Prior to his rendezvous with destiny, Pat Garrett—like many frontier vagabonds—dabbled in several occupations, including buffalo hunting. Before he shot Billy the Kid, he had already killed a fellow hunter during one of the three winters he spent on the West Texas buffalo range.
Arriving in Texas at the age of 18, Garrett had first tried his hand at herding cattle before going into partnership six years later, in 1875, with W. Skelton Glenn to hunt buffalo. At Fort Griffin, the dropping off point for the stalkers of the great Southern herd, the partners purchased 1,000 rounds of ammunition, six kegs of gunpowder and 800 pounds of lead, plus other supplies for their first winter. For shooting buffalo, Garrett bought a $50 Winchester, preferring its portability to that of the heavier Sharps.
The first winter was uneventful, but successful; Garrett earned 25 cents for a good hide and a nickel for a poor one. The next winter, Garrett killed Joe Briscoe, an Irish lad and skinner who felt Garrett had insulted him. Briscoe charged Garrett with an ax, but Garrett dodged the bladed attack, then shot Briscoe with his Winchester. Glenn convinced Garrett to hand himself over to authorities, who eventually excused the killing as self-defense.
By the winter of 1877, numerous Comanche braves had left the reservation and returned to West Texas to avenge the extermination of the buffalo. The Indians attacked isolated buffalo camps, including Glenn’s and Garrett’s. Absent from camp, the hunters survived unscathed, but some 800 of their hides were destroyed by the Comanches.
After a second Indian raid, Garrett decided another career change was in order and “pulled out of the country as fast as he could…,” Glenn recalled. Consequently, Garrett missed the hunters’ battle at Yellow House Canyon, but kept his date with destiny and the Kid.
Preston Lewis is the author of the Spur-winning True West article, “Bluster’s Last Stand,” which focuses on whiskey’s influence on the Buffalo Hunters’ War.