By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
In 1947, Mack Brazel came across strange debris on a ranch near Corona, New Mexico. What happened afterward became known as the Roswell Incident. However this part of the country has its own strange history, including the Brazels and other pioneer families who were intertwined by either loyalty or revenge.
Many years before the discovery on the Foster Ranch, and about 50 miles from Roswell, William Henry McCarty, sometimes known as William H. Bonney, but best known as Billy the Kid rode through Texas and the New Mexico Territory into Western legend status. This was a place where laws were scarce, and disputes were settled with a six-shooter.
In 1878, the Lincoln County War raged between rival factions that started over government beef contracts, but was fueled by revenge killings. Both sides had lawmen, businessmen, ranch hands and criminal gangs among their members. Billy the Kid was hired by John Tunstall as a "cattle guard". He was on one side known as The Regulators, and cattle baron John Chisum belonged to the other. During the three years of the war 19 persons were killed.
Accused of killing some of Chisum's men, Sheriff Pat Garrett was hired to hunt down the Kid. For good measure, Governor Wallace also put a price on his head.
In December, 1880, Garrett and his posse ambushed Billy the Kid and others riding with him at Fort Sumner. In a case of mistaken identity, Garrett shot Tin O'Folliard for the Kid, who escaped with the other men. Three days later the posse caught up with them at Stinking Springs.
Bonney was taken to Santa Fe to stand trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady, who was one of Garrett's men.
The trial started in April, 1881, and lawyer, Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain was chosen to represent the Kid. Prior to this appointment Fountain had written harsh editorials on Billy's former gang. Most would hope this would not diminish his efforts to defend his client. But perhaps this was a moot point since two days later a guilty verdict was returned for first degree murder, and the Kid got an invitation for a necktie party set for May 13.
Billy the Kid would be the only person convicted for any crimes stemming from the Lincoln County War.
Two weeks later, the Kid who was no stranger to escaping from undesirable circumstances, asked the guard to take him to use the bathroom. He somehow got the gun away from the guard, and shot him dead. He then grabbed a 10-gauge shotgun from Sheriff Garrett's office, and from a second-story jailhouse window shot a second guard. Using a pickax, the Kid hacked the shackles off his ankles. He stole a horse and disappeared.
On a tip, Garrett tracked him down again to where he was hiding in the house of Peter Maxwell, a land baron. The rumor was that Paulita Maxwell, Billy's sweetheart was pregnant with his child.
Paulita was Peter Maxwell's sister. She denied a romance with the Kid, much less a pregnancy. She belonged to one of the wealthiest families in the United States, and married Jose Jaramillo in January, 1882.
Perhaps it was simple expediency that kept Billy the Kid at Fort Sumner. Like those fortunate or unfortunate moments of life, depending on which side of the equation you're on, it was close to midnight on July 14, 1881, when Garrett sat next to Maxwell's bedside. The light was dim in the room, when Billy the Kid stepped through the door. He didn't recognize the man sitting in the shadows, and asked, "Quien es?" (Who is it?) several times. The answer he got was a bullet from Garrett's gun. He was hit with one of two shots in the chest.
The first to see Billy after the shooting was Deluvina Maxwell, a Navajo woman taken in by the Maxwell family when she was nine years old. She was a friend of the Kid. Deluvina died in 1927, and was quoted as saying in reference to Garrett: "He was afraid to go back to the room to make sure whom he shot! I went in and was the first to discover that they had killed my little boy. I hated those men and I am glad that I have lived long enough to see them all dead and buried."
A coroner's jury ruled the Kid's death was justifiable homicide. He was buried the next day in a borrowed white shirt, much too large for him, in a thrown together wooden coffin made by a village handyman. He kept company next to his fallen friends, Tom O'Folliard and Charlie Bowdre.
Padre Redin at Anton Chico said, "Billy did not have a bad heart, really. Most of his crimes were crimes of vengeance."
In the 1940s, a single, black tombstone was erected at the foot of the three graves, where another memorial was etched with the word "Pals". The headstone was stolen and recovered twice.
However there are some that dispute it's not Billy the Kid who lies underneath that stone.
In 2021, a movie titled Old Henry was released; it gives an alternate ending to The Kid's life.
As the years passed much of Billy the Kid's escapades were exaggerated or romanticized, and Pat Garrett's history is just as contradictory. A tall man who measured 6'5", he was known for being a womanizer, drinker, gambler, and slow to pay his bills. His marriages also caused gossip. Among the natives of Lincoln County he was known as Juan Largo or Long John.
Garrett spent his early years hunting buffalo, and during this time he killed another hunter named Joe Briscoe. He surrendered at Fort Griffin, Texas, but they didn't prosecute him. Once the buffalo business declined he headed to the New Mexico Territory.
In 1879, he married 18-year-old Juanita Martinez who died two weeks after their wedding.
Within a few months, he married Apolinaria Gutierrez. She outlived him and gave him eight children.
Ironically, Garrett authored a biography of Billy the Kid titled Authentic Life of Billy the Kid released in 1882. Ash Upson acted as his ghost writer, and in many instances parts of the book were not entirely accurate.
The killing of Billy the Kid, who was favored by the common people, seemed to turn the tide of fortune against Pat Garrett. He lost the election for Lincoln County sheriff and never received the $500 reward offered for The Kid's capture, because he was killed not brought in alive. He also lost the election for sheriff of Grant County, New Mexico. Two years later he lost the race for the New Mexico State Senate.
In 1889, he suffered another loss when he ran for Chaves County sheriff. It wasn't only the sneaky way he killed Billy the Kid that affected his popularity, but also his fiery temper. He was known as being impolite and discourteous.
However with his family he was a kinder man. After leaving New Mexico, the family relocated to Uvalde, Texas for a few years, where Pat ran a horse operation. In 1892, he took his 6-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who was born blind to the Blind Institute in Austin where she studied music and singing. She became an accomplished composer and singer, and composed the New Mexico state song Oh, Fair New Mexico. She was referred to as the "Songbird of the Southwest".
Pat Garrett, forever afterwards was known as the man who shot Billy the Kid, and fame didn't keep trouble away from his doorstep. His gambling and hard drinking ways lost him allies.
In 1905, Garrett angered President Roosevelt, who did not reappoint him to the post of Customs Collector of El Paso which he was given in 1901.
Pat, his wife Apolinaria, and their numerous children returned to their ranch in the San Andres Mountains.
In order to pay his mortgage he leased his ranch to Wayne Brazel, but told him only to stock cattle and horses. Brazel instead herded goats and sheep which could ruin the cattle pasture. Garrett ordered him off the land.
Right about then is when James P. Miller wanted to buy Garrett's Bear Canyon Ranch in southern New Mexico.
Miller and his brother-in-law Carl Adamson who agreed to lease the ranch were known as notorious outlaws, but Garrett didn't care.
Negotiations were under way when Garrett told Miller a "goat man" named Wayne leased a part of the land and that he would have to be evicted.
Eviction though was not in Wayne Brazel's plans, and he demanded $3.50 per head for his goats and sheep. With a herd of 1200 animals this amounted to $4,200. Then for good measure Brazel raised the price, thus quashing the deal when Miller didn't have the money to pay him off, but finally an agreement was reached and they headed to Las Cruces to finalize the deal.
1908, was a Leap Year, and on February, 29, Pat Garrett and Carl Adamson, headed for Las Cruces on a buggy. Brazel was headed in the same direction, but on horseback and before long they caught up to him. Garrett and Brazel argued about the goats and Garrett said, "it didn't make any difference whether Brazel moved off of the property or not, he (Garrett) would get him off the ranch somehow."
Considering there were only three persons to witness the conversation, more than one version exists. One account had Garrett climb out from the buggy with the intention of urinating, holding his folding shotgun in his right hand. He turned his back on Brazel who proceeded to shoot him twice in the back of the head. The other version agrees that both were arguing, and when Garrett reached under the buggy seat to get his shotgun, Brazel beat him to the punch and shot him, once in the head, and another time in the stomach.
Twenty-five years later, Garrett left this world the same way Billy the Kid did.
On April 19, 1909, Wayne Brazel went to trial on a murder charge. A jury of his peers reached a verdict of self defense. Rumors swirled that others were involved in the shooting, and that Brazel was named as the shooter since he was single. In other words, Garrett came to his end by someone else's hand.
Garrett was buried at the Odd Fellow Cemetery, one of the oldest in Las Cruces, New Mexico. One of his nine children, a daughter named Ida was buried there as well.
By the 1950s, the cemetery was littered with weeds, beer bottles, barbed wire and vandalized tombstones. It looked like a dump. In contrast the Masonic Cemetery across the street was well kept. Perhaps this was the reason, one of Garrett's sons moved his father and sister's graves there.
Jesse Wayne Brazel, who was 32 when he shot Garrett, was born in Kansas. The family went to Texas, and then to Lincoln County, New Mexico. As a teenager he worked on W. W. Cox's ranch in San Augustine. From there he went on to raise goats.
After he was acquitted he moved to Lordsburg, New Mexico. He married Olive Boyd in 1910, and had a son, but his wife died a year later. In 1913, he "proved up on his homestead" and immediately sold the property to Joe Olney. He left to Arizona to work as a manager for a cattle company. Later he disappeared, and it was rumored he was killed in 1915, in Bolivia by the outlaw Butch Cassidy.
In November, 2016, a document dating back about a hundred years was found inside a box of unarchived records in New Mexico. It was discovered by Angelica Valenzuela, the records supervisor in the county clerk's office. There was an effort to preserve records spanning from around 1850 to the mid-1960s.
Dated July 9, 1908, "the nearly illegible handwritten coroner's jury report refers to the investigation of the death of Pat Garrett, who served as sheriff in Lincoln and Doña Ana counties." The document was signed by several justices of the peace and coroners, and stated that "the deceased (Garrett) came to his death by gunshot wounds inflicted by one Wayne Brazel."
This was contrary to the information contained in the book Riata and Spurs by Charles Siringo a one-time Pinkerton detective, published in 1912, where he claimed Garrett was killed by Jim Miller of Pecos.
Years passed and families who lived in this stretch of land had their lives intertwined even further.
On August 8, 1946, James Robert Gililland described as a "typical pioneer western cowman as any author of scenario song or story could ask for," passed away.
In the last few years of his life he was seen on the streets of Tularosa, Alamogordo, Las Cruces or El Paso where he exchanged stories. "He was very jovial, forthright in speech and said exactly what he meant in simple everyday English, embellished with a cowman's vernacular."
He was born in Brown county, Texas on March 22, 1874. When he was 12, his family moved their small herd of cattle to near Deming, on the Mimbres River. Soon after they moved to the Sacramento Mountains and established what became known as the Gililland Farm.
He worked with different ranchers in the Tularosa Valley as well as the White and Sacramento Mountains.
It was while working on Oliver Lee's ranch that he was indicted with Lee for being implicated in the murder of Colonel Fountain. This was the same man who represented Billy the Kid when he went to trial for the murder of Sheriff Brady.
On February 4, 1896, Colonel A.J. Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry disappeared from Las Cruces. It was feared he'd been murdered on White Oaks Road. The colonel was the attorney for the New Mexico Cattlemen's Association, and he had taken his son on a visit to Lincoln County, New Mexico to attend court. The trial involved a number of parties charged with stealing cattle from members of his association.
A stage driver running from Las Cruces to White Sands came across Colonel Fountain and the boy in a buckboard as they were returning from Lincoln. The next morning the driver on his return trip to Las Cruces noticed the tracks of the Colonel's buckboard turn off the main road and head in the direction of the Jicarilla Mountains. It seemed odd Colonel Fountain would head in the opposite direction from Las Cruces. The driver than saw the tracks of five horses following the buckboard.
From there the stage driver headed to Las Cruces where he informed authorities. They went out to where the driver described finding the tracks. The buckboard was found but there was no sign of the Colonel or his son. The horses were gone as well. A box under the wagon seat in which he kept his papers, had been pulled out and rummaged through.
A posse of 25 men rode out to find them, organized by Albert and Jack Fountain, sons of Colonel Fountain. Initially they feared the pair were murdered by cattle thieves and smugglers who infested the Jicarilla mountains. It seemed this was retribution for prosecuting cattle thieves.
The posse came across the hoof prints headed towards the Wilber Ranch. This juncture already had a bad reputation as a man named Nesbitt was killed there a few years before.
About ten miles from where the buckboard was found, they came across traces of a campfire where the men along with their prisoners had stayed. There were three of them that wore high-heeled boots. Six miles from the camp the horse tracks separated, two going north and three continuing to the east.
Governor Thornton arrived in Las Cruces to consult with the prosecuting attorney.
As the days passed it was feared they were murdered and not being held for ransom. Then a grey horse which Colonel Fountain was leading showed up at a little ranch at the edge of the sands, two and a half miles west of Luna's Well. The second horse turned up at Gouley's, and the third at Adam Dieter's ranch. All the animals were covered in dust and foam which gave evidence they had been ridden hard.
The posse planned to continue their search in every direction from Chalk Hill for 100 miles.
By February 23, neither Colonel Fountain or his son Henry had been found. Then information came from Tularosa which described where three men, one an American and the other two supposed to be Mexicans followed the colonel from Lincoln, through Mescalero and out upon the San Augustine plains. The three were seen by several person, who didn't know the men, but could identify their horses. Mr. Olguin the mail carrier of Doña Ana crossed paths with Colonel Fountain west of Luna's and saw the three men following him.
He saw them again four days after the disappearance of Fountain and his son. They went through Nogal Pass to the Agency and back towards Lincoln. Their horses appeared to have been ridden hard.
It was then proposed that Pat Garrett be made a deputy sheriff of Doña Ana county at a salary of $500 per month. However there was an impediment since Garrett was a citizen of Texas and not New Mexico.
Garrett known as a "desperado hunter", was instead hired as a private detective on the case by the Governor.
It was not until Mary 1896, that the body of Colonel Fountain and his son were found in an old mining shaft. The Colonel had been shot through the head, and the boy's skull appeared to have been crushed with a heavy stone.
Before this there had been rumors of sighting of the pair in Mexico City and South Africa, all which were proven to be false.
In October, 1897, Major Eugene Van Patten, of the new Mexico militia has been detailed by Governor Otero to organize three mounted companies of infantry at Las Cruces, Mesilla and elsewhere in Doña Ana county, and patrol the mountains and plains of Doña Ana and the adjoining counties where organized bands of stock thieves are said to be flourishing. Part of their mission, it is believed will be to ferret out the murderers of Colonel Fountain and his son who were assassinated two years ago while crossing the White Sand plains east of last Cruces.
In December of that year, the legislature sought to legalize the reward of $5,000 offered by the governor for the arrest and conviction of the Colonel's murderers.
1897 was an election year in New Mexico, and each party promised to bring the perpetrators to "speedy justice."
Due to the murder of Colonel Fountain, the reputation of Doña Ana County suffered, since it appeared a good citizen and his son could be kidnapped and killed without any arrests more than a year after the crime. As it was noted by the local newspapers. "The fair name of New Mexico demands this and we sincerely hope it will be accomplished."
It wasn't until April 1898, that a new district attorney took over in Doña Ana county, and he gave Pat Garrett the go ahead to search for the murderers.
His first arrest was William McNew and William Carr, two cattlemen living in the Sacramento mountains. Judge Parker issued two more warrants, and Garrett with a posse of seven men went to the mountains where they tried to arrest Oliver Lee and J.P. Gililland.
At the preliminary hearing Saturnino Barela, the mail carrier, testified that Colonel Fountain had called his attention to three horsemen who had been traveling off the road and in advance of him for some distance, and asked if he knew them. He could not identify them but thought they wore American hats.
They questioned Jack Fountain and Captain Branigan an old government scout, who had gone out with the original posse based on the information given by the mail carrier.
Witnesses were also introduced to show motive. They testified that the Colonel prior to his demise had been "vigorously prosecuting cattle thieves and rustlers" and upon his return from the trip was set to obtain indictments against at least two of the defendants, McNew and Lee.
In August 1898, Lee and Gililland were negotiating their surrender. They were willing to turn themselves over to George Curry the newly appointed sheriff of Otero county which had just been formed.
When Pat Garrett had attempted to arrest them they fought back and a member of the posse was killed. Both of them escaped.
Some newspapers proposed the due to New Mexico negotiating with possible murderers, they would not be admitted to statehood, saying it was better for Uncle Sam to place the territory under martial law.
In June, 1899, Oliver Lee and James Gilliland were acquitted of Colonel Fountain's murder. They were kept in custody to answer for the murder of deputy Sheriff Kearney who was killed at Lee's Wildy Well the prior summer, even though Garrett admitted that Kearney fired first.
During the turmoil of the Fountain murder, Jim Gililland married Adella Gould, the daughter of a Sacramento Mountain ranchman.
In 1902, they established what became known as the Gililland Ranch, stocking it with a small herd of cattle. It was located in Socorro county's San Andreas Mountains.
He operated it for more than 37 years and sold it in February, 1940. The couple traveled around a bit and then settled in Hot Springs.
Prior to retiring he was elected a member of the advisory Board with the U.S. Grazing Service, and he was also a Peace Officer for many years. He belonged to the Masonic Lodge, and also the Odd Fellows Lodge.
He was buried in the Tularosa Cemetery with Masonic rites conducted. One of his pall bearers was W.W. "Mack" Brazel, Wayne Brazel's grand-nephew, who almost a year later would find strange debris scattered across the Foster Ranch.
On October 16, 1947, Elizabeth, Pat Garrett's blind daughter died under mysterious circumstances on the streets of Roswell, New Mexico as there were no witnesses present. She was walking home during an electrical blackout in the city. It was believed that after crossing the street with her guide dog Tinka, she tripped on the curb, fell and hit her head.
Elizabeth was interviewed shortly before her death and was quoted as saying, “Quite frequently, my father had to bring harmony with a gun in the early days. I tried to do so by carrying a tune.”
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer