Hearse believed to have carried Old West lawman at new home

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A historic hearse that is believed to have carried the Old West lawman known for killing Billy the Kid to his grave is now part of the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

The hearse was the only one available in Las Cruces when Pat Garrett was fatally shot in a dispute over a southern New Mexico ranch. That has created the widespread belief that the horse-drawn wagon delivered Garrett to his final resting place.

“The chances are if his family decided they wanted to put him in a hearse, they put him in this hearse,” said Leah Tookey, the museum’s history curator.

But there’s no photographic evidence and Garrett’s family was poor.

“The odds are just as good they probably put him in the back of their farm wagon and drove him to the cemetery,” Tookey said.

Still, the hearse likely will draw interest in Garrett, who rose to fame when he was appointed sheriff of Lincoln County in what was then the territory of New Mexico and captured Billy the Kid. After escaping, Garrett tracked down the Kid at Fort Sumner and killed him in 1881.

“So many people and generations will get to see it here,” said Dona Ana County Sheriff Kim Stewart. “I love history and this needs to be preserved and displayed in something that’s more than an office space.”

The hearse has changed hands many times over the years. It was at the Historical Museum of Lawmen in the lobby of the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Department office until recently when the museum closed. The museum got it from the late Las Cruces resident Cal Traylor, who had an interest in Garrett.

Garrett died in 1908 and is buried at the Masonic Cemetery in Las Cruces.

The Women’s Improvement Association of Las Cruces owned the only hearse in town from 1894 to 1912 and rented it to local residents for $10 — half of which went to the local livery stable to pay for the horse, driver and feed. The association bought it from a ranch near Las Cruces. It had chickens roosting in the cargo bed and was in need of restoration.

Before that, people had been using an ice wagon to transport the dead.

Tookey said the hearse will be displayed in the heritage museum’s main gallery along with a chuck wagon, milk wagon and farm wagon. The museum plans to add the names of other prominent Las Cruces residents who died around the same time as Garrett as part of the display.

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