Doņa Ana County Historical Society
       Las Cruces, Doņa Ana County, New Mexico

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Womens Improvement Association Hearse --- aka Pat Garrett Hearse

garrett hearseLongtime Society member and past president Cal Traylor poses beside the Garrett hearse inside the Doņa Ana County Sheriff's Department museum dedicated to law enforcement. Traylor found the hearse, negotiated its purchase and then donated it to the museum in 2012.

In 1894 the hearse first appeared in the minutes of a meeting of the Womens Improvement Association (W.I.A) of Las Cruces. It was the only hearse in the county until 1912 when Graham’s Mortuary set up shop.  Prior to this hearse, coffins were carried to the grave on any conveyance that was available for a few hours. The women stored the hearse at the Amador Livery and Hotel, on Amador Street. They rented it out for use at $8 in town, or $10 out of town. Charity cases were free. With the rents the WIA purchased a city block of land from the railroad and created a park now known as Pioneer Park.

They purchased a water wagon to sprinkle the dirt streets, to reduce dust. They built the WI.A building still in use, it was the first library. They also had other fund raising events, but the hearse was the most innovative.

In1908 when Pat Garrett’s body was buried, it probably traveled on this hearse -- thus the title Pat Garrett Hearse. Graham’s also offered a motorized Buick hearse, and slowly the market went to Graham’s. The hearse was sold to Hal Cox who removed the top and used the remainder around his ranch.

Again, the hearse was abandoned in favor of motorized vehicles. Eventually, an antique dealer bought what was left and moved it to Silver City. Frank Tastch, who had a museum in Pinos Altos, then purchased it and reconstructed it to as close to original as possible.  When Frank died, his son Dink inherited it and was not much interested.

Traylor tracked down the hearse and struck a deal with Dink.  With the help of Bob Gamboa and many others, Traylor was able to get the hearse transfered to its rightful home in Las Cruces.

The sheriff's museum is at 845 N. Motel Blvd. and is usually open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Photo by Bob Gamboa