The Medallion Award is named in honor of Will Rogers, who was an “American stage and film actor, vaudeville performer, cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator.” He was born November 4, 1879, in Oklahoma and died in an airplane crash August 15, 1935, near Point Barrow, Alaska. Killed with him was aviation pioneer Wiley Post, who was piloting the plane.
Rogers was a prolific author, writing dozens of articles and books. He was an even more prolific screen actor, appearing in 36 silent films and 21 “talkies” between 1918 and 1935.
At the banquet, “Killing Pat Garrett, the Wild West’s Most Famous Lawman – Murder or Self-Defense?” by David G. Thomas received the Medallion Award for best 2020 Western Biography, Third Place.
This book is about Billy the Kid’s trial for murder, and the events leading to that trial. The result of Billy’s trial sealed his fate. And yet Billy’s trial is the least written about, and until this book, the least known event of Billy’s adult life.
Prior biographies have provided extensive – and fascinating – details on Billy’s life, but they supply only a few paragraphs on Billy’s trial. Just the bare facts: time, place, names, result.
Billy’s trial the most important event in Billy’s life. You may respond that his death is more important – it is in anyone’s life! That is true, in an existential sense, but the events that lead to one’s death at a particular place and time, the cause of one’s death, override the importance of one’s actual death. Those events are determinative. Without those events, one does not die then and there. If Billy had escaped death on July 14, 1881, and went on to live out more of his life, that escape and not his trial would probably be the most important event of Billy’s life.
The information presented here has been unknown until now. This book makes it possible to answer these previously unanswerable questions:
Where was Billy captured?
Where was Billy tried?
What were the governing Territorial laws?
What were the charges against Billy?
Was there a trial transcript and what happened to it?
What kind of defense did Billy present?
Did Billy testify in his own defense?
Did Billy have witnesses standing for him?
Who testified against him for the prosecution?
What was the jury like?
What action by the trial judge virtually guaranteed his conviction?
What legal grounds did he have to appeal his verdict?
Was the trial fair?
Supplementing the text are 132 photos, including many photos never published before.
“The Trial of Billy the Kid,” by David G. Thomas. Available in paperback and hardback.
Will Rogers was a respected writer and cowboy entertainer whose work embodied and demonstrated the traditions and values of the American cowboy. The Will Rogers Medallion Award was originally created to recognize quality works of cowboy poetry that honored the Will Rogers heritage, but has expanded to include other works of Western literature and film.
The awards competition takes place annually, and the awards ceremony is held every fall in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Author David G. Thomas has sought to determine – once and for all time – whether former Lincoln County Sheriff Patrick Floyd Garrett was killed as a result of a vast conspiracy of men seeking to avenge Garrett for various acts and to gain possession of his two ranches, or was killed by assassin “Deacon” Jim Miller’s bullets. Or, was he killed due to a spontaneous act of one man, acting alone, who fired in a self-perceived act of self defense….”
“Thomas did extensive research on each of the first two of these widely-accepted accounts that allegedly brought about the cold-blooded murder of Garrett, starting with a close-range gunshot in the back of the head and then shots to the chest while Garrett lay mortally wounded on the ground. Thomas systematically and convincingly discounts all of the alleged conspiracy theories and points out why each is not credible….”
“On the matter of Jim Miller, Thomas provides evidence that Miller never left his Las Vegas hotel the day countless historians have placed Miller miles away with a rifle in hand supposedly ready to assassinate Garrett.”
“He makes the case why Jesse Brazel, who well knew New Mexico’s self-defense law, knew he could kill Garret by claiming Garrett was about to kill him. This was the argument Brazel’s lawyer used in 1909 to get a not guilty jury decision, the trial of which Thomas covers well….”
“His last chapter summarizes and then effectively debunks every major conspiracy theory pertaining to Garrett’s murder. Anyone who clings to any of these theories after reading this chapter does so in spite of Thomas’s credible facts and documentation to the contrary.”
“Many new documents are examined…. Thomas also drew upon 80 never-before cited letters Garrett wrote to his wife.” – Robert J. Stahl, Wild West History Association Journal
Today is the 125th anniversary of the Fountain murders.
On February 1, 1896, Colonel Albert J. Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry were travelling by horse-drawn buggy to Las Cruces, New Mexico. They had stopped the previous night at a friend’s house in the little village of La Luz. The two were on the final leg of a three-day trip from Lincoln, New Mexico, where Colonel Fountain, an attorney, had obtained arrest warrants for 23 men for cattle rustling and brand defacing. Colonel Fountain had his son with him on the trip at the insistence of his wife. She knew that Colonel Fountain had been threatened repeatedly in the days preceding his appearance before the grand jury in Lincoln, and she thought that by taking his young son, Colonel Fountain would greatly reduce his likelihood of being assaulted.
Colonel Fountain knew his life was in danger. When he had walked out of the courthouse in Lincoln, a stranger had handed him a folded sheet of paper. When he opened the paper, he read:
“If you drop this, Fountain, we will be your friends. If you go on with it you will never reach home alive.”
This kind of note was known as a “coffin note.” Colonel Fountain was being told that if he dropped the note to ground, signifying that he would drop or not pursue the rustling charges, he would be fine. If he did not drop the note, he would be killed.
For the two days prior to his ambush, Colonel Fountain was aware that he was being shadowed by three men. The men, however, stayed just far enough away from him to not be visually identifiable.
The site where Colonel Fountain and Henry were ambushed was about 40 miles east of Las Cruces. The evidence at the scene indicated that Colonel Fountain was killed while trying desperately to flee with the buggy, and that after his death, Henry was taken alive. Evidence found five miles from the ambush site indicated that Henry was killed the next day. Their bodies were never found.
These details are drawn from “The Stolen Pinkerton Reports of the Colonel Albert J. Fountain Murder Investigation.” Additional details on the crime, the men charged, and the trial are provided in the book, as are the verbatim reports of the Pinkerton Detective Agency which was hired to investigate the killings. The reports of the Pinkerton Agency were stolen two months after they were submitted to the Governor of New Mexico and only recovered decades later.
These Reports are important historical documents, not only for what they reveal about the Fountain murders, but also as a fascinating window into how the most famous detective agency went about investigating a murder, at a time when scientific forensic evidence was virtually non-existent.
Video – The Stolen Pinkerton Reports
The trial of the men indicted for the Fountain killings was held May 25, 1899, in Hillsboro, New Mexico.
On February 29, 2020, this trial was re-enacted at the Rio Grande Theatre during the Pat Garrett Western Heritage Festival.
Book Review – Las Cruces Author Details Fountain Murders Based on Pinkerton Investigation
Las Cruces Bulletin
By Mike Cook
The disappearance of Judge Albert J. Fountain and his eight-year-old son, Henry, on Feb. 1, 1896, is one of the great and enduring mysteries of the Southwest.
“The evidence indicated that although Fountain was killed during the ambush, his son was taken alive, and only killed the next day,” Las Cruces author David G Thomas said in his new book, “The Stolen Pinkerton Reports of the Colonel Albert J. Fountain Murder Investigation.” Thomas is listed as editor of the book.
“The case file for the crime contains no information,” Thomas said. “There are no trial transcripts (Oliver Lee and Jim Gilliland were tried for and found not guilty of Henry’s murder) or witness testimonies. The only reports that exist today of the investigation of the case are these Pinkerton reports, which were commissioned by the territorial governor and then stolen from his office four months after the murders. The reports, now recovered, are published here.”
The Pinkerton report is based on the investigation conducted by the agency’s most competent operatives, John Conklin Fraser and William C. Sayers, Thomas said. His book, published earlier this year, is based on a copy of the Pinkerton report that is part of the Katherine D. Stoes Papers in New Mexico State University’s Archives and Special Collections. Stoes’ husband, Henry Stoes, was a member of the Fountain posse.
Fountain was the staff attorney and lead investigator for the Southeastern New Mexico Stock Growers’ Association, Thomas said in the book’s first paragraph. “He had been aggressively pursuing a campaign against rustlers in southern New Mexico.” Fountain traveled from Mesilla to the county courthouse in Lincoln County to place evidence he had collected before a grand jury.
“Colonel Fountain was well aware that he had a risky job, that the men he was pursuing were capable of extreme violence,” Thomas said. “It was this self-evident danger that had induced Col. Fountain’s wife, Mariana, to convince Col. Fountain to take his son with him on the trip to Lincoln. She believed that the presence of her youngest son would prevent any violence directed at Col. Fountain.”
Thomas’ book details the lives of all those involved in the case, including Col. Fountain, Henry, Maria, Doña Ana County Sheriff Pat Garrett and defense attorney Albert Fall.
It gives lurid details from the crime scene near La Luz, which included a pool of blood that “was 7 or 8 inches deep and twice or three times as large as a spittoon.” Marks on the ground at a nearby campfire “suggested that Col. Fountain’s body had been carried there wrapped in a blanket and that Henry was still alive.”
The book also details the investigation of the disappearance and the 1899 trial of Lee and Gilliland in Hillsboro. It has nearly 30 images of the people and places involved, including a hand-drawn map of the routes taken by the Fountain posses.
Thomas learned earlier this month that another of his books, “Killing Pat Garrett, The Wild West’s Most Famous Lawman – Murder or Self-Defense?” was named a finalist in the National Indie Excellence Awards.
To buy the Fountain book and for more information about it, visit a local, independent book store or www.amazon.com/Pinkerton-Reports-Colonel-Fountain-Investigation/dp/0982870965.
“Killing Pat Garrett, The Wild West’s Most Famous Lawman – Murder or Self-Defense?” tells the historic and tragic history of Patrick Floyd Jarvis Garrett, who was born June 5, 1850 in Chambers County, Alabama.
The book was written by Las Cruces author David G. Thomas and published last October about the one-time sheriff of both Lincoln County and of Doña Ana County (1896-1900), who shot and killed Billy the Kid July 14, 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
As the book details, Garrett was shot and killed by Wayne Brazel Feb. 29, 1908 just north of Las Cruces. You can find a historic marker at the spot just south of U.S. Highway 70 near Oñate High School, where Garrett was killed, and you can find his grave in the Masonic Cemetery on Brown Road in Las Cruces.
Thomas is the author of las-crucesblog.com, cofounder of Friends of Pat Garrett, a filmmaker, screenwriter, author, historian and travel writer.
Garrett packed a lot of living into his 57 years, as detailed in Thomas’ excellent book. It has a full account of Garrett’s personal life, his family and his terms as sheriff, including his involvement in the 1899 arrest and trial of the men accused of killing Henry Fountain, the 8-year-old son of legendary Judge Albert J. Fountain.
Garrett also served four years as collector of customs in El Paso, as appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Garrett’s daughter, Elizabeth (1885-1947), wrote the state song, “O Fair New Mexico,” in 1915.
Thomas is also the editor of “The Stolen Pinkerton Reports of the Colonel Albert J. Fountain Murder Investigation,” published in 2020, as well as “Billy the Kid’s Grave – A History of the Wild West’s Most Famous Death Marker.”
Thomas won the Doña Ana County Historical Society’s 2020 Pasajero del Camino Real Award for the book. Thomas won the same award in 2015 and 2017 for other books he has written.
His first three books were about La Posta restaurant, Giovanni Maria de Agostini and movie theaters in Las Cruces.
To buy the Pat Garrett book and for more information about it, visit
Killing Pat Garrett, The Wild West’s Most Famous Lawman – Murder Or Self-Defense? Named 14th Annual National Indie Excellence Finalist for Historical Biography.