Classic Gunfights

A Wild Time at Wildly Well

Pat Garrett vs Oliver Lee & Jim Gililland

Pat Garrett vs Oliver Lee & Jim Gilliland.

Click image above for larger view

July 12, 1898

At around 4 a.m., Doña Ana County Sheriff Pat Garrett and his posse are trying to sneak up on murder suspects Oliver Lee and Jim Gilliland at Lee’s Wildy Well Ranch, east of the Jarilla Mountains in New Mexico.

Lee and Gililland are wanted for the murder of Albert Jennings Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry.

 

For Garrett, it’s almost 17 years to the day since the incident that made him famous (or infamous)—the killing of Billy the Kid. This is a chance for him to reclaim some of the glory that had eluded him since that night in Fort Sumner. He may be able to restart a law enforcement career that stalled more than a decade ago.

He’s headed for a disappointment.

The lawmen break into the adobe house—and find the Madison family, asleep in their beds. Lee and Gililland are asleep on the adobe’s flat roof, and protected by a two-foot high wall.

Garrett and his men leave the house and reposition themselves, ready for a fight. He leads two of them onto the roof of the shed attached to the house. Another guards the Madisons, and one takes cover behind a nearby water tank. All are exposed to any gunfire from the suspects.

Garrett calls for Lee and Gililland to surrender. Almost immediately, Deputy Kent Kearney—nervous and jumpy—opens fire. Then the fight becomes general. One of Lee’s shots just misses Garrett’s head. Kearney is hit in the shoulder and groin, and falls off the roof. Another deputy jumps down and is pinned by gunfire. Lee and Gililland pepper the water tank with bullets, soaking the lawman crouching behind it. Reportedly, Oliver Lee is laughing the whole time.

The shooting stops. Garrett orders the suspects to surrender; they refuse. In fact, Lee says, “Pat, don’t you think you’ve got the worst of this?” Garrett replies, “Don’t you think I know it?”

The two sides make a deal—Garrett and company will be allowed to leave and get help for Kearney, who lies wounded on the ground. The lawmen depart, later sending a railroad crew to get their injured comrade. It’s the most embarrassing moment in Pat Garrett’s law enforcement career.

Aftermath: Odds & Ends

Mary Madison cared for Deputy Kent Kearney, removing the bullet from his groin. Later that afternoon, the section crew moved him to Alamogordo for additional medical help. He died the next day.

***

Murder suspect Oliver Lee continued to be an important New Mexico rancher and later became a state legislator. Lee died in 1941. One of his ranches became a state park, bearing his name. Many historians—including researcher Corey Recko—believe that he and his cohorts killed the Fountains and got away with it.

***

Jim Gililland bought his own ranch in 1902 and lived a quiet life until his death in 1946. In 1927, he confessed that he’d helped Lee and Bill McNew kill the Fountains and bury their bodies in the White Sands area. He even identified the burial spot—but nothing was ever found there. Lee and McNew denied their pal’s claims.

***

Pat Garrett did not seek reelection as Doña Ana County sheriff. He shuffled from job to job throughout the next several years. He was gunned down on a lonely New Mexico road in late February 1908. Albert Fall again used his wiles in defending Garrett’s suspected killer, Wayne Brazel, by claiming self-defense. The verdict: not guilty. Some believed then—and now—that Oliver Lee was involved in a conspiracy to kill Garrett.

***

Recommended:

Murder on the White Sands by Corey Recko, published by University of North Texas Press.

JANUARY 2014

True West Magazine Issue January 2014
Buy This Back Issue: January 2014

FEBRUARY 2014

True West Magazine Issue February 2014
Buy This Back Issue: February 2014

MARCH 2014

True West Magazine Issue March 2014
Buy This Back Issue: March 2014

APRIL 2014

True West Magazine Issue April 2014
Buy This Back Issue: April 2014

MAY 2014

True West Magazine Issue May 2014
Buy This Back Issue: May 2014

True West Site Guide

Mission

True West captures the spirit of the American West with authenticity, personality and humor by linking our history to our present. Whether you call it the Wild West, the Old West or the Far West, America's frontier history comes to life in True West, the world's oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine.

Western movie fans, re-enactors, history buffs and road warriors, we got your history covered: outlaw, cowboy, Indian, lawman, gunfighter, fur trapper, miner, prospector, gambler, soldier, entertainer and pioneer. Check out these True Westerners now!
 

Product of the Month

The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

"Your book is fascinating, coupling your powerful illustrations [and] tracking...from birth to Tombstone to the legend [Wyatt] had become;...even Wyatt would approve." --By Hugh O'Brian, of the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

"Hands down the definitive books on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday." --By Allen Barra, New York Newsday