Coroner's 1908 report unveiled for famed New Mexico lawman

Jun 16, 2017

Credit Pat Garrett / Public domain photo

  LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Officials in southern New Mexico's Dona Ana County on Friday unveiled the coroner's century-old report for the Old West lawman who fatally shot Billy the Kid.

The February 1908 document handwritten in cursive script and signed by six men laid out the few findings of a coroner's jury investigation into the shooting death of famed lawman Pat Garrett.

The previously unknown document was discovered inside a box of unarchived records by a county clerk's office employee last November in the clerk's office vault.

The county kept its discovery secret for months before the document was presented to the public for the first time Friday.

About 150 people attended the unveiling ceremony at the county's Government Center including one of Garrett's granddaughters, Susannah Garrett of Santa Fe, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News (

"Finding the document was an amazing miracle, really. It's very powerful," she said.

The framed, yellowed document is signed by several justices of the peace and coroners.

It states that Pat Garrett was reported dead in Dona Ana County in the territory of New Mexico about five miles northeast of Las Cruces and he died from "gunshot wounds inflicted by one Wayne Brazel."

Records show Brazel was acquitted after a one-day trial in which his attorney successfully argued self-defense.

Garrett served as sheriff in Lincoln and Dona Ana counties before being appointed as a customs collector along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Bob Stahl, historian and professor emeritus at Arizona State University, gave an overview of coroner's juries in New Mexico's territorial days. They were a six-person panel appointed by the local coroner or justice of the peace to look into notable deaths.

"When you look at this particular document, you will find that it's very sparse in detail," he said. "And one of the reasons for this is that, during the territorial days, there were no specific, detailed guidelines to direct the jury in its investigation or to direct the kind of decision you had to make."


Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News,