The Legendary Buck Garrett Story
Most know of Pat Garrett, the famous Old West Lawmen credited with killing the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid. But, Pat had a nephew named Buck, who despite not reaching the fame and glory afforded him, nonetheless made an indelible mark on frontier history. Buck was perhaps best known for his role in the Johnson County War of Wyoming in 1892 as one of Frank Wolcott’s hired guns.
Buck was born in Tennessee, May 24, 1871. He and his family moved to Paris, Texas when he was still a young lad. By the time he was 18, he was riding with U.S. Deputy Marshals as part of their posses. He shortly after became one himself.
Following the Johnson County War, Garrett returned to being a U.S. Deputy Marshal. Sometime during this period Buck married a woman named Ida Mae and settled in Ardmore, Oklahoma. It was there in 1894 he became involved with Bill Dalton, the last of the famed Dalton Gang. At least one published account credits Garrett with killing him. In 1895 three more court districts were instituted in Oklahoma and Garrett joined the ranks of U.S. Deputy Marshals upholding their laws.
However, in 1905 he pinned on the badge as Chief of Police in Ardmore. He kept the job until 1910 when the citizens of Carter County elected him county sheriff. He served five terms in that capacity and rarely carried a firearm unless a situation warranted it. Buck was a well respected man in Carter County, by outlaws and decent citizens alike. For the most part, when he made an arrest, law breakers would timidly tag along with him to the jail. However, occasionally some hard case who didn’t take kindly to being arrested would be the recipient of a well placed wicked punch.
Buck and his wife were well known in Ardmore as being a generous and charitable couple, despite both having quite opposite personalities. Ida Mae, who ran a boarding house in town, was known to frequently curse and dress casually. Buck on the other hand, was always sharply attired and well spoken. But, they would always have room at the boarding house for those down on their luck and would take them in until their situations improved. And Buck would often pay for his prisoner’s legal defense out of his own pocket.
Although Ida was totally devoted to her husband throughout most of his life, Buck had a reputation for dallying with more than a few young ladies residing at the boarding house. He may not have made the perfect husband, but he nevertheless was an effective lawman.
Besides being a lawman Buck speculated in oil and other businesses which had come to Ardmore. These ventures made him an influential and wealthy man. But along with the oil boom came the lawless element and others of dubious distinction. Ardmore wasn't a big town, but it was the largest in Indian Territory at the time.
Buck Garrett Circa 1916
Its main thoroughfare was Caddo Street, where a number of establishments were the scene of countless brawls, shootouts and murder. These incidents continued in Ardmore well into the 1950s. The city blocks encompassing the area became known as the “Bloody Caddo.”
Typical of the mayhem which occurred there is the story of "Wobblin Willie" Balleau, perhaps so called since he was always drunk and found delight in a good argument. Willie’s favorite hangout was down in a basement gambling hall and known bootlegging establishment at the corner of Main and Caddo streets known as The DewDrop Inn. Whether drunk or sober, Willie had a reputation for being very handy and accurate with a gun.
Close by was another similar joint owned by the Fourche family. No one knows what started the ruckus, but “Irb” Fourche got into a fight with Willie at The DewDrop Inn one day. Before long the two were outside with guns drawn and blazing. Willie quickly made short work of Irb, dropping him dead in the street.
When Irb’s relatives heard he had been killed, they came gunning for Balleau. Another shoot out in Caddo erupted in which Willie was seriously injured by a shotgun blast. Although wounded, as well as drunk, he managed to drag himself down into The DewDrop Inn basement for cover.
By this time Buck had been informed of the situation and responded. Garrett entered the basement and tried to coax Willie out. But Willie was reluctant to leave the safety of the basement fearing the Fourche’s would kill him on sight. Garrett convinced Willie he wouldn’t let that happen and successfully got him to a hospital on the second floor of the same building for treatment. Some 32 pieces of buckshot were removed from Willie’s body and he eventually recovered. Wobblin Willie would die later in an altercation with a Judge who shot him in self defense.
As far as the oil boom and subsequent problems it caused, the central point of all activity converged at a place called Wirt, also known as "Ragtown.” The population in the area rose from practically zero to over 20,000 almost overnight. The oil fields were controlled by lawless men called “roughnecks” who drank heavily, gambled, robbed, fought and murdered. Buck Garrett was saddled with the impossible task of keeping order under these circumstances. Therefore, he enlisted the assistance of Bud Ballew as his deputy which he put in charge of the oil field situation.
Ballew had been a good choice for the job as he became a legendary figure among oilfield lawmen. He was said to have killed at least 8 men in the performance of his job. But there were those who claimed Garrett and Ballew’s methods were too extreme.
Accusations were hurled against Garrett and his deputy’s implying they had ties with shady characters in the oil industry and they were ousted from office, in January of 1922. The charges were never proved. Some say he was kicked out of office because he opposed the Klu Klux Klan, an organization he believed to be very dangerous.
Afterwards, Garrett and Ballew were appointed to a Governor’s task force investigating a ring of car thieves. The position allowed them to carry firearms. It was unfortunate Ballew accepted the job because several months later he was shot and killed in Wichita Falls, Texas by the police. The responsible officers had believed he was reaching for a gun while resisting arrest for public intoxication.
Buck and Ida split up shortly afterwards. He continued speculation in oil wells and other business, but moved to Oklahoma City in 1923 to be part of a group tasked with protecting the recently ousted governor J. C. Walton during a period of martial law.
He remained in Oklahoma City until he suffered a stroke. Ida Mae brought her former husband back to Ardmore to care for him until his death, May 6, 1929.