. One particular incident that angered the gang was his dogged investigation into the disappearance of Albert Jennings Fountain and his 8-year-old son Henry. Angry at Garrett for his investigation, eager to acquire his land, and afraid that he might kill one of them, several members of the gang plotted Garrett’s death.

When Territorial Attorney General James Hervey began a serious investigation into the murder, Emerson Hough wrote to warn him away:

“I know that outfit around the Organ Mountains, and Garrett got killed trying to find out who killed Fountain, and you will get killed trying to find out who killed Garrett. I would advise you to let it alone.”

While several members of the gang were known to have participated in the assassination plot, no one was ever convicted of Pat Garrett’s murder.

Read more about Pat Garrett and the circumstances of his death in Mark Lee Gardner’s To Hell on a Fast Horse and Mark Boardman’s article, “The Assassination of Pat Garrett: Once and for All, Who did it and Why?” in True West magazine.

The National Law Enforcement Museum is proud to include some objects once owned by legendary lawman Garrett in its collection.