|Sheriff Pat Garrett|
© 2017 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. There is a celebration missing in New Mexico. Naturally our tourist industry would love to have another festival where tourists come celebrate with us. Better, this celebration would be about a real New Mexico hero. Unfortunately, New Mexico does not currently celebrate this man and he should be celebrated.
Over the years New Mexico has developed a large celebration involving famous western outlaw Billy the Kid. Me, I would rather celebrate lawmen than outlaws. So why not celebrate Sheriff Pat Garrett? There is so much misinformation about Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, which is why Pat Garrett still is not celebrated.
No longer. A new book is out written by David G. Thomas: Billy the Kid’s grave: a history of the Wild West’s most famous death marker. It’s Volume 4 of the Mesilla Valley History Series.
The author is the son of former New Mexico State University President Gerald Thomas. David Thomas is a careful historical researcher combining a background in history and competition chess. What David learned as a chess master translates to his history research. He researches history like it is a chess match.
There are many parts of the Billy the Kid story that I had wrong from traditional sources. David Thomas’s book clears up several inaccuracies that I had embraced. I am thrilled to really see what happened.
Nothing is more so than the actual location of Billy the Kid’s grave. Previous reports are now shown to be wrong. It took a researcher of David Thomas’s ability to prove the location. There’s a wealth of this kind of research in the book. I was most interested in Pat Garrett.
Over the years, I have called for some celebration of this lawman who was a Sheriff of Lincoln County then later of Doña Ana County. He is a New Mexico hero with plenty of blemishes.
Regardless, he deserves a celebration at least equal to that of Billy the Kid. This is difficult because people are stuck in their ways of thinking from popular movies where Garrett is the villain and Billy the hero.
This is false. The real hero was lawman Pat Garrett while Billy the Kid was a criminal who murdered people including three New Mexico lawmen. Over the last forty years I’ve written this several times. The Billy folks always point out that Garrett was known to visit taverns. And was a rotten gambler.
While having human failings, Pat Garrett performed heroically when duty called. If Pat Garrett was living today he would provide plenty of stories for the tabloids about his drinking and gambling.
But when duty called, Sheriff Pat Garrett didn’t shrink back. He performed his duty. Like the stories about the police and fire personnel on September 11th, Garrett ran toward danger, not away from it.
We remember Pat Garrett mostly because he is currently depicted as the villain in the Billy the Kid movies. However, Billy’s character, by actual western standards, was that of a coward, cheat and horse-thief. The community in 1881 heaved a collective sigh of relief when Sheriff Pat Garrett finally got Billy the Kid in Ft. Sumner that July 1881 night as David Thomas’s book conclusively documents.
As we think of Garrett, let us reflect on these facts: Garrett only used his guns to bring peace to New Mexico. Billy killed at least seven people in cold-blood. Garrett raised a family. His blind daughter Elizabeth was a nationally recognized opera singer. In 1915 she wrote New Mexico’s official song, “O Fair New Mexico.”
We should have Pat Garrett Days. Perhaps tourists would not buy Pat Garrett trinkets the way they buy Billy the Kid trinkets, but decent folks would appreciate community values being celebrated.
I cannot right the wrong done to Pat Garrett and to the generations of Garretts still in our community other than tell the truth about him. We need a Pat Garrett celebration to make up for the fact he was murdered foully and treated in death even worse.
David Thomas has written a history book for the ages which tells the truth about Billy and Pat Garrett. I believe Las Cruces should be the center of the Pat Garrett Days Western Celebration.