In the search for answers to questions about UFOs and alien spacecraft crashes, you sometimes run into strange information. Because Lincoln County, New Mexico was so large, much had happened there and as I was researching the Roswell UFO crash, I read the history of the county. One of the things that struck me was that the Brazel family had been part of that history some fifty or sixty years before anyone had heard of flying saucers or UFO crashes.
In a couple of books, I learned that Wayne Brazel had killed Pat Garrett but on one seemed to know what happened to Brazel. He disappeared some time after the trial and one of those historians speculated that Brazel had gone to South America and been killed there in a fashion similar to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Well, I was sitting there, in the cab of a pick up truck talking to a Brazel relative, so I asked the simple question and got a somewhat complex answer... Oh, not overly complex, mind you, but certainly not what I had been expecting.
So, here’s what I learned about this case which is related to UFOs, but not really part of the history:
It should have been an open and shut case. Jesse Wayne Brazel confessed within hours of the shooting. Pat Garrett was dead, not all that far from Las Cruces, New Mexico and although Brazel said it was self defense, the evidence suggested that Garrett had died of a bullet wound to the back of the head. The bullet in his stomach, which might have been fatal even with medical treatment, was apparently fired after Garrett was down.
There are those who believe that there was a conspiracy to kill Garrett (Garrett murder site seen here) and Brazel was part of that conspiracy. There are those who believe that the dispute developed over Brazel’s leasing of Garrett’s ranch and Garrett’s desire to sell it. But there is also a history of animosity between the Brazel family and Garrett, which most historians seemed to have missed.
Pat Garrett was born in Alabama on June 5, 1850 and headed west nineteen years later, like so many others, to make a future. He was a cowboy in Lancaster, Texas, a buffalo hunter on the southern plains, a gambler and eventually a lawman. In 1876, while still a buffalo hunter, Joe Briscoe, for some reason, according to Garrett, attacked him with an axe. Garrett shot Briscoe, and then believing that his career choice had been wrong, left buffalo hunting for good and Texas for years.
Or maybe it was in 1878, according to some historians, and the other man, Briscoe, had drawn his pistol first. Garrett was the one who survived, being quicker and the better shot, and then, fearing retribution, fled into New Mexico where he worked first as a cow hand and then opened his own saloon.
In November 1880, George Kimbell, the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico resigned and Garrett was appointed as his replacement. Garrett promised to end the violence that resulted from to rival factions attempting to control commerce in the area, not to mention two groups of badge carrying law enforcement officers. Billy the Kill, who Garrett would kill months later in July, 1881, with his group of Regulators, who had some kind of semi-official legal standing, had opposed the sheriff and his deputies.
In December, Garrett killed a friend of Billy the Kid named Tom O’Folliard and then, a few nights later the posse killed Charlie Bowdre and captured Billy and other Regulators. They all were taken to Mesilla, New Mexico for trial. Convicted and sentenced to hang, Billy was escorted to Lincoln, New Mexico where the sentence was to be carried out. He escaped from the Lincoln County Court House and the make shift jail, killing guards J.W. Bell and Bob Olinger.
Garrett eventually tracked Billy to Ft. Sumner, New Mexico (museum seen here) and the home of Pete Maxwell. Billy was supposedly there to visit Maxwell’s sister, Paulita, but when he entered the darkened room, Garrett shot him twice, killing him from ambush.
Garrett had hit the high point of his life. A hastily written book, ghosted by his friend Ash Upson, was published but did little to improve the situation for Garrett. He lost the election for Lincoln County sheriff and in 1884, lost an election for state senator. He then left New Mexico, served briefly as a Texas Ranger. He was elected a county commissioner in Uvalde, Texas in 1889, and in October, 1889, he was appointed sheriff in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. He ran for Chaves County sheriff. Chaves County had once been part of the huge Lincoln County. He lost the election. In 1896 he was again appointed to fill the vacancy of Dona Ana County sheriff and then elected to the post.
During this time, Garrett had been attempting to support his growing family, a wife and nine children. He acquired ranch property around Las Cruces and up into the Organ Mountains between Las Cruces and Alamogordo.
In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt appointed Garrett as a Collector of Customs in El Paso, Texas, which is not all that far from Las Cruces. He was not reappointed, however, after he lost favor with the President, apparently introducing Roosevelt to a friend with an unsavory background. With that, Garrett retired to his ranch, but now was in financial difficulty.
To relieve some of those problems, Garrett allegedly leased one of his ranches to a young man named Jesse Wayne Brazel. Not much is known about Brazel, other than he came from a family with a long history in New Mexico. Records show that he was born in 1877, or rather it has been deduced based on court transcripts from the trial.
Others have suggested that Brazel was born in Greenwood City, Kansas but soon moved to Eagle Creek, not all that far from Lincoln, New Mexico. He has been called a "good-natured boy" with blue eyes and who was often seen wearing a Mexican-style sombrero. His father, Jesse M. Brazel (which probably explains why Jesse Wayne Brazel was more commonly called Wayne) moved them off to Gold Camp. This new home bordered the San Agustin Ranch owned by W. W. Cox, where Wayne Brazel found work.
It was in this area that Brazel met Olive Elizabeth Boyd, an eighteen-year-old teacher for the Organ District School and who tutored the children of A.P. Rhode. Brazel was thirty-one as they began to plan their wedding in 1908.
There are those who suggest that trouble erupted between Pat Garrett and Wayne Brazel because of the lease that Brazel had obtained for the Garrett property. Some claim that Pat Garrett had not signed the lease with Brazel. It was Garrett’s son, Poe. Poe probably didn’t care how Brazel planned using the ranch. Payment was to be made in July of each year with ten heifer calves and a horse. Brazel, instead of grazing cattle or horses as Garrett expected, moved in goats. Some said this caused trouble with Pat Garrett who disliked goats and believed that he had been mislead by Brazel and his friends. He wanted the goats gone.
In fact, Garrett filed suit claiming a breach of contract. Garrett insisted that a verbal agreement existed which excluded goats. But verbal agreements are not worth the paper on which they are written (or not written) even with Garrett arguing that the method of payment, cattle and horses implied that these would be the animals using the range.
When that failed, Garrett used a New Mexican law that made it illegal to herd livestock next to a residence. He swore out a complaint and shortly before Christmas, 1907, the trial began. Trial was held in a barbershop, conducted by Organ (New Mexico) Justice of the Peace Charles M. Anthony. There was no jury and Anthony, being a politician of sorts, refused to act as an arbitrator. He recessed court until spring, apparently hoping that everything would work itself out before then.
The truth here seems to be that Pat Garrett had no real legal standing in the dispute. Dona Ana County records show that Poe Garrett was the true owner of the land. But Pat hated goats, as did many cattlemen. Goats, like sheep, ate the grass so short that it was no good for cattle. The cattlemen wanted to keep goats and sheep off the range.
Others suggested that Garrett wanted to sell the ranch to raise money but Poe Garrett had signed a five year lease with Brazel. Brazel was willing to break the lease, but Garrett, or someone, had to buy all the goats. There was trouble with the counting, Garrett insisting that Brazel had hundreds fewer goats than Brazel believed he did. Or Brazel miscounted the first time, telling Garrett there were 1200 but later saying there were 1800. No matter.
Whatever he truth, there was trouble with Brazel. In fact, this was not the first time that Garrett had fought with the Brazel family. According to Bill Brazel, who knew his cousin Wayne and had visited him in Arizona long after the events outside of Las Cruces, Bill Brazel’s grandmother had been alone one night at a Brazel ranch house when a posse led by Garrett arrived. Bill Brazel didn’t tell me who Garrett was hunting, but this might have been in July 1898, as Garrett chased Bill McNew, Oliver M. Lee and Jim Gililland.
Garrett told the woman, who was standing on the porch, that he expected his horses to be fed and watered and that he would be staying the night at the ranch. Brazel held a Winchester, which she cocked and announced that Garrett and his men would not be spending the night and they should get off her property.
Brazel won the stand-off. Garrett and his posse retreated but it became lore in the Brazel family. Garrett (house he built seen here) seemed to be a man who could be intimidated by a lone woman with a rifle and a menacing attitude, but it might be that he had other troubles that night and didn’t need to add this to the growing list. Whatever the reason, Garrett and his posse left.
There are other indications that Garrett knew the Brazels on a more personal level. It was said that he had known Wayne Brazel and his father for years, and that Garrett liked Wayne. Given the circumstances of Garrett’s run in with the family and his death, this seems unlikely.
Garrett would later capture McNew without trouble, but Lee and Gililland didn’t surrender easily. In a gun battle near the little town of Oro Grande, one of Garrett’s deputies, Kurt Kearney was killed. Garrett withdrew, and both Lee and Gililland escaped. Later they would be caught, but not by Garrett. They were acquitted and released.
Which brings us to Alameda Arroyo on February 29, 1908. Garrett sent Brazel a note saying that he would be in Las Cruces the next day. He suggested a meeting, apparently believing that the dispute would be resolved soon. Or maybe, according to the Garrett family, Brazel gave a note to Adamson to suggest some kind of negotiation. Either way, the two men were in communication and knew where the other would be the next day.
Garrett was riding in the buggy rented by and driven by Carl Adamson. They drove through San Agustin Pass and down into the tiny community of Organ. They continued down, toward Las Cruces and near a junction of two roads, both of which headed into Las Cruces, one being slightly longer but smoother and the other, rougher but shorter. They thought they saw Brazel ahead of them, talking with another man. That man rode off without being positively identified, though some would later claim it was Print Rhode, and as the buggy drew close, Brazel fell in with it.
At first the men didn’t say much to each other. Brazel rode by the side of the buggy where the road was wide enough, or in front or behind it when the road narrowed. Garrett finally asked Brazel why he said there were twelve hundred goats when he had so many more. Brazel said simply, he had miscounted. The argument grew heated at points but all parties seemed to have calmed down by the time they reached the Alameda Arroyo, about four miles east of Las Cruces.
Adamson stopped the buggy and climbed down to relieve himself. Garrett followed, holding the shotgun he carried. Or maybe he climbed down and reached for his shotgun. Brazel, apparently believing that Garrett was going to kill him, drew his revolver and fired twice, hitting Garrett in the head and in the stomach or so the story goes.
Garrett dropped his shotgun and fell. He died there. Adamson and Brazel left him, heading on into Las Cruces. At the sheriff’s office, Brazel turned over his pistol to Deputy Felipe Lopez and admitted that he had shot Garrett. He said it had been in self-defense.
A sheriff’s posse was dispatched and found Garrett lying on his back, a bullet hole in his face where the round had exited and another in his stomach. The fatal bullet had entered the back of Garrett’s head, suggesting he was facing away from Brazel when he was shot.
The shotgun was about a yard from Garrett’s body, but it looked as if it had been set there rather than dropped. The shotgun was in it’s scabbard and it was not loaded. Or, maybe it was loaded with bird shot. The testimony on this is somewhat muddled. No matter.
Garrett’s fly was unbuttoned, and it looked as if he had been occupied with that, rather than threatening Brazel when he was shot. The evidence as described certainly didn’t support the claim of self-defense.
W.C. Field, a Las Cruces doctor, as well as a farmer, examined Garrett at the murder site and later performed an autopsy. He said that the wound showed that Garrett had been shot in the back of the head and that the bullet’s trajectory took it through his brain and exited on the right eyebrow. The wound, according to the doctor, was consistent with a shot fired from a man on horseback, into the head of a man who was standing with his head slightly bowed. In other words, a man in the process of relieving himself.
The second wound had been fired into Garrett’s stomach and had traveled upward, stopping behind Garrett’s shoulder. Field found a .45 caliber slug there. The wound suggested it was caused by a man standing on the ground, shooting into a man already down. Field concluded that both wounds were from a .45, though he didn’t find the slug that had hit Garrett in the head.
Many years later, James Hervey, the New Mexico attorney general in 1908 said that he had visited the murder site with Captain Fred Fornoff of the New Mexico Mounted Police and Carl Adamson on the day of the killing. About fifty feet from the murder site, they found a Winchester cartridge and a cigarette butt though some have claimed there were two cartridges. There were hoof prints around that suggested someone might have waited in ambush to shoot Garrett.
Fornoff thought that Garrett had been shot from two directions by two different weapons, which might be true. But it also seems true that the shot to the head was the first fired and that came from a man on horseback, near Garrett. If true, then there was no reason for the second shot from ambush. None of that mattered, really, because Brazel had confessed to the crime. Adamson said nothing about another shooter, and he had, in effect, endorsed Brazel’s story. Adamson, it might be said, was a disinterested third party and his version of the events could be considered the most accurate.
Brazel’s trial began on Monday, April 19, 1909. It was a short trial, and the only witness to the crime, Carl Adamson, who had supported Brazel’s version of events at the preliminary hearing, was not called to testify. The prosecutor, Mark B. Thompson didn’t present any evidence to show that Garrett had been shot in the back of the head, or that his weapon might have been unloaded. He presented almost no evidence at all. It was almost as if he was on the side of the defense.
The defense was short and claimed the shooting was in self-defense. This hung on a claim that Garrett had told Brazel that he would get him off the ranch one way or another. Not much of a treat, but given Garrett’s history, it certainly could have been intimidating.
There was apparently no one to dispute the claim of self-defense and the jury got the case at 5:45 p.m. By 6:30, Brazel had been acquitted and was free. That ended any official attempt to learn what happened, or to find others who might have been implicated in the killing.
William W. Cox, the local and powerful rancher, had supported Brazel through the trial and when the verdict was announced, invited everyone to a barbecue at his ranch. This was, of course, the same Cox that had a long relationship with Brazel, who had loaned him money in the past and who would loan him more money in the future.
Although Bill Brazel (seen here) told me that Wayne had been ordered out of New Mexico after the acquittal, the records seem to indicate that he acquired the Harrington Well and then homesteaded a small ranch near Lordsburg, New Mexico and in 1910, he finally married Olive Boyd. He had a son in 1911. By 1915, his wife was dead, and Brazel sold his ranch. The government now filed perjury charges against Brazel because of some irregularity in the homesteading. When the charges were dropped, Brazel disappeared.
In 1935, an El Paso attorney was hired by Brazel’s son to find his father. The best that H. L. McCune could do was suggest Brazel went to South America and died in a shootout like that which killed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They believe he died around 1915.
But the truth is something less than spectacular. Though I don’t know why Brazel’s son couldn’t find his father, I asked Bill about that and mentioned South America. He laughed and said, "No. He went to Arizona. My Dad and I visited him there."
Wayne Brazel was still alive in the 1930s when his son began looking for him. Brazel said that he worked on a ranch there, doing the same things that he had done before. No one really knew about Pat Garrett or the murder charges that had been filed against him or any of his later trouble with the government.
People knew who Pat Garrett was because of Billy the Kid. Many of them thought Garrett was guilty of murder because of the way Garrett had ambushed the kid. Few knew that Garrett himself had been murdered.
Wayne Brazel lived out the rest of his life in obscurity. Attempts shortly after Garrett’s murder to learn where Wayne Brazel was failed and the family encouraged some of the rumors. But, when I talked to Bill Brazel some eighty years after the murder, with Wayne dead, he told me where he had gone when he left New Mexico. Bill knew that no one was searching for his cousin now and the information couldn’t hurt him. Wayne Brazel quietly passed from the public spotlight, and unlike Pat Garrett, that suited him just fine.