LAS CRUCES, N. M. – A soft voice records and records supervisor here can be answered one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the Wild West: Who killed the legendary lawman best known for the fatal shooting Billy the Kid?
Angelica Valenzuela, an employee of Dona Ana County in southern New Mexico, said that she was sifting through boxes of obscure records when they came up with was a vague document identified as the 1908 coroner’s report for the death of Pat Garrett.
Garrett is credited with the shooting of the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, whose real name Henry McCarty, in what some have called an ambush at Fort Sumner, N. M. on July 14, 1881.
Valenzuela found the long-sought document when she wears a huge effort to the preservation of fragile documents, ranging from the last days of the Wild West in the middle of the 1800s to the 1960s. Which region in the south-west, where lawmen often chased by the police and clashed with the renegade Native American tribes such as the Apaches.
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“I was with a colleague to go through the boxes when I came across coroner’s jury reports,” said Valenzuela. “I said: let’s read this together. And we looked at each other and our eyes got wide and our mouths fall.”
She said that she burst out laughing, but then realized the importance of the document.
“We were holding history in our hands,” she said. “It was very exciting.”
She loved Garrett, the official cause of death, and by whom, is a topic of great controversy for more than a century.
The handwritten document, signed by seven members of the jury read, in part: “We, the undersigned justices of the peace and Coroners Jury have participated in the examination of the body of Pat Garrett, who was reported dead within the boundaries of the District No. 20, County of Doña Ana, territory of New Mexico, approximately five kilometers northeast of the city of Las Cruces, and find that the deceased came to his death by gunshot wounds inflicted by one Wayne Brazel.”
Just two months prior to the startling discovery, a historian, had requested the documents and Valenzuela office could not find them. There was speculation that they were destroyed to mask a secret and keep the public in the dark who killed Garrett.
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That researcher was the Arizona State University Professor Emeritus Dr. Robert J. Stahl, that the estimates of the value of the document in the dozens – perhaps hundreds – of thousands of dollars if it were to be sold on the open market,
University of New Mexico history professor Paul Hutton, an expert on the Wild West, said the controversy continues despite the discovery of the document.
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This undated file photo is thought to be a picture of the famous gunslinger Billy the Kid, William Bonney, near the age of 18 years
“Almost all historians agree that Brazel probably not kill Garrett. Or, if he did, he had help. But why was Garrett killed?” Hutton asked. “He Was really close to solving the Fountain of murder (the unsolved murder of the politician Albert Jennings Fountain) or was he threatening a local smuggling operation (one historian says that he was about to expose local farmers that the smuggling of illegal Chinese workers). Or was it a land dispute? Still a mystery. A thing is not a mystery and that is that the solution was to acquit the corrupted Brazel of Garrett’s killing.”
Garrett’s law enforcement career ended after a series of failed elections. He then settled into a life as a farmer outside of Las Cruces, although he drank heavily and was under severe financial difficulties.
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In an attempt to combat its debt to a neighbor, Garrett agreed to rent one of the man’s employees, Brazel, a plot of land.
This happened often to the legendary lawman, things do not go smoothly.
On Feb. 29, 1908, Garrett, Brazel, and a third man met on a trail near the ranch. An argument followed and Brazel allegedly shot Garrett in the back of the head and the stomach. Brazel would admit to the murder, saying it was self-defense. But the sheriff is not buying. He was on trial for murder, but Brazel was found not-guilty after the jury in consultation for 15 minutes.
Hutton said even by New Mexico’s dubious standards of justice, the record of a man in the back while he pee was on the side of the road, that Garrett was actually doing at the time of the murder, and get off on self-defense, is pretty amazing.
For more than 100 years, there was speculation and conspiracy theories who killed Garrett. In the twilight years of his law career, Garrett investigated a double murder that the secret involved a lot of prominent people in the area.
A popular theory was Deacon Jim Miller, one of the Old West’s most famous killers, as the actual hitman.
That is, until Valenzuela, the unintended discovery.
Garrett and Billy the Kid actually were friends at one point, but that soured when the southern lawman was tasked with tracking down the outlaw in connection with the murder of a corrupt sheriff and his deputy in 1878.
After nearly three years on the run, Garrett finally caught Billy the Kid and put him in the Lincoln County Jail. The Boy was sentenced to hang for the murders, but two weeks before the date, he made a daring escape from the prison – the murder of two police officers and further fueling its reputation as a dangerous bandit.
In the night of 14 July 1881, Garrett finally tracked the Boy down to the Maxwell Ranch near Ft. Sumner and shot his 21-year-old suspect in a dark room. The shooting would be considered an ambush by a number, but Garrett was found legally in his right to kill the outlaw.
Valenzuela said the county will be holding an event on 16 June to reflect on these and other historical documents.
Joseph J. Kolb is a regular contributor to Fox News.
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