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Officer friendly and the gang-banger.

Situation: A crazed armed-robber holds up a market, threatening to kill the young clerks.

Lesson: The rescue shot can be the Good Samaritan's only chance to save innocent lives.

Life is not a movie, where the killing of human beings is depicted as an adventure. Having to use deadly force in self-defense is one of the hardest things a well-adjusted person can do. It's so hard, some have been unable to exert that degree of force when it was necessary, and they and others have been killed as a result. An FBI study of murdered officers shows that they tend to share an "Officer Friendly" profile.

Case in point. Let's go back a ways in time to a summer night in the early '80s. We'll call our subject Officer Friendly. Actually, he was the elected high sheriff of a small rural county. He won that election because the public perceived him as firm but fair, a nice guy, someone who genuinely liked the people in the community. He was even friends with some of the local "bad guys," and because he had been decent to them and they trusted him, they gave him information and leads that a hard-ass cop would never get.

But now he sat in a chair in a bedroom in an informant's house, waiting for his quarry, a man who had sworn to kill him if they faced each other again. Officer Friendly had known him since he was a juvenile. A nice kid in some ways, but a dangerous one. A potential Dr. Jekyll until he got in with the wrong crowd, and the youth's lifelong propensity to flashes of uncontrollable anger was focused until it became a full-blown Mr. Hyde personality.

The gang culture in America has long since reached the hinterlands, and the suspect in question had been born in urban blight with a single mom who couldn't control him. When she moved to the boondocks he became a big fish in the small pond of the local gang culture. Some of his friends called him 'lito, a Hispanic appellation that indicates "little one," but he didn't like jokes about his small stature. He had discovered early on that the high-tech modern pistol, the sawed-off shotgun and the assault rifle were effective equalizers. Equally at home with Hispanics and Anglos, 'lito harbored a passionate hatred for people of some other races. Soon he had been involved in racist murders. And then, the unforgivable: he had murdered cops, shooting one with his own weapon.

The sheriff was in plainclothes. His small department had only a few full-time deputies, plus a few more who worked part time, and while a couple of them were stationed outside, he knew this was something he had to do himself. His forearm touched his holstered service pistol. He was considered a good shot, but he wasn't a "gun guy." He had once hunted a lot, but no longer described himself as a hunter.

But he wasn't thinking about guns, he was thinking about what sometimes had to be done with them. He knew this suspect wasn't going to go down easy. The sheriff had done verbal negotiations with barricaded subjects in the past and experienced fabulous success. But, he feared, this was going to be a non-negotiable situation.

The Shooting

Suddenly--silently, from nowhere--there is a human figure in the doorway. The sheriff cannot make out the facial features. But he can see the man's bare feet, the reason for the silent appearance. And he can see something else.

A butcher knife in one hand. A DA revolver in the other.

The man approaches, leaning forward with a hand on the bed for balance, scant inches from the sheriff. Officer Friendly hears him ask the informant, "Who are they, Pete?" The informant cries, "That's him!" The intruder jumps back, his gun coming up, backpedaling as he barks, "Who's that? Who's that?"

The sheriff twists in his chair, draws, thrusts his gun toward the figure, fires. Throws himself sideways out of the line of fire. Pulls the trigger again. The shots come fast, like a roll of thunder, and the muzzle flashes are as blinding as lightning in the darkened room. The sheriff hears a heavy fall, a bit of struggling movement and a strangled gasp that sounds like a death rattle.

Without a flashlight, caught in the darkness with deadly danger, and very much afraid, the sheriff and his informant rush out through the door and into the night. Outside, they meet the two deputies who had been on stakeout. They have come running after hearing the shots. The deputies almost shoot the informant, whom they don't recognize, but the sheriff stops them.

The men take a moment to gather some courage, and a tactical illumination device, and re-enter with their guns drawn and leveled in front of them. But there is no danger. The man on the floor is motionless, and the light they've brought shows a bloody hole in the center of his chest.

The sheriff lowers his gun and enters the history books. The man on the floor had been known as "Billito" to some of his Mexican friends, and had been christened William by his loving mother, but the rest of the world knew him by another name. The year is 1881, and Pat Garrett, Sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico, has just killed Billy the Kid.

Background

Within a year of the shooting, Pat Garrett had cashed in on his newfound fame and written a book titled The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, which appeared in April of 1882. In it he was quite candid about the conflict he felt in having to hunt down and shoot a young man he had known and liked.

The exaggerations of florid prose in dime novels made Billy the Kid out to be a bold and dashing hero of the West. Much later, Hollywood did the same. Objective studies of his life and its events indicate a young man fiercely loyal to his friends, blindly vengeful toward his enemies and generally willing to kill in a heartbeat without hesitation.

Legend has it that William H. Bonney killed his first victim at about the age of 12, a man who had insulted his mother and was attacking a friend named Ed Moulton when young Bonney jumped on his back and stabbed and slashed him to death. It's said the death weapon was the 1" stub of a broken pocketknife, though it is unclear whether or not the blade was broken off in the course of the fatal assault.

It's well known that Bonney was about 18 when he was taken under the wing of Englishman John Tunstall. When Tunstall was murdered early in the famously bloody Lincoln County War, Bonney and friends set out to avenge his death. Before long, the body count began to add up. Major William Brady was then Garrett's predecessor as sheriff of Lincoln County. He was well known to be an ally of the Murphy-Dolan faction, all of whom Bonney held responsible for the death of Tunstall. Bonney and his crew killed Sheriff Brady and the sheriff's companion George Hindman in an ambush. The idealized young warrior had become a cop-killer.

Long before, Garrett had reason to believe, Bonney had been involved in murders that had nothing to do with any sort of righteous revenge. It seemed Billy and a companion had cold-bloodedly murdered three Chiricahua Apaches for their load of furs and small herd of horses. Garrett attributes the following admission to Bonney: "Here were 12 good ponies, four or five saddles, a good supply of blankets, and five pony loads of pelts. Here were three bloodthirsty savages, reveling in all this luxury, and refusing succor to two free-born, white American citizens, footsore and hungry. The plunder had to change hands-there was no alternative--and as one live Indian could place a hundred United States troops on our trail in two hours, and as a dead Indian would be likely to take some other route, our resolves were taken. In three minutes there were three 'good Injuns' lying around there, careless like, and with ponies and plunder we skipped. There was no fight. It was about the softest thing I ever struck." (1)

If Garrett was correct in attributing those words to Billy, they mark the Kid as a stone-cold sociopath and racist. It's uncertain how many men William Bonney killed in his short life. He was born in 1859 in New York City and died 21 years, seven months, and some days later at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. He claimed to have killed a man for every year of his life. Most historians dispute that contention. Garrett had him down for seven killings minimum, possibly as many as a dozen, while gunfight historian Eugene Cunningham credits him with eight one-on-one homicides, noting that he had a part in several more, such as the volley of gunfire that killed Brady and Hindman. Since the law would have treated him as guilty of those--and since the historians' tallies don't count the murdered Native Americans--the Kid's boast of "21" may have been correct.

Cop-Killer

Bonney's most infamous cop-killing occurred on April 28, 1881. In December of 1880, Garrett and his posse had laid siege to a house in Stinking Spring, and shot and killed one of the Kid's gang, Charlie Bowdre. Bonney, and companions Dave Rudabaugh, Tom Pickett and Billy Wilson had then surrendered. Garrett was out of town when, four months later, Bonney killed two peace officers and broke out of the Lincoln County jail.

Deputy Marshal Robert Ollinger and Deputy Sheriff J.W. Bell were Bonney's two primary guards at that point. Bonney and Ollinger despised one another, with the latter often verbally tormenting the captive and, on the morning of the 28th, breaking open his double-barrel shotgun and explaining to the Kid that each shell contained 18 buckshot pellets. He made it clear that he would love an excuse to pump them both into Bonney. On the other hand, Bell was by all accounts kind to the prisoner, and even Garrett said of Bonney, " ... he placed great confidence in Bell and appeared to take a great liking to him." (2)

By now, in a sort of reverse "Stockholm Syndrome," Bell had bonded with the prisoner and dropped his guard with him. While Ollinger was at lunch in a restaurant across the street, Bell acceded to Bonney's request to escort him out back to the latrine, loosely handcuffed in front and with no leg irons. As they returned to the upstairs cell, Bonney sprinted up the stairs ahead of the jailer and battered down the flimsily locked door to the sheriff's armory. Bonney seized a loaded revolver, leveled it down the stairs, and fired a single shot that mortally wounded the jailer who had treated him as a friend.

By the time Ollinger had heard the shot and made his way out into the street, Bonney was out of his handcuffs and standing with Ollinger's own shotgun on the upper floor porch of the sheriff's department building. Bonney called out cheerily to him. A janitor who had witnessed the murder cried out to Ollinger that the Kid had just killed Bell. "Yes, and he has killed me too," said Ollinger, an instant before Bonney shot him dead with his own weapon. The Kid fled on a stolen horse with two revolvers and a Winchester--the "assault rifle" of its day--liberated from the sheriff's armory.

A Will For Deadly Force

For today's good guys and gals who study encounters of the past to learn for the future, the single most compelling lesson in the death of William Bonney is one that was presaged in the murders of the two officers during his escape from Lincoln. Bell had stopped thinking of Bonney as the dangerous killer he cognitively knew him to be, and began to think of him as a harmless daily companion instead. The Kid had doubtless intentionally nourished that thought. He could not have said he murdered the man who befriended him to keep him from sounding the alarm: his own gunshot did that effectively enough. Bell's killing was needless, cold-blooded murder. Guarding the wolf, the sheepdog had become a sheep and Bell was slaughtered like one.

Why did Ollinger stand rooted in the street, an easy target, verbally accepting his own execution with the words," ... he has killed me, too?" The histories do not show if he was carrying a revolver or not, but if he was, a man within buckshot range of his would-be killer is within handgun range of neutralizing the shot-gunner first if he acts swiftly and decisively. Even if he had been unarmed, a running man makes a much more difficult target even for a scattergun. The Monday morning quarterback would assume that Ollinger was simply caught by surprise in a moment he had no plan for, and didn't know what to do other than stand there and die. Gunfight historians have examined this element much more deeply in the final conflict, the killing of Bonney by Garrett. Eugene Cunningham was the author of the acclaimed book on the Western gunfighters, Triggernometry. He said of this incident, "A lot of nonsense has been talked about Garrett 'taking advantage of the Kid'--mostly talked by those who know nothing much about the business. I have little patience with this point of view. When Garrett recognized the Kid's voice, there in Pete Maxwell's bedroom, he knew that if the Kid recognized him, there would be a shot. Like a sensible man, he shot first." (3) Chic Gaylord, the revolutionary holster-maker and quick-draw champion, was a noted gun expert of the mid-20th century and also a student of the Old West's gunfighters. He wrote of Bonney, " ... his ability to handle a six-gun with deadly effect was great enough to induce Sheriff Pat Garrett-a man of proven courage--to shoot him in a pitch-dark Mexican shanty; to shoot him down without a chance to defend himself." (4)

Not long before his own death, Pat Garrett told writer Emerson Hough, "There flashed over my mind at once one thought, and it was that I had to shoot and shoot at once, and that my shot must go to the mark the first time. I knew the Kid would kill me in a flash if I did not kill him. Just as he spoke and motioned toward me, I dropped over to the left and rather down, going after my gun with my right hand as I did so. As I fired, the Kid dropped back. I had caught him just about the heart ... As I sprang up, I fired once more, but did not hit him, and did not need to, for he was dead." (5)

Garrett himself wrote, "Scared? Wouldn't you have been scared? ... Scared? Well I should say so. I started out on that expedition with the expectation of getting scared; I went out contemplating the probability of being shot at and the possibility of being hurt, perhaps killed. But I did not intend to undergo such a catastrophe if precaution on my part would prevent it." (6) Garrett's preparation to do something repugnant had saved his life.

Was this, as some suggested, a coldblooded killer cop who gunned down a young man he knew didn't want to shoot him? Evidence and logic are against that. Bonney's last words were "Quien es? Quien es? .... Who's that," or "Who is it?" There is no reason to believe he knew Garrett was the man in the room with Pete Maxwell. The Kid had stated publicly that the next time he and Garrett met, one of them would have to die.

Why, then, did he hesitate to shoot, and let Garrett get ahead of the curve? He obviously didn't know who that was with Maxwell in the latter's bedroom, but Maxwell had given him a safe house and it is reasonable to believe he wouldn't blindly kill a host's friend or relative and wear out his welcome. Cunningham may have analyzed the Kid's death the best: "For once, he had been the victim, not the beneficiary, of luck." (7)

An interesting question is whether or not Billy the Kid got a shot off. Maxwell, and the two deputies outside, heard three shots. There were two spent rounds in Garrett's Colt Peacemaker, which has variously been described as a .45 and a .44. Yet Garrett wrote, " ... when we came to look for bullet marks none from his pistol could be found. We searched long and faithfully--found both my bullet marks but none other. So, against the impressions and senses of four men, we concluded that the Kid did not fire at all. We examined his pistol--a self-cocker, caliber .41. It had five cartridges and one shell in the chambers, the hammer resting on the shell. But this proved nothing, as many carry their revolvers in this way for safety. Moreover, the shell looked as though it had been shot some time before." (8) However, after the turn of the century, Hough quoted Garrett, "His pistol, already pointed toward me, went off as he fell, but he fired high." (9)

No Regrets

That Garrett respected and liked Billy the Kid was obvious from his book, as is the fact he was saddened by having to kill him. However, he never regretted firing that fatal shot, because he knew it saved his life. Bonney had the edge, needing only an instant to pull the trigger of the Colt .41 already pointed in Garrett's direction. (Observed Gaylord, "He was one of the few desperadoes of note who used a double-action revolver, perhaps because he found it faster, or perhaps because the size and shape of the Colt Lightning's butt fitted his smallish hand.") (10) The primary lesson of Garrett's survival is found in the importance of having made the decision before the other man.

It was a lesson that would fail him at the end of his life. In 1908, Garrett found himself alone with a man he apparently liked, but had good reason to fear. He turned his back on him to urinate at the side of a road, and that man fatally shot Pat Garrett from behind.

1. Garrett, Pat F., The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, 1882, reprinted by Indian Head Books, New York City, 1994; P. 10.2. Ibid., P.192.3. Cunningham, Eugene, Triggernometry: A Gallery of Gunfighters, Norman and London, OK: Oklahoma University Press, 1996, originally published 1934, P.169.4. Gaylord, Chic, Handgunner's Guide, New York City: Hastings House, 1960, P.165.5. Hough, Emerson, The Outlaw, London, England: Curtis Publishing Company, 1905, P. 310.6. Garrett, op. cit., P.228-229. 7. Cunningham, op. cit., P.167 8. Garrett, op. cit., P.218.9. Hough, op. cit., P.310. 10. Gaylord, op. cit., P.164.
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Title Annotation:The Ayoob Files
Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:American Handgunner
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:3152
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