"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in fact and fiction

Popular outlaws

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Few figures of the old West have exercised such a fascination on the public imagination as those of the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The 1969 movie with Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as Sundance, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was a huge hit, all over the world and not just with Western fans. It was a buddy comedy that everyone went to see. It was a poor film qua Western and very inaccurate historically but the theater-goers in their droves didn’t care; they lapped it up. It produced a trail of ‘son of…’ spin-offs like Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, the 1970s Hanna-Barbera TV series, a made-for-TV movie named The Legend of Butch and Sundance and a version of Butch’s old age in Blackthorn. The TV aliases ‘Smith’ and ‘Jones’ hid Wild Bunch escapees and Murphy and Davis were more than a little Butch and Sundance-ish. Soundtrack CDs, Butch Cassidy comics, T-shirts, Cassidy/Sundance tours, it has become quite an industry.


There is also an almost infinite supply of books on Butch Cassidy & Co. Some have titles like Butch Cassidy, My Brother or Butch Cassidy, My Uncle, and some purport to tell the ‘truth’ about really happened to the boys, such as Butch Cassidy: The Lost Years, or Butch Cassidy: The Untold Story or Butch Cassidy: Beyond the Grave (that last one should be interesting). Some concentrate on the search, with titles like Finding Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or In Search of Butch Cassidy or Digging Up Butch and Sundance (don’t like the sound of that one much). The outlaws also of course appear as chapters in many anthologies of Western heroes and villains. I think you would have to be very dedicated to read all the books there are on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and very gullible indeed to believe them all.
Many books
Even when Parker and Longabaugh (to give them their proper names) were alive there was huge interest in their doings and newspapers couldn’t get enough of them. The police forces of half the country, federal, state, county and private, were constantly on the hunt for them.

Why all the fuss? There were, after all, plenty of other Western outlaws, even in the 1890s. What was so special about this pair?

The Wild Bunch

Actually, Butch and Sundance (useful shorthand) were only two members of a large gang of shifting membership known as the Wild Bunch or the Hole in the Wall Gang, after one of their hideouts. They operated chiefly in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah (the Hole in the Wall was a usefully remote pass in the Big Horn Mountains of Johnson County, Wyoming) but were also very wide-ranging. The gang operated sometimes together, sometimes independently, and they came and went. There might be up to a hundred at one point, then ten. They had little formal structure and no clearly-defined leader. At the heart of the band of ne’er-do-wells, however, was a handful of big names in the outlaw world, of which Butch and Sundance were two.
Remote hideout
One problem for lawmen at the time (and historians later) was that they cheerfully swapped names among themselves and adopted aliases (even perhaps Smith and Jones, who knows). Butch Cassidy, for example, was born Robert Leroy Parker, in Utah in 1868. As a young man Parker met a rustler who called himself Mike Cassidy (probably itself an alias for John Tolliver McClammy) who became his mentor, and Parker later adopted the Cassidy name in honor of his friend. (The ‘Butch’ came from a stint as a butcher in Rock Springs, WY).
Harvey Logan aka Kid Curry
Another member of the Wild Bunch, Harvey Logan (1867 – 1904) met and befriended a man named ‘Flat Nose’ George Curry and Logan adopted Curry’s name and became known as Kid Curry. It all must have been very confusing for the Pinkertons.

The Sundance Kid

Harry Alonzo Longabaugh was probably born in Mont Clare, Pennsylvania, in 1867. Aged 15, he traveled west with his cousin, George. In 1887 he stole a horse, a saddle and a gun in Sundance, Wyoming, and was sentenced to eighteen months. It was there, apparently, that he got the nickname Sundance Kid. Later he worked as a cowpuncher up in Alberta, Canada. He didn’t go straight, though, because he was strongly suspected of taking part in a train robbery in 1892, and in a bank robbery in 1897 with five other men. He gained a reputation as a sullen and drunken man who talked too much and fought too much – not exactly Robert Redford.

Sundance seems to have had a reputation as a man skilled in the use of firearms but unlike Kid Curry, Longabaugh did not certainly kill anyone (he might have killed a deputy sheriff in 1896, though this is not documented). At any rate he was no gunfighter or serial killer. Butch Cassidy was still less a gunman. The two were armed when they robbed banks and trains but rarely fired any gun – certainly not at anyone.

Butch Cassidy

Butch’s first exploit seems to have been with accomplices Matt Warner and Bill and Tom McCarty: they robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in July 1889. Cassidy then headed for the Hole in the Wall while the others went to Oregon and called themselves the Invincible Three. It wasn’t a terribly accurate moniker as they were captured and imprisoned, and Bill McCarty was later shot dead during another robbery, so they were quite vincible, really.

By 1890 Butch was building a thriving business based on rustling and it lasted till mid-decade. But he was caught and got a year in the pen. He was paroled in January 1896 on the promise that he would leave Wyoming and never return.

Etta Place

The Wild Bunch attracted women, though Butch seems to have disapproved. Nevertheless he appears to have taken a shine to Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place. Little is known for sure about Etta and both her origin and fate are uncertain. Even her name is in doubt: she may have been Ethel and ‘Etta’ a Spanish-speakers’ version when she moved to South America.
Etta with Sundance: a handsome couple
The Pinkerton Agency described her as having “classic good looks, 27 or 28 years old, 5'4" to 5'5" in height, weighing between 110 lb and 115 lb, with a medium build and brown hair.” Judging by her 1901 photograph, that was about right and she was certainly attractive.

The West’s most successful robbers

In August 1896 the Wild Bunch struck for the first time as a cohesive group. They held up the bank at Montpelier, Idaho and escaped. The gang rapidly became the most successful robbers in the history of the West. An especially daring hold-up occurred when Butch and another member of the gang, Elza Lay, rode together into a mining camp apparently seeking work and sauntered into the paymaster’s shack, put a pistol in his face and came out with $8000. A raid on the bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota netted $30,000. And so it went on.

The law

Law enforcement in the 1890s was still a hit and miss affair. Town marshals were reluctant or not empowered to pursue criminals outside their city limits and county sheriffs hesitated equally to cross county lines. Both were anyway often political appointments and many were cowardly and corrupt. US marshals were more of a threat to badmen and had no problems of local jurisdiction, though their effectiveness has been exaggerated by movies and TV. Very few states or territories had rangers, and these forces were always undermanned and underfunded. In many ways the only really effective police force was the private Pinkerton Detective Agency, out of Chicago and Denver. When the Pinkertons started to take a close interest in the Wild Bunch the gang decided to lie low for a while.

What, never?

A pause

Butch and Lay worked as cowboys on a ranch in New Mexico. Butch gained a reputation as a steady hand but Lay couldn’t keep away from the temptations of the outlaw life and robbed a train in Folsom, NMT. A posse caught up with him and Lay was taken and sentenced to life imprisonment. In Arizona, Harvey Logan/Kid Curry and Ben Kilpatrick were robbing banks. Curry got enough money together to travel to France but didn’t like it and was soon back in Wyoming where he, Sundance and fellow gang members stole $30,000 from a train. They got away but Sundance insisted on resting and the Pinkertons surrounded them. In a sharp fight Curry killed a sheriff and the posse withdrew.

Back to hold-ups

Meanwhile, Butch carefully planned a hold-up of a bank in Winnemucca, Nevada, positioning horses carefully along the escape route, and grabbed $32,000 in September 1900. It was in Fort Worth after this raid that gang members, all in new derbies, had a photograph taken, which was a mistake because a passing Pinkerton man saw it in the photographer’s window and recognized the men. Now their likenesses were known.

The famous photograph. Front row left to right: Harry A. Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid, Ben Kilpatrick, alias the Tall Texan, Robert Leroy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy. Standing: Will Carver, alias News Carver and Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry. Fort Worth, Texas, 1900.

In the next planned robbery, in Sonora, Texas, gang member Bill Carver was sent ahead into town to check it out but a sheriff recognized him and shot Carver dead. Butch and the others, shaken, headed back to the Hole in the Wall. Their last coup was a raid on the Northern railroad near Malta, Montana, where they netted $50,000. Then the gang dispersed.

The end of the Wild Bunch

Ben Kilpatrick was arrested in St. Louis and got fifteen years. Kid Curry was trapped in a saloon in Knoxville and was sentenced to 130 years. He escaped, however, and with three strangers robbed the Denver & Rio Grande in Parachute, Colorado, but a dogged posse trapped them. A wounded Curry waved the other two off to freedom and held back the lawmen. When the posse rushed the rocks they found him dead.

South America

Butch Cassidy tried to work out a deal for amnesty with the governor of Utah, and since no murder charge hung over him, the governor and even the Union Pacific were interested. But it fizzled and he, Sundance and Etta sailed from New York to Buenos Aires. They bought a ranch near the Chilean border and worked it. They made occasional return trips, once for Etta to have an appendicitis operation in Denver.

This is where the story ends, as far as certainty is concerned. We do know that Butch and Sundance robbed several banks and mines in South America and were the objects of intensive manhunts. The most historically accepted version of their fate was their death at the hands of Bolivian soldiers after a mine hold-up. Some rumors said that the boys held the army off for a whole night and then committed suicide. No one knows. Rumors persist and abound that they got back to the States and lived out their lives peacefully. It all adds to their mystery and charisma.

Whatever the truth of it, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had done enough to earn themselves a place in the history, and more importantly the legend of the West.

Celluloid heroes

Long before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969 Butch and Sundance had appeared on the screen. The first outing (that I know of) was when Slim Whitaker played Butch Cassidy in the 1933 Tom Tyler epic Deadwood Pass (no sign of Sundance though). From then on Butch and, less often, the Sundance Kid made regular appearances. Walter Sande played Butch in Dakota Lil in 1950, with Rod Cameron as Kid Curry and George Montgomery as Tom Horn but it was little more than a cameo appearance and again there was no sign of Sundance. Montgomery returned in 1951 in The Texas Rangers and this time both Butch (John Doucette) and Sundance (Ian MacDonald) were there (as well as Dave Rudabaugh, Sam Bass and sundry other outlaws, including the excellent John Dehner as John Wesley Hardin).
Slim: the first celluloid Butch
1954 saw Columbia’s Wyoming Renegades, with Gene Evans as Butch Cassidy and William Bishop as Sundance Kid. That year too the Stories of the Century TV show had to get in on the act, as it always did, railroad detective Matt Clark having captured every outlaw from the 1850s to the 1900s, remaining always in his forties (nice trick). Joe Sawyer was Butch and this time there was no Sundance but ‘The Smiling Kid’, played by Slim Pickens, no less, who I don’t think ever looked like a kid and certainly not in 1954 but we’ll let that pass. Matt captures the pair twice (they escape jail the first time), he and Frankie track them to South America and the boys are killed in Mercedes, Uruguay by the Uruguayan police. You can watch it here, but quite frankly it isn’t worth the bother, despite Slim.
Butch and Sundance, Stories of the Century version. Another Slim, this time Pickens of that Ilk
Talking of TV, Butch was also in a 1955 Buffalo Bill Jr. episode, which is prefaced by the disclaimer: The characters and incidents portrayed and the names used herein are fictitious, and any similarity to the name, character, or history of any person is entirely accidental and unintentional. Well, that’s fairly clear. Harry Lauter is Butch but there’s no Sundance. You can watch it here should you be desperate enough.
Harry Lauter as TV Butch
Howard Petrie was Butch (though a smallish part) back on the big screen in Republic’s The Maverick Queen in 1956, a Barbara Stanwyck/Barry Sullivan vehicle a year before Forty Guns, and the great Scott Brady was Sundance, the principal badman. The same year we saw the excellent pairing of Neville Brand as Butch and Alan Hale Jr. as Sundance in The Three Outlaws. In ‘58 Brand did it again in Warners’ Badman’s Country, which featured, as well as Brand as Butch and Russell Johnson as Sundance, George Montgomery as Pat Garrett, Buster Crabbe as Wyatt Earp, Gregory Walcott as Bat Masterson and Malcom Atterbury as Buffalo Bill Cody, pretty well a Western Who’s Who.
Neville Brand and Alan Hale do their Butch and Sundance act
In 1958 an episode of Tales of Wells Fargo (written by DD Beauchamp the Great) was dedicated to Butch Cassidy, with Charles Bronson as Butch. James Coburn was ‘Idaho’ but there was no Sundance. Butch also appeared in an episode of Frontier Doctor, played by Joe Sawyer – no Sundance; the Kid did seem to get overlooked, didn’t he. Bronco Layne came across Butch and many Doolins (including Jack Nicholson) but no Sundance in the episode The Equalizer. So one way or another TV liked Butch Cassidy.
Below, three Sundances: Russell Johnson in Badman's Country, Arthur Kennedy in Cheyenne and Robert Ryan in Return of the Badmen
A famous film Butch was in Cat Ballou. Oddly, perhaps, he was played by Arthur Hunnicutt who, though in fact only 55 at the time, specialized in old-timer roles and played Butch as an old outlaw regretting the robbing days of yesteryear. Yet it’s Wyoming in 1894, when Butch was only 28 and was in the heyday of his larcenous career. Oh well, poetic license, I suppose.
Cat Ballou: Butch (Arthur Hunnicutt) seems to have aged somewhat
Then came Newman and Redford. But you see they had many precursors, on the big screen and small.
The most famous screen Sundance, Etta and Butch
There were a spaghetti rip-off Butch and Sundance obviously, Jack Betts (as Hunt Powers) and Giancarlo Prete. I haven’t seen it, nor do I want to, but if you would like the pleasure it was called Adios Compañeros or occasionally Giù la testa…hombre. It will certainly be crap.

The 1973 TV animated Hanna-Barbera series Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids had Chip Hand’s voice as Butch, and Mickey Dolenz voiced Harvey, but no Sundance. It was not a Western but about a pop group of secret agents. Or something.  Tom Berenger and William Katt were Butch and Sundance in Fox’s Richard Lester-directed prequel Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, and they did rather look like a younger Newman and Redford. Jarion Monroe was Butch in The Dream Chasers (1982) and Butch, Sundance and Etta appeared in Kenny Rogers’s Gambler V (Scott Paulin, Brett Cullen and Mariska Hargitay, respectively).

There have been nine or ten Butches since then, including a 2006 TV movie, The Legend of Butch & Sundance, with David Clayton Rogers and Ryan Browning as the boys, with much of the ground already covered by Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, and a nice 2011 movie, Blackthorn, which imagines that Butch survived Sundance and has Sam Shepard as an elderly Butch who has changed his name to James. I see no sign at all of a diminution of Butches and (to a lesser degree) Sundances; indeed, if anything, their number is on the rise. Expect future representations.
Sundance in Blackthorn

Farewell for now, boys

So yes, the outlaws Parker and Longabaugh do seem to have captured the public imagination, while they were alive and ever since. They were prolific robbers, it is true, and perhaps it is that. Or perhaps it is the mystery surrounding their fate. It could also be that they genuinely did seem to be unhomicidal robbers. Whatever the reason, you can confidently talk of Butch and Sundance even to non-Western lovers (poor dears) and they will know who you are talking about.

So long, e-pards. Happy trails.
Read the comic, bought the doll, got the T-shirt:




Thursday, August 20, 2015

Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (Fox, 1979)

Butch and Sundance again

Such was the enormity of the box-office hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, sequels and prequels were inevitable. The big Newman/Redford picture was, as a Western, pretty poor, and the totally dire Raindrops are Falling on Your Head sequence in particular pretty well sank it deeper than the Titanic. But it was quite humorous, reasonably charming and hugely popular. Its stars were winning and handsome and the banter between them drôle and witty. People who never went to Westerns went to this one. On a $6m budget it grossed well over $100m then, and it is still earning.

Prequels and sequels had their problems, though, sequels especially, given the ending. As the last freeze frame didn’t actually show the boys shot to death I suppose they could have escaped the massed rifles of the Bolivian army but we were definitely left to think they perished in a hail of bullets. A prequel, then. But prequels could suffer from another problem, which Roger Ebert highlighted in his review, namely that the Newman/Redford vehicle “made an inexorable progress toward its end, toward the hail of bullets that would sooner or later find Butch and the Kid. In their deaths, they cast a poignant light on the events that went before. The inescapable problem of Butch and Sundance: The Early Days is that it ends so long before the emotional conclusion of the story that it's just two lives in midstream.” Yes, that’s right. It’s all too light and inconsequential. If the two characters hadn’t been called Butch and Sundance you would wonder why on earth the movie was being made.

Having said that, the film is proficiently made and nicely photographed (by László Kovács in New Mexico and Colorado) and the principal actors (Tom Berenger and William Katt) are engaging and do indeed look in certain lights like a younger Newman and Redford. Director Richard Lester was more than competent, especially at lighter fare (A Hard Day’s Night, The Three Musketeers, Superman II) and if he was no Western expert (this was his only outing in the genre), that hadn’t stopped George Roy Hill, for the 1969 movie was his only Western too. That shows if you are a Western buff, and these two movies are best viewed as buddy comedies which happen to be set in the West rather than true Westerns.
Sundance and Butch
The story starts, as does a later TV movie which covers the same ground, The Legend of Butch and Sundance, with Robert Leroy Parker unable to promise not to break the law in order to gain parole for fear of lying but proposing a deal whereby he won’t break laws in Wyoming, only elsewhere. This time he is backed up by Jeff Corey as crusty old lawman Ray Bledsoe, who likes the boy and trusts his word. Corey is one of the better things about the movie. Of course he had played the same part in the 1969 movie, so it’s a bit odd that he looks ten years older than that yet this one is set ten years before. Oh well.
You can even buy a miniature Jeff Corey
Soon Parker (who already calls himself Cassidy after a boyhood hero) meets up with Harry Longabaugh who is trying to rob a casino and ‘borrows’ Cassidy’s gun to make his escape. Butch joins the pursuing posse in order to find Longabaugh and team up with him. Thus the two begin their career of harmless fun, robbing and looting over various states (though not Wyoming).

The posse is led by Joe Le Fors (Peter Weller) in a straw boater. He is the ruthless lawman determined to bring Longabaugh to justice and not at all understanding like good old Jeff Corey. Joe Lefors (1865 – 1940) was of course a historical lawman, best known for his arrest of Tom Horn for the murder of Willie Nickell. He did in fact play a minor role in the 1887 recovery of a herd of cattle rustled by the Hole in the Wall Gang and in 1899 he took part in a posse to capture Butch Cassidy and those responsible for what would become known as the Wilcox Train Robbery. He didn’t lead the hunt for Butch and Sundance, though, and some contemporaries (such as Charlie Siringo) thought him a mountebank but in this movie anyway Lefors (or Le Fors) is the boys’ lurking nemesis.
Peter Weller as Joe Lefors
Joe Lefors as Joe Lefors
The boys have two nemeses in fact, because badman OC Hanks (Brian Dennehy, another plus point for the movie) is convinced that Butch betrayed him to the law and he wants revenge. Luckily for Butch, he shoots Sundance by mistake, which annnoys Sundance and there’s a showdown gunfight.

There are a few entertaining moments, such as when Sundance is asked to knock a woman out. Luckily there’s no bicycle and that interlude was replaced with the lads learning to ski, with, thank heavens, no song. The railroads are evil, of course, as they (nearly) always are in Westerns. Butch angrily remarks that the railroad companies have children working for them.
Butch is married, to Mary (Jill Eikenberry), and has two young sons, but is obliged to abandon them when on the run. He robs one bank to pay for a sharp lawyer to get his mentor Mike Cassidy acquitted.

There’s some Newman/Redford-style repartee. “You know, I’ve been thinking…” says Sundance. “That’d be dangerous,” replies Butch.
Innocuous, quite pleasant, but in the last resort eminently missable, this movie can be watched without cringing or falling asleep but would not appear in anybody’s top hundred Westerns.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Legend of Butch and Sundance (TV, 2006)

Butch and Sundance ride (yet) again

The story of Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh (known to most as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) exercised a fascination on Americans, indeed the world, even when they were still alive (and no one knows for certain where, when or how they died) and received an enormous boost with the  hugely popular 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Still today the characters remain among the most famous of all in what people love to call the Wild West.

As far back as 1933 Butch appeared in an early talkie B-movie, Deadwood Pass, played by Slim Whitaker, and thereafter he has been a regular of Hollywood Westerns. Well known character actors such as John Doucette, Neville Brand, Charles Bronson and Arthur Hunnicutt all played Butch before Paul Newman ever did, and since the enormous success of the Newman/Redford extravaganza, the Butch & Sundance bandwagon has kept rolling along. There was the 1973 TV series, there was the big-screen Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979) and in 2011 the rather good Blackthorn, a sort of Butch & Sundance last days. Before Blackthorn, though, came yet another TV outing, The Legend of Butch and Sundance.

We first meet Butch (David Clayton Rogers) as Parker and are told that his father was a preacher (in fact he was a Mormon elder in Utah). This upbringing has given the boy a strict, if curious sense of morality. Caught for horse theft and imprisoned, he comes up for parole. The judge is minded to release the young fellow on a promise of good behavior but the prisoner can’t swear not ever to break the law again, for fear of lying. They come to an agreement: Parker agrees never to break the law in Wyoming again. Good enough, says the judge, and off goes Parker, meeting up with his mentor Mike Cassidy (Michael Biehn), to depredate in Colorado and Utah.
Butch, Etta and Sundance, class of '06
Now we meet Etta Place (Rachelle Lefevre), a photographer, and two-gun Harry from Sundance (Ryan Browning). They clearly have a ‘thing’ going. Etta hesitates at the wildness of the young fellow but at the same time is attracted by it. But she can’t commit herself until her elder sister, who is rather plain (Michelle Harrison), has found a man.

Mr. Rogers, Ms. Lefevre and Mr. Browning are extraordinarily good looking in a 2000s Californian sort of way. Central casting has tried for a younger but recognizably Newman/Redford look for the protagonists, though not too Katharine Ross for Etta. I didn’t know any of these actors and in the case of all three this was their first and to-date only Western.
The real Longabaugh and Place
The villain of the piece is Durango (whom Etta politely calls Mr. Durango), played by Blake Gibbons. By comparison, Mr. Gibbons is a hardened veteran of the genre, having been in an episode of both Guns of Paradise and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, the straight-to-video Prairie Fever and the Michael Landon Jr.-written and directed Love’s Abiding Joy. In The Legend… he is a gang member who has sold out to the law. The best thing is the way he has a clay pipe tucked into one of the bullet slots on his bandolier and matches in his hatband.

Well, Mike Cassidy is murdered by Durango (in reality the best guess is that Cassidy fled to South America) and Parker takes over both command of the Wild Bunch and his mentor’s name, being known hereafter as Butch Cassidy. He has a sort of friendly rivalry with the Sundance Kid, as the gang call Harry, both in marksmanship (in truth Cassidy was no gunman and as far as is known never shot anyone) and for the affections of Etta. The triangular relationship is in fact quite subtly handled. There does indeed seem to have been a three-way affair: Etta probably did divide her affections between the two, even if she was more ‘officially’ the consort of Mr. Sundance.
Butch: not quite such a pretty face
One of the train robberies is shot in a chiaroscuro way which reminded me of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford of the year after. I wonder if Assassination director Andrew Dominik and DP Roger Deakins had seen this on TV before doing theirs? Probably not, and anyway, the Dominik/Deakins version is ten times better. Still, the Iglor Medlic cinematography on The Legend of Butch and Sundance is quite nice in parts (his only Western) and some of the Calgary, Alberta locations very attractive. Visually, this TV movie is not at all bad.

There’s the standard and pretty well obligatory nod to ‘the end of the West’. Well, it is the 1890s after all. Butch says things like, “The frontier’s almost gone. Cities springing up like weeds.” Butch and Sundance are shown as recalcitrants, hold-outs for the old way of life, and of course, as always in these movies, the railroad companies are evil, even worse than the banks. Hell, Mike Cassidy says at one point, the railroads own the banks. This gives a spurious moral justification for robbing trains.

The boys fake their deaths and go off to Mexico where they go semi-straight but the evil nemesis Durango sniffs them out and comes south of the border after them. Things build to the inevitable Butch/Durango showdown, but this fizzles rather as it takes place back in Wyoming and Butch can’t do anything naughty there. Remember his promise to the judge?

The Legend of Butch and Sundance is harmless, a bit on the bland side, but a fair bit of fun here and there and probably worth a look if it comes on TV. The main actors certainly don’t have the spark that Newman and Redford had, and the writing (John Fasano, an associate producer of Tombstone) doesn’t give them quite enough quips or repartee but, though, at the risk of damning it with faint praise, for a TV movie it’s OK. It certainly won’t be the last time Sundance and Butch appear on the screen, that’s for sure.

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.
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.


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.
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.


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