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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pat Garrett


One of the great Western lawmen


Patrick Floyd Garrett (1850 – 1908) was a member of that select club of Western lawmen – men like Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok – whose reputation hovers somewhere between the famous and infamous. Part of this is due to the exasperatingly popular Saga of Billy the Kid by Walter Noble Burns (1926), “flagrant with error, distortion, and misinterpretation”, as Leon Metz calls it.  Burns made the juvenile delinquent William Bonney (let’s call him that) into a Robin Hood hero, and, by extension, the man who killed him a kind of evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
 
Patrick Floyd Garrett (1850 - 1908)
 
I quote Leon Metz because his 1974 book Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman (University of Oklahoma Press) is the definitive biography of Garrett. There are some writers on Western matters who are head and shoulders above the others. If you want the real lowdown on Wyatt Earp you read Casey Tefertiller; you read Joseph Rosa on Wild Bill, Robert DeArment on Bat Masterson, TJ Stiles on Jesse James, and so on. You are looking for a balanced, thoroughly researched, reliable and authoritative (and very readable) picture of Pat Garrett? Read El Paso doyen Leon Metz.
 
El Paso author Leon Metz
 
I really enjoyed this life of Garrett. Of course much is already known about him, especially during the period of his tracking down and killing of Billy the Kid. This is partly because Garrett ‘wrote’ – or let’s say authored (it was ghostwritten by Pat’s pal Ash Upson) – The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. But in fact surprisingly little is known about Garrett's early life. Of Metz’s 306 pages, only 35-odd concern his pre-Billy existence.

Early life

Still, it’s interesting enough, and I’ll dwell on it a bit here because it is less well known about. Born in Alabama in 1850, son of a farmer, he moved at an early age with his family to Louisiana. The Garretts were prosperous and purchased a plantation. The boy had some scanty schooling, and later in life wrote reasonably well-spelled letters to his wife in a decent hand. His daughter Pauline said that he read often and had a small library. So there was no foundation to the rumors that he was illiterate.

He was already extraordinarily tall and spindly. Often he could not find pants long enough to cover his legs. When he died there was no coffin big enough to hold him and the undertaker needed five chairs to lay him out on.
 
Lengthy
 
Very early in life he began to question established religion and remained a lifelong agnostic – atheists being pretty well unknown at the time. He specifically requested that there be no religious ceremony at his funeral.

After the collapse of the Confederacy much of the Garretts’ cotton was confiscated and the family fell into debt. At the age of 18 Pat became an orphan and a dispute over his inheritance followed. Even at this time it was clear that Garrett was quick-tempered and high-strung. In January 1869 he abandoned it all and left Louisiana to make his fortune alone. He wandered for ten years.

In 1875 a “Pat Garrity” was indicted for intent to murder in Bowie County, Texas but broke jail and vanished. If this was our Pat Garrett we do not know. He tried dirt farming but did not take to it. He worked as a cowboy in Dallas County. He seems to have invested in both ventures and made a little money from them.

Buffalo hunter

By the middle of the 1870s he was in Tarrant County, Texas, and met a fellow about his own age named Skelton Glenn. A young war veteran (he had joined the Confederate army at 15) who had made some money driving cattle down to Florida and horses back, Glenn pooled his resources with Garrett and they went into buffalo hunting around Fort Griffin.

Fort Griffin in the 1870s was the epitome of all frontier sin towns. Its population of two or three hundred was primarily a migratory assortment of bullwhackers, stagedrivers drifters, cowpunchers, soldiers, outlaws, ranchers, gamblers, prostitutes and thieves, who cursed, brawled, drank, gambled, whored, slept, and died in its narrow, blood-slick streets.

It sounds like my kinda town. It was also a center for buffalo men. During August 1877 alone, over two hundred thousand hides changed hands. Millions of flies infested the place and the stench was appalling. The only ’justice’ was dispensed by a vigilance committee. There had been a sheriff, John M Larn, and his gunman deputy John Selman, but they were rustlers and murderers and Larn was forced to resign and later shot to death by a mob while in jail.
 
Fort Griffin
 
Guns always interested Garrett and in Griffin he bought a Winchester for fifty dollars. The partners hired two drifters in a saloon and with a youth named Joe Briscoe whom Pat liked the group started shooting buffalo. Pat soon got into a banal argument with Briscoe, about washing clothes in a muddy pool, calling him a “dumb Irishman” and Briscoe went for him. Pat knocked him down so many times he became embarrassed and tried to extricate himself from the fray. But Briscoe was furious and picked up an ax, and in the end Pat shot him with his Winchester. The boy fell into the campfire and died. Pat, dismayed, owned up to the deed at Fort Griffin but no one seemed to care and he came away again.

The Comanche looked on with shock at the slaughter of the buffalo and finally a band of about 50 under Nigger Horse took up arms. They raided the Glenn-Garrett camp on February 1, 1877. They destroyed 800 hides and stole the horses. Garrett was philosophical about the loss but Glenn vowed vengeance and was one of the 50-odd men who took part in the whiskey-sodden expedition against the Comanche at Yellow House Canyon (the site of present-day Lubbock) and were completely routed (well done, Mr. Horse).

The peak of the buffalo trade only really lasted for a short time in the 1870s, before the herds were pretty well hunted into extinction. Pat shot buffalo from October 1875 to January ’78, not much over two years. Fort Griffin declined and died, not because of its lawlessness but because the railroad was laid sixty miles to the south. Today, all that remains is a handful of broken buildings. The partners sold out, raising money for a train ticket to St. Louis where Pat gambled away any profits he had accrued. Glenn wrote a memoir in 1910, vilifying Pat and attacking him for not backing him up in claims for compensation against the Indians.

In February 1878, Pat was in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

New Mexico

I’ll be briefer about Pat’s time until the death of Billy the Kid because this post, already long, is not meant to be a full biography of Garrett – read the Metz book for that – and because the story is anyway very well known. I’ll just pick out a few facts that I found new or interesting.
 
Pete Maxwell
 
At Sumner Pat got a job working for Pete Maxwell, who called him Lengthy. The Mexicans named him Juan Largo, which we might translate as Long John. He married there, twice, Juanita Guttiérez and then, after her death (possibly from a miscarriage) her sister Apolinaria, the daughter of a successful New Mexico freighter. She gave him several children and stood loyally by him (even when he lived for a time with a common prostitute in El Paso) until the end. Theirs was a loving and curiously formal relationship. His letters to her were long and affectionate but addressed “Dear Wife” and signed simply “Pat F. Garrett”.
 
Pat with hs wife Apolinaria
 
He accepted work as the bartender at Beaver Smith’s saloon. There he got to know every saddle tramp and cattleman of the territory, and follow the Lincoln County war. There seems to be no doubt that he knew Billy the Kid, though for a close friendship or partnership in rustling, as movies and novels suggest, there seems to be no evidence. Pat took no part in the war and he didn’t know then that he would find fame tracking down many of the war’s antagonists and be on first-name terms with governors and presidents.

At this time, Metz tells us, Pat took part in a posse to chase Comanches who had stolen some horses. When the Indians realized they could not ride fast enough to escape with the horses, they stabbed the beasts in the neck, leaving them to die, and disappeared. Most of the posse turned back but Pat and a few of the hardiest rode on, and later came wearily back to Sumner with a string of Indian ponies and a sack full of moccasins. Few asked questions about the fate of the items’ former owners.
 
Roswell doyen Capt. Joseph C Lea
 
This provoked local cattleman John Chisum and respected Roswellian Capt. Joseph C Lea to approach Garrett and suggest that he run for county sheriff against the ineffective George Kimball. Kimball was a Republican and Garrett a Democrat, in a country strongly dominated by the Democrats. In November 1880 Pat won by 320 votes to 179 and was the county sheriff-elect.

Sheriff Garrett

Pat Garrett was ambitious, and no idle dreamer. Many New Mexico lawmen were corrupt, lazy and timorous; Garrett was none of these things. He increased his standing and powers when he was ‘informally’ appointed a deputy US marshal. Secret Treasury agent Azariah Wild (who sounds like someone out of the Wild, Wild West series), on the track of counterfeiters – which gave Garrett’s actions a national importance – asked for a series of commissions, found that by accident there were two for one name, Hurley, and none for Garrett, so simply scratched Hurley’s name out on one and wrote in Garrett’s.

The story is a good one of Pat, Wild, Barney Mason and another deputy marshal, the coarse bully Bob Olinger, leading a posse to capture Billy the Kid at a ranch on the Rio Grande. They missed Billy but netted prison escapee JJ Webb (hero of my second novel, be it known).
 
Bob Olinger
 
Pat’s posse was only one of many chasing Billy and his cronies. One such was led by Charlie Siringo, another colorful Western character about whom I must write one day. In Siringo’s posse was Big-Foot Wallace (Frank Clifford). Billy certainly led them all a merry chase. Pat nearly got him in Fort Sumner one winter’s night and shot gang member Tom O’Folliard there, cradling the dying boy compassionately in his arms. “Oh my God,” said O’Folliard, “is it possible I must die?” Pat softly replied, “Tom, your time is short.”

The Christmas siege at the rock house at Stinking Springs followed. There we see an example of Pat’s extraordinary marksmanship: from a considerable distance he shot through the halters of Bill’s gang’s horses to scatter them.

Metz emphasizes how admired Pat was after capturing Billy, probably the most popular he was ever to be. The Las Vegas Daily Optic opined that Garrett “should be retained as deputy sheriff of Lincoln for 250 years, and at the expiration of that time his lease on life should be extended.” He was also quite well off, for once. He purchased a small ranch near Eagle Creek and a hotel in town.

Almost as controversial and interesting as Billy himself was the defense attorney at his trial, Albert Jennings Fountain, and we shall see that Fountain was to play a huge part in Pat’s life – or his corpse, anyway.

Killing Billy

The weeks following Bill’s escape from Lincoln were difficult ones for Garrett. There was no trace of the outlaw and many said he had fled to Mexico. The Mexicans tended to favor Billy and the small ranchers disliked Garrett as simply a pawn of Chisum. Many now muttered against Pat, and Garrett’s sarcasm and high-handedness didn’t help.

But the cattlemen came to his aid. Guided by Charles Goodnight, they hired tough Marshal John W Poe to assist Pat in tracking Billy and other rustlers down. Pat commissioned Poe as a deputy. It is extraordinary that Billy felt confident enough to return to Fort Sumner but it seems that Paulita Maxwell was too much of a temptation. It was a mistake: Paulita’s brother Pete told Poe, and Poe told Garrett.
 
Marshal John W Poe
 
Well, the story of the shooting of Billy the Kid is too well known to rehearse here. Metz has a chapter on the ‘empty grave’ theory – that Billy escaped – and satisfactorily demolishes such absurdities.

Ash Upson

This was where Marshall Ashmun Upson appears on the scene. Ash lived with the Garretts and must in many ways have been a trial, especially for Mrs. Garrett. He was garrulous, a spendthrift, hard-drinking, stubborn and a misogynist, and over-fond of fast horses (like Pat), but he was a huge character. He was even more ‘agnostic’ than Pat. He had worked on newspapers all over the West and dabbled as postmaster, real estate agent, notary public and justice of the peace. He even served in Capt. Lea’s general store (though was unable to sell the popular Hostetter’s Bitters because they contained alcohol and he had drunk them all).
 
Ash Upson
 
Ash listened to Pat then wrote a book with the snappy little title The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, the Noted Desperado of the Southwest, Whose Deeds of Daring Have Made His Name a Terror in New Mexico, Arizona and Northern Mexico. Pat’s name was on the cover, though Ash claimed he had penned every word. It was written in an especially lurid style, even for the day. Upson pretty well invented the whole of Billy’s early life at whim. The book was a financial flop.

Captain of Rangers: working for the big cattlemen

Pat had had enough of the criticism of his role as sheriff and did not run again. The office was taken by JW Poe. Pat liked Poe and together Garrett and Lea found a wife for him. Pat ran for office as a district councilman but got into bitter arguments with rival candidates and lost by a handful of votes.

He now ranched but was soon unhappy and restless. The big cattlemen of the Southwest wanted to curb the growing independence of their cowhands and cut the small ranchers down to size. The underpaid cowboys, often let go whenever business was slack, finally announced that none would work for less than $50 a month. The small stockmen too were organizing and got an injunction preventing the huge herds using New Mexico waterholes. In November 1884 the big cattlemen acted: prodded principally by the huge LS Ranch, they formed a troop of rangers (whom they called the Home Rangers but became more widely known as the LS Rangers) and asked Pat Garrett to command them, at the huge salary of $5000 a year.

At the same time they persuaded Governor Ireland to pass an ordinance forbidding the carrying of six-shooters and they spent $25,000 on a jail and courthouse at Tascosa. Garrett had refused to make arrests without warrants, and now these were forthcoming and a grand jury impaneled. The names of the striking cowboys were published and the men were blacklisted: no rancher would hire them again.

It didn’t last long. It was slightly reminiscent of the Johnson County war. Garrett suspected he had been hired to kill men on a list and that was not his style. In the spring of 1885 he resigned.

Land agent

There now appears the picaresque, dandified and glib Captain Brandon Kirby, a slightly dubious fellow who claimed to be looking for investment opportunities for rich easterners and Europeans. A wealthy Scotsman, James Cree, hired Kirby to find some choice cattle land. A chance meeting with Garrett led to Garrett being engaged by Kirby in August 1885 to buy wide tracts of land for the Crees in the Fort Stanton area. Pat acted fast and closed several deals.

The Crees were arrogant people who treated their cowboys as they had treated their Scottish farmworkers, with disdain and sniffy dislike. Curiously, rustling of calves grew to surprising proportions… The Crees decided to import Black Angus bulls from Scotland (the calves would be recognizable, to say the least). The angry cowboys castrated the bulls. Then came the worst drought in years. The Crees went back to Scotland and were not missed. Kirby disappeared. Garrett launched into grand schemes for irrigation.

Water

The next chapter in Pat Garrett’s life (I hope I’m not boring you; I’m just trying to highlight the obscurer parts of his career, the aspects I didn’t know about and which maybe grab your attention too) concerns the Rio Grande’s biggest tributary, the Pecos River. Farming and ranching were the two main occupations of the Pecos Valley, and many had started irrigation systems, often borrowing recklessly to finance them. Pat dreamed of seeing the Pecos Valley flourish and blossom. In January 1887 he went into partnership with Roswell resident William L Holloman and founded the Holloman and Garrett Ditch Company, and they offered 50 shares at one hundred dollars each. It flopped.
 
Irrigation
 
It didn’t stop Garrett. He went into other schemes, some of them plausible but far too expensive. It took three years to find backers and during these years Pat was the principal pusher of the scheme and what would these days be called marketing manager. But really it was as if Pat and other investors were just pouring the money into the irrigation ditch. They might as well have. It was the biggest construction project ever to hit the Pecos Valley and expenses were simply too great. They finally found a Colorado businessman, James John Hagerman, to write a forty-thousand dollar check and bail the company out of its difficulties but Hagerman reorganized the company and there was no room for Pat. He was out, dismissed with no return on his investment or payback for his work. In fact he was probably well out of it: the company staggered along until it finally went into receivership in 1908.

Uvalde

Pat turned to politics. The foundation of a new county meant that he could run for county sheriff. It was a big ask for a Democrat in a world where nearly all county officials were Republicans. He lost. Bitterly, he made plans to leave New Mexico and in April 1891 he set up at Uvalde, Texas. It turned out to be the most peaceful and settled time of his life.

Pat fathered eight children altogether but his favorite was undoubtedly Elizabeth, his blind daughter, a talented musician. She became his best-known child and a close associate of Helen Keller. She wrote Oh Fair New Mexico, the official state song. She wrote about her father, in glowing terms. She wrote that her father shared with her

all the beauties and secrets [of the universe]. This intimacy brought me to the tender side of his nature. There was never a time when my questions were rebuffed. Instead he met them with patience and truth as nearly as he knew it.

He spent some of his time in Uvalde racing horses at the well-known racetrack.

The crusty, difficult, profane but doggishly loyal Ash Upton was at his side still, slowly drinking himself to death. Pat kept paying his saloon bills. But Upson finally died in October 1894 and was buried in Uvalde. Pat paid, of course. He and Apolinaria must have had mixed feelings about the loss.
 
Albert J Fountain
 
Garrett became restless again, those big itchy feet urging him to move. Then, on February 1, 1896, Colonel Albert J Fountain, the man who had defended Billy the Kid at Mesilla and had been on Pat’s side in the 1882 elections, mysteriously disappeared in the White Sands, along with his young son Henry. The authorities feared murder. Once again New Mexico had need of Pat Garrett.

Murder and Mystery in White Sands

Leon Metz devotes 80 pages, about a quarter of the book, to the long-running saga of the Fountain murders. If you want a detailed account, go there. I haven’t time in an already lengthy post to discuss it in detail. The trial of the prime suspects didn’t occur until May 1899, more than three years after the slayings, and then it was for the murder of the boy Henry Fountain, not Albert. The trial was a travesty of justice. It was either badly bungled or corruptly perverted or, more likely, both. Although no one will never know now for certain exactly what happened to the Fountains, the truth is that the culprits got away with murder.

Fountain had fought in the Union army in the Civil War and afterwards married Mariana Perez of Mesilla and joined volunteers in New Mexico fighting the Apaches, where he was wounded. He became the customs collector for the El Paso region, an election judge and then collector of internal revenue. In 1869 he won a seat in the Texas Senate and helped push through the bill re-establishing the Texas Rangers. He fought several duels, killing at least one man. He moved back to Mesilla and became a successful lawyer. He was appointed assistant DA and also a probate judge. His most famous client was Billy the Kid. At the time of his disappearance he was prosecuting suspected cattle rustlers, notably rancher Oliver M Lee.

Garrett’s long pursuit of Lee and his accomplices included a bloody gunfight in 1898 at Wildy Well but it was a fiasco. A deputy was killed and Pat and his supporters withdrew. In the end Lee and the others surrendered, knowing they were unlikely to be convicted.

El Paso

El Paso in 1901 was just emerging from its bloody past. For thirty years it had been the town of saloons and gunmen (they went together), notably of course Dallas Stoudenmire, John Selman and John Wesley Hardin. Mannen Clements was still around, reduced to shaking down prostitutes.

But El Paso was also a crossroads town, through which trade of all kinds flowed from Mexico to the US and back. Overseeing this border trade was the collector of customs, a key post. It was a presidential appointment and Pat wanted it. An assassin’s bullet now removed President McKinley and installed the charismatic Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.

Roosevelt instinctively liked Pat Garrett. He was a famous Western lawman after all and his character suited the new president. But Pat’s past and his difficult and cranky demeanor meant that he had a lot of enemies, men who actively worked against him and his getting the nomination to the post. But there was a lot of support too and luckily for Pat, Roosevelt ignored the opposition and went ahead. In Washington, Pat met the president and Roosevelt craftily gave him a note and asked him to sign it: it was a promise not to drink alcohol while in the job. With one stroke, therefore, as Pat perused and then signed the note, Roosevelt verified that rumors of his illiteracy were false and had him bound to sobriety. When Garrett appeared before a senate committee with the job of confirming the appointment, he declared that he did not know the difference between a straight flush and four of a kind. This was a bit of a stretch but they swallowed it. The joke went round back home, ‘Everyone knows Pat Garrett isn’t a poker player. He just thinks he’s a poker player.’

To cut a long story short, it was a tumultuous period of office with quarrels and protest and even fisticuffs. But Pat was honest and determined to do the job properly. Those more used to an ‘understanding’ customs collector were disappointed. What really did for Pat, though, was not the way he did the job but the friendship of El Paso saloon owner Tom Powers, whom Pat introduced to the president as ‘a cattleman’ and had photographed together. Roosevelt was angry that he had been photographed with a ‘notorious gambler and saloon owner’, as Garrett’s enemies had it, and I suppose he had been misled a bit. Garrett and Powers went to Washington to try to put the matter right but could not gain admittance. Roosevelt didn’t fire Pat: he simply let his term expire and then did not renew it.

Pat left El Paso and went to a ranch he had bought in Dona Ana County.

Who killed Pat Garrett?

The last two years of Pat Garrett’s life were difficult, even desperate ones. He became ever more quarrelsome and drunken and he brawled on the streets. He was in debt and couldn’t even pay the local grocer. His ranch was mortgaged to the hilt and he owed back taxes. Local ranchers Print Rhode and WW Cox, Oliver Lee's brother-in-law, were particular enemies and sought any opportunity to do Garrett down.

There were rumors that Pat returned to Las Cruces to continue investigating the Fountain murders but this is certainly not so. The Territory was clearly not going to reopen that case and the reward had long since expired. Still, those involved in the murder might have been concerned…

Then Pat’s son Poe Garrett leased the Garretts’ Bear Canyon land (adjoining their ranch) to a certain Wayne Brazel. Brazel used the land to raise goats, to Pat’s fury (cattlemen hated goats). There now appeared on the scene James B Miller, Killin’ Jim, who offered, with his partner Carl Adamson, to buy the Bear Canyon land for a suspiciously generous price if the goats could be got rid of. Pat thought his money troubles might be over and muttered about freeing the land from goats ‘one way or another’. But Brazel resisted. Pat asked for a meeting of all concerned in Las Cruces on February 29, 1908, to try to thrash out a solution.
 
Killin' Jim Miller: slayer of Pat Garrett?
 
Adamson came out to the Garrett ranch and Pat and he left together in a buggy. They encountered Wayne Brazel on the way, on horseback. It was all rather a coincidence. Together, in a strained atmosphere, the three men headed towards Las Cruces. Near Alameda Arroyo, Adamson stopped the carriage to get down and relieve himself. Garrett decided to do the same. He turned his back and unbuttoned his pants. That was the position he was in when a bullet slammed into the back of his head.
 
Wayne Brazel: he confessed but did he do it?
 
Brazel said he did it, in self-defense. How or why you shoot a man from behind when he has his hand engaged in a certain way and call it self-defense is difficult to say but that was Brazel’s story and he stuck by it. Curiously, though, almost no one believed that Brazel had done it. He was the fall guy, and indeed, in another travesty of justice in which key witnesses such as Adamson weren’t even called, the jury acquitted Brazel of wrongdoing in a matter of minutes and freed him. Many historians believe that Killin’ Jim did it, from hiding (it wouldn’t be beyond him), some think it was Adamson, others claim that rancher WW Cox pulled the trigger or that he and/or Print Rhode paid for someone else to pull it.

WW Cox: paymaster?

There were stories of a secret conspiracy hatched in an El Paso hotel when these men were present as well as attorney AB Fall, Fountain’s great opponent and Garrett’s, and they cooked up the plot together. It’s possible.
 
Albert Bacon Fall: eminence grise?
 
Metz believes that Brazel did indeed kill Garrett. It was a simple case of fear and hatred boiling up and an opportunity when Garrett turned his back and had his hands and mind occupied, an opportunity that was too good to miss (for Brazel was no gunman).

Well, whoever killed Pat Garrett and why, he was gone. They had to send to El Paso for a coffin big enough. A large stone with the simple word GARRETT lies over his grave but no other memorial exists to this extraordinary New Mexican.

Pat Garrett on the screen

The character of Pat Garrett has appeared on the screen nigh on forty times already, portrayed by actors as diverse as Wallace Beery, Thomas Mitchell, Charles Bickford, George Montgomery, John Dehner, Rod Cameron, Barry Sullivan, James Coburn and Patrick Wayne, to name but a lot.

We probably all have our favorites, those actors who seemed to incarnate the true Pat the best. Mine are James Coburn and John Dehner.
 
James Coburn as Pat
 
John Dehner in the role
 
The prize for the outright worst-ever Pat goes to Thomas Mitchell for his short, fat and even vaguely homosexual, utterly invraisemblable Pat in the perfectly dreadful The Outlaw. Prithee, do not watch this movie. If you have already had the displeasure, strive, yea, strive to forget.
 
Thomas Mitchell, ugh.
 
The first celluloid Pat (that I know of) was Wallace Beery in MGM’s King Vidor-directed Billy the Kid, with Johnny Mack Brown as Billy, and of course the vast majority of Pats have been the Kid’s nemesis in tales that climaxed in Fort Sumner in 1881. There has been, as yet, no attempt at a biopic of Garrett; he has always been shown as an accessory in the more Hollywoodesque story of Billy the Kid.
 
The first screen Pat: Wallace Beery
 
Yet, as I hope I have shown if you have had the patience to read this far, his pre- and post-Billy life was fascinating and full of Western incident. Hark, o film makers, do you not think it is time for a real Pat Garrett on screen? Of course you will need an exceptionally tall actor. Are there any? Don’t call Tom Cruise. Maybe you could do what Anthony Mann did with James Stewart on the set of Winchester ’73 or various directors did with Clark Gable or Alan Ladd on most movies, stand the star on a box.

Plaudits, obviously, for Coburn in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, and furthermore, thanks to Sam Peckinpah for putting Pat’s name first in the title.

I never liked The Left-Handed Gun, too pretentious and mannered, and Newman as a method Billy was a bit on the painful side. Still, John Dehner (a hugely underrated Western actor of great talent) was a perfectly splendid Garrett in it. I think he caught the true Pat. It’s worth watching this distinctly iffy film for Dehner’s Pat Garrett.

I love Four Faces West, a delightful little Joel McCrea Western of that epic year 1948. In it, Pat Garrett is, well, I can find no other word for it, avuncular. Charles Bickford was an outstanding Western actor (forget The Virginian on TV, think of The Unforgiven or A Big Hand for the Little Lady). I’m not sure that his Pat Garrett in this movie was a true Pat, even if it was enjoyable. Still.

Bickford, an avuncular Garrett
 
I’m afraid The Tall Man never really did it for me. Barry Sullivan was OK, I suppose (though he was in some real junk too). He was quite tall (6’2”) but you need more than height to carry off a Pat. You need grit and curmudgeonliness (new invented word) and well, you have to be a long-legged New Mexican son of a bitch, and Barry wasn’t.
 
Sullivan. Next.
 
Well, there we are. Everyone, your blogger included, has mixed opinions of Patrick Floyd Garrett. But whatever we think of him, there is no denying that he was one of the great figures of the old West.

Sorry the post has been so long but hey, waddya gonna do?

Farewell, Pat
 
 
 

6 comments:

  1. Thomas Mitchell was a great actor, but his Pat Garrett in The Outlaw is one of the classic examples of bad acting. Not to mention the fact that they have him kill Doc Holliday (!?).

    Richard

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    1. Yes, it's an appalling movie all round. Complete junk. Mitchell may have been a good actor but he wasn't too hot in Westerns, of which he only did seven. I thought his drunk in Stagecoach (his first oater) overdone and he rather specialized in drunks thereafter. In his last Western, the Audie Murphy remake of Destry, he played, guess what, a drunk.
      Jeff

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  2. Great article -- and the longer, the better. When I first started reading the West, I didn't know whether Garrett was a white or black hat. Like most things, I suspect it all depends on who is telling the story. I will seek out the biography recommended -- thanks for the tip and keep up the great work!

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    1. You're welcome and thanks for the feedback.
      Metz is one of the better Western writers and I'm sure you'll enjoy the book.
      Jeff

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  3. Really enjoying this current series of posts on historical figures. Excellent stuff.

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    1. Thanks you!
      I'm on a Butch and Sundance phase at the moment.
      Still quite a few Western characters to be written about...
      Jeff

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