Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pat Garrett: Wild West Sheriff

Pat Garrett
Pat Garrett is the legendary Wild West sheriff who killed Billy the Kid. There is a lot of controversy regarding whether or not Garrett truly was responsible and, if he was, if the killing was an act of cowardice. Nonetheless, this is what Pat Garrett is best known for and it is highly likely that he did kill Billy the Kid. Much of the derision regarding the death of Billy the Kid may have stemmed from the fact that the lanky lawman was known to have a surly demeanor and a sarcastic sense of humor. He was also known as a drunk, a gambler and a man who often embellished, if not outright lied.

Patrick Floyd Jarvis Garrett was born in Chambers County, Alabama, on June 5, 1850. His parents were John Lumpkin Garrett and Elizabeth Ann Jarvis. He had seven siblings. In 1853 the Garrett family acquired a plantation in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana. The family moved there when Pat was three years old. He spent the rest of his childhood there.

In 1867, Pat Garrett’s mother died followed by his father the next year. The estate of Pat’s deceased father was handled by his brother-in-law. The house and land were sold and there was nothing left to keep Pat and his siblings. So, Pat Garrett left Louisiana for Texas on January 25, 1869. He was eighteen years old.

He found a job in Texas as a cowpuncher and a buffalo herder, among other things. By 1877, he was working as a buffalo hunter with a young man named John Briscoe. One day, when the men were in camp, John got angry at Pat and chased him with an ax. Pat attempted to avoid the man, but was forced to shoot him. By all accounts, Pat was remorseful. He turned himself over to authorities and was not charged with murder.

The next year, Pat Garrett moved to Fort Sumner. There, he began working for a man named Pete Maxwell. He also met William H. Bonney there. William H. Bonney is one of the several aliases used by Billy the Kid. It is known that the two men were acquaintances, but there is debate over whether they were friends or not and if they were, how close they were. Not long after they met, Billy and his gang became some of the most notorious men in the Wild West.

In 1880, Pat Garrett moved to Roswell, New Mexico and ran for sheriff there. He was twenty-nine years old. That same year he married his wife, Apolinaria, with whom he would have nine children. He became the sheriff of Roswell on November 2, 1880 and began searching for Billy the Kid shortly thereafter. He managed to capture Billy and two of his gang members in December, but after spending a few months in jail, Billy escaped.

Pat Garrett quickly arranged for the help of Pete Maxwell, who supposedly agreed to lure Billy to his home. When Billy arrived at the house on July 14, 1881, Pat reportedly shot him twice from the shadows when he opened the door to the darkened room in which Pat had waited for him. Opinions varied as to whether Pat should have fought Billy face to face or if he was a hero for killing the outlaw when he had the chance. Regardless of if it was brave or cowardly, the deed would follow Garrett for the rest of his life.

Pat didn’t return as the sheriff of Lincoln County after that term. In 1896, he went to Dona Ana County to serve as sheriff there. A politician and his son had been murdered and it was thought that the famous Pat Garrett could help solve the case. He was unable to help and the case remains unsolved. He never ran for sheriff anywhere again.

In 1901, Garrett went up for a job as customs collector in El Paso. President Roosevelt caught wind that Pat was a drunk and a gambler. However, Theodore Roosevelt himself recommended him for the position and he got the job on January 6, 1902. After a series of mishaps and possible deceptions, Roosevelt decided not to reappoint Garrett for another term. After the loss of this job, Garrett decided to go stay at his ranch in the San Andreas Mountains.

Soon after Pat returned to his ranch, he was forced to rent it out to a man named Wayne Brazel so that he could afford his mortgage. The men disagreed on what kind of livestock should be kept at the ranch and so Garrett found two other men to rent the property. Brazel refused to leave and so Pat went out to talk to him on February 28, 1908, with the two other men. An argument ensued, during which, Pat turned his back on two of the other men and was shot twice. His wounds were fatal.

Brazel confessed to the murder of Pat Garrett, but was later let off as it was deemed self defense. What exactly happened that day is still unclear and may never be known. Pat Garrett’s final resting place is in the Odd Fellow Cemetery in Los Cruces, New Mexico.


Perez, Antonio & Villalobos, Angel & Miranda. Jeremiah J., Pat Garrett Enjoyed Controversy, retrieved 10/9/09,

The Alleged Killer of Billy the Kid, retrieved 10/9/09,

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

William Chester Minor: Dictionary Contributor, Surgeon and Mental Patient

William Chester Minor was a surgeon who contributed to the Oxford English Dictionary. He was also severely mentally ill. He is remembered for the latter, but his contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary were significant, particularly given that he made those contributions from his room in an insane asylum.

William Chester Minor was born in June of 1834. He was born on the island that is currently Sri Lanka. He was one of two children that were born to a pair of Congregationalist Church Missionaries from New England. W.C.’s mother died of consumption when he was three years old. His father eventually remarried, a union which gave William at least one stepsibling–a brother. When he was fourteen years old, W.C.’s father sent him to New Haven, CT, where he moved in with his uncle and began attending Yale University.

William Chester Minor studied to be a surgeon at the prestigious school and graduated in 1863. He used his skill to become a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War. It is sometimes thought that his experiences during the war contributed to his mental illness. Whether or not this is true is a matter of debate. However, the symptoms of his disease were first noticed shortly after the war had ended.

Following the conclusion of the Civil War, William Chester Minor was stationed in New York City. Apparently, he developed an affinity for prostitutes while there. The Army did not consider this appropriate behavior, so they transferred him to a post in Florida. His behavior became even stranger (or more obvious) when he got there. He suffered paranoid delusions of persecution from other members of the military. The year after his arrival at his new post, he was taken to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C.

It took the staff of the hospital roughly a year and a half to decide that William Chester Minor was not going to get better anytime soon. In 1871, he was allowed to leave the hospital and the military. He was given retirement pay. Soon after he was discharged, he made his way to London. William’s paranoid delusions became a big problem for him there. At one point, he made a complaint at Scotland Yard that someone was breaking into his room and attempting to poison him at night. His complaint was dismissed because W.C. was obviously a madman.

On February 17, 1872, Minor shot and killed a man named George Merrett. At the time of his death, George had six children and one on the way. He was on his way to work when William murdered him. William was arrested on the spot. He told the police that he had mistaken George for the man who had been entering his room at night. A jury found William not guilty by reason of insanity.

William Chester Minor was taken to the Broadmoor insane asylum on April 17, 1872. He was placed in a nice area of the hospital because he was not seen as dangerous. He was also given the privilege of purchasing books with his retirement pension. He took advantage of the privilege and built up a small library for himself. It was this small library that led to his work on the Oxford English Dictionary.

The makers of the Oxford English Dictionary sought volunteers to help them gather instances of word usages and the like for use in the famous dictionary. William Chester Minor somehow heard of this and volunteered. He meticulously collected word usages from his books and sent them into the editors of the dictionary. Quite a lot of what he collected was used in the making of the dictionary. Unfortunately, despite this productive spell, W.C.’s delusions continued. In fact, they grew ever more grandiose.

The delusions of nighttime attacks continued and they gradually became not only threatening, but sexual in nature. William Chester Minor began complaining that men were sneaking into his room at night and raping him. Sometimes more than one man was present during these imagined attacks. Eventually he began to include women and even children in his delusions. He was never the attacker or a willing participant in these acts. He always explained them as forced and unpleasant.

The delusions got the better of him in time, and on December 3, 1902, he cut off his penis. William Chester Minor’s horrific act of self-mutilation did not stop the paranoia that he suffered or the imagined nightly sexual attacks. At the age of 68 and lacking a penis, the man continued to believe that he was being sexually assaulted.

Eight years after the incident, Minor was given into the custody of his stepbrother so that he could be taken back to St. Elizabeth’s. The date was April 15, 1910. He stayed there for nine years and was diagnosed with schizophrenia during that time. He was moved to the Retreat for the Elderly Insane in New Haven, CT in 1919, so that he may be closer to his family in his old age. He died there on March 26, 1920.