“I was getting ready to go to lunch… when the door to the sheriff’s office opened and in walked Wayne Brazil, looking hurried and upset. He had his gun in his hand, and as he came up to my desk he laid it down in front of me.”
The sentence that follows from Brazil, from the recollection of a county sheriff in Las Cruces, NM in 1908, is the basis for David G. Thomas’s incredibly researched work including hundreds of notes, 112 images, over 100 chapters, four appendixes and a 100-year timeline: “’Lock me up, I’ve just killed Pat Garrett.’”
But was the case as open and shut as that?
Who can say whether Thomas is the world’s leading authority on the legendary lawman best known for tracking down and killing Billy the Kid? But after reading Killing Pat Garrett, The Wild West’s Most Famous Lawman – Murder or Self-Defense (Doc45 Publishing), who could dispute it? He certainly has the right credentials: the co-founder of the Pat Garrett Western Heritage Festival and co-founder of Friends of Pat Garrett.
Although it didn’t start out that way, Thomas soon became obsessed with who killed Garrett and the circumstances of his violent death by gunshot.
“I quickly realized no biographer of Garrett has been able to answer the questions,” Thomas writes. “All have expressed opinions. None has presented evidence that would stand up in a court of law.”
Pat Garrett was the West’s most famous lawman for more than a decade following the one singular act for which he is so well known: killing Billy the Kid in a darkened bedroom around midnight in 1881.
His life was marked by extreme highs – meeting two U.S. presidents – and devastating lows and great tragedy within his own family. He also faced a series of personal financial crises.
Thomas quotes the author Emerson Hough in calling Garrett “a man of little book education but well-born and of a high sense of humor. Occasionally goes into saloons but does not loaf there and does not frequent gambling places…[I] know that he is not a drunkard and not a gambler.”
The crux of the narrative is the circumstances surrounding Garrett’s feud with Brazil and his killing. The dispute that apparently led to Garrett’s demise involved a contract between the two men about the sale of goats and disagreement on how many goats were involved. While Brazil gave himself up and confessed to the county sheriff as the killer of Garrett, there’s the question of whether Garrett had threatened Brazil to the point of making the shooting a matter of self-defense.
Thomas, however, introduces evidence that a professional killer, “Deacon Jim” Miller, might have been paid $1,500 to do the job. The author also introduces the possibility of a conspiracy theory.
Thomas had access to more than 80 letters Garrett wrote to his wife. He says he uncovered many documents that uncovered new details surrounding Garrett’s personal life right up to his killing. He also includes never-before-published photographs of Garrett, his wife, children, ranch sites, Brazil, the place where Garrett was shot, and more.
Killing Pat Garrett is a different kind of whodunit, not put together from the imagination of a fiction writer. It is a meticulously researched work that considers all sides and presents all evidence in remarkable detail.
For people who enjoy a ride through the life of a famous Wild West figure, which is brought to life in actual conversation and documentation, this book is for you.
Says Thomas, “I wanted to write a book that was different from the other books about Garrett. I wanted as much as possible to tell Garrett’s story in his own words, and in the words of the people with whom he interacted.”
Killing Pat Garrett is now available for purchase.
About David G. Thomas
David G. Thomas is an author, historian, filmmaker, producer, actor, screenwriter, and travel writer. He was Associate Producer of a 2019 documentary film The Wonder of the Century, based on his book on Giovanni Maria de Agostini, an Eighteenth-Century world traveler. He is the co-founder of the Pat Garrett Western Heritage Festival and co-founder of Friends of Pat Garrett. Killing Pat Garrett is his fifth book.