New Home for a Hearse
Posted: November 1, 2020
This horse-drawn wagon may have carried a famous Old West lawman to his grave. Now the hearse has a new home: the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.
The lawman it (maybe) hauled was Pat Garrett. He won fame by killing notorious Wild West criminal Billy the Kid.
Later, Mr. Garrett was shot in a fight over a ranch in 1908. He died. Why do people think this hearse carried Mr. Garrett to the graveyard? Easy answer: It was the only one available in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at the time of his death.
Leah Tookey is the museum’s history curator. “The chances are if his family decided they wanted to put him in a hearse, they put him in this hearse,” she says. But she says they also may have driven Mr. Garrett to the cemetery in the back of their farm wagon.
Still, the hearse interests people in Mr. Garrett. He was sheriff of Lincoln County in the New Mexico territory. Mr. Garrett captured Billy the Kid, the famed gunfighter and cattle rustler. After Billy escaped, Mr. Garrett tracked him down at Fort Sumner and killed him in 1881.
The hearse has changed hands many times over the years. At first, people in Las Cruces used an ice wagon to transport the dead. But then they found the hearse—just an old wagon that needed serious help. Chickens were roosting in it! Some Old Westerners bought the tumbledown coach. They rented it out as a hearse for $10 to local families. Half that money went to the stable to pay for the horse, driver, and horse feed. Many years later, the hearse was owned by a man named Cal Traylor. He was interested in Mr. Garrett. After that, people parked it at the Historical Museum of Lawmen in Dona Ana County, New Mexico.
Ms. Tookey says the hearse will be displayed in the Heritage Museum’s main gallery along with a chuck wagon, milk wagon, and farm wagon.