Life of Pat F. Garrett and the Taming of the Border Outlaw by John Milton Scanland
The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid by Pat F. Garrett
Hunter & Hunted—the lives of two legendary gunfighters
In the history of the Wild West there are a number of notable characters whose names will be forever linked. Among them, none are more familiar than the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid and the lawman Pat Garrett. Henry McCarty, also known as William H. Bonney, had a short, troubled life and in just six years, until he was shot dead at the age of 21 years, he progressed from petty thief to outlaw, gunfighter and murderer with eight dead men to his credit. When Billy the Kid rode into Lincoln County, New Mexico it brought him to the attention of Patrick Garrett, who had been elected sheriff of Lincoln County in 1880 having been, in his time, a buffalo hunter and a cowboy. Garrett caught ‘the Kid’ in 1881, he was tried and sentenced to hang, but escaped from custody. Garrett again set out to hunt him down. He caught up with him three months later at Fort Sumner where, in the middle of the night, he shot him through the heart. Garrett’s own career was brought to a close in 1908 when he was also shot to death.
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Turner’s men took possession of all the surrounding buildings, from which and the McSween mansion desultory firing was kept up. Doors, windows, and other woodwork, were slivered by flying bullets, and earth flew from adobe walls. This fusillade from the besiegers was aimed to cover the operations of those allies within the yard, who were labouring to fire the building—working kindlings under door and window sills and wherever woodwork was exposed. A portion of The Kid’s party had gained the roof, and from behind the parapets, harassed the foe. Turner sent a dozen men to the hills which overlook the plaza, and their heavy, long-range guns soon dislodged them. A magnificent piano in one of the front rooms was hit several times by these marksmen in the hill-tops, and at each stroke sent forth discordant sounds. This circumstance elicited from a Lamy, N. M., correspondent of the N. Y. Sun, the following:
“During the fight Mrs. McSween encouraged her wild garrison by playing inspiring airs on her piano, and singing rousing battle songs, until the besieging party, getting the range of the piano from the sound, shot it to pieces with their heavy rifles.”
The truth is Mrs. McSween and three lady friends, left the house before the fight commenced. It is also true that she requested permission to return for some purpose, the firing ceased—she went bravely in—returned almost immediately, and the firing was resumed.
About noon the flames burst forth from the front doors and windows, and the fate of the building was sealed. All efforts of the inmates to extinguish them were fruitless, and the assailants shouted their joy. Soon the whole front of the house was deserted by its defenders, and Jack Long having procured a little coal oil, less than a gallon, made his way into a room not yet on fire, carefully saturated the furniture with the oil, fired it, and made his escape. This “little dab” of coal oil got the Lamy correspondent off again:
“On the third day of the skirmish Turner had the house fired by throwing buckets full of blazing coal oil into it and over it.”
Doesn’t it seem that “blazing buckets full of coal oil” would be disagreeable to handle? An adobe building burns very slowly, and this was a large one, containing eleven rooms. Yet the flames were slowly and surely driving the inmates back. The besiegers called on them to surrender every few minutes. The only reply was curses and defiance.
And now, as night sets in the defenders have but one room, a kitchen at the back of the house, that is tenable, and this would furnish shelter but a short time. The question of surrender was discussed and vetoed by The Kid with scorn. Bloody, half naked, begrimed with smoke and dust, his reckless spirit was untamed. Fiercely he threw himself in the doorway, the only means of escape, and swore that he would brain and drag back into the burning building the first that made a motion to pass that door.
“Hold,” said he, “until the fire breaks through upon us, then all as one man, break through this door, take the underbrush on the Rio Bonito, and from there to the hills. We’ll have an even chance with them in the bottom.”
This ipse dixit settled it. The Rio Bonito was not more than fifty yards from the back of the house.
And now one affrighted Mexican, unheeding The Kid’s threat, precipitated the bloody finale. He called out to stop shooting and they would surrender. A blow from The Kid’s revolver, and the presumptuous fellow lay bruised and senseless on the floor. The Kid had not time to execute all his threat. So soon as the Mexican’s voice was heard on the outside, the firing ceased. Robert W. Beckwith, a cattle owner of Seven Rivers, with John Jones passed round the corner of the main building in full view of the kitchen doorway. No sooner did Beckwith appear than a shot from the house inflicted a wound on his hand. He saw The Kid and McSween in the door, and shouting “McSween! McSween,” opened fire on them.
The Kid shot but once, and Beckwith fell dead, the ball entering near the eye. The Kid called to “come on,” and leaping over Beckwith’s prostrate body, pistol in hand, he fought his way through a score of enemies, step by step he fought, until reaching the brink of the river he plunged across, and was hid from sight by weeds and brush. He was followed by all his band who had life and strength to flee, and several of those left a bloody trail behind. McSween less fortunate than The Kid, fell dead in the yard, refusing to surrender or to flee. He was pierced with nine bullets. Tom O. Foliard, the new recruit, was the last one who left the yard, and showed his pluck by stopping to pick up a friend, Morris. Discovering that he was dead, he dropped him, and amidst a shower of lead made his escape unharmed.
It was now ten o’clock at night. The fight for the present, was ended, the building was in ashes, there were seven mutilated corpses lying about, and several on both sides nursed desperate wounds.
Turner’s party lost but one man killed, besides Beckwith. The Kid’s party had killed McSween, Harvey Morris, and three Mexicans. Turner’s party numbered about forty men, and The Kid’s nineteen, aside from McSween.