OTC, It doesn't hurt to ruffle a feather now and again. That's one of the ways that feathers get rid of the dust that collects if they are left undisturbed for too long.
My observation is that most of the people involved in WWHA would find it distasteful to see the organization as "the fountain of wisdom." WWHA exists to promote knowledge and understand. That carries with it an awareness that many of its subjects are controversial and that ongoing debate is one of the things the organization encourages. I was not present for the session (unfortunately), but I would guess that even if a majority of the panel agreed on particular killers, everyone left the session realizing the case was not closed.
I've been around too long to think any work "definitive" or "the final word." Not only do new sources come to light, but fresh thought prompts reexamination of old assumptions. We are not going to arrive one day at a point where a book is written that tells us all the truth about all of the subjects we talk about on this board and elsewhere. If we did, we could all lock our files away, and turn our attention to other things. The field is vital because history is a living thing. Even if we found a document that proved beyond doubt that Jim Miller killed Pat Garrett, so that it moved from being one hypothesis to being the accepted fact, there would still be a multiplicity of questions left about the circumstances surrounding Garrett's death.
Opinions are what you get at events like WWHA, usually enlightened opinions based upon serious research, but rarely uniform opinions. So even if you have three people (for example) that agree that Wayne Brazel did not kill Garrett, you might well also get three separate sets of opinions as to why they believe that (and that alone would be enough to set off another round of discussion). I would suspect that whatever conclusions the panel reached, the discussion did not stop there. I'll bet you that debate continued into the night over what the panel members got right and what they got wrong.
And that is the value of panels like that. They serve the function of stimulating further conversation. I've had the responsibility of being on a few panels of that sort, and I will tell you from experience that I have found myself taking notes about things I didn't want to forget (brought up by others)while in the midst of discussion and having people walk up to me afterwards with questions that forced me to go back to the sources and rethink some of the things I thought I had already settled.
I don't care where the answers come from or who the answers come from or even if we find the answers as long as we continue to look for answers. If someone proves beyond all doubt that Oliver Lee did gun down Colonel Fountain and his son, we'll still be asking questions about his motives, if Albert Bacon Fall was involved, what happened to the bodies, what the repercussions were, ad infinitum. Every answer raises a question.
I got into this whole business because I wanted to answer one simple question. That was more than fifty years ago. I'm a lot closer to understanding the issue than I was then, but I'm also aware that I am not going to ever find the answer in any way that will cause everybody else asking the same question to say, "Yep, he's right!" In fact, if I am closer to understanding some things, it is the people who have disagreed with me who have probably helped me most by forcing me to justify myself and reexamine and rethink and go back to the records. There's not a major work out there than could not be improved, and most of the writers of books that gain that mark would be greatly disappointed if you thought their works to be the final word. The best works are those that stimulate us to want to know more, not those that claim they've found the truth.
I think some of your fears may be misplaced, but I would argue that the "barrage of criticism" that follows "breaks from the party line" is merely part of the natural progression that keeps the process of "doing history" going. It is natural for the party line to defend itself (which means its defenders have to review their sources to find answers and gives the rebels against the party line to gain greater attention and reinforce their cause). In turn the rebels may find themselves becoming the "new party line" and facing more rebels.
That is the way the process is done. The worst thing in any debate is to be left alone (ignored). The criticism means that someone has to be answered (which means it is taken seriously), and that response promotes debate which in turn advances the search for truth. The second worst thing in a debate is to take it personally. We have to concentrate on our arguments, not on the character or stupidity of those who disagree with us. I know very few people who haven't stumbled on that one at one time or another. Egos are fragile things. But we ought to welcome criticism as a means of testing our own conclusions. We can sort through the criticism as regards motive, substance, and merit, and respond accordingly, but we can also gain insight into our own weaknesses in ways that will allow us to strengthen or even to reconsider our opinions. And, by the way, take it from one who has been there, changing one's mind is not a "defeat" if it furthers a better understanding of what happened. All I want is to be part of the process.
Forgive me for going off on a tangent. I guess I'm at a point where I have discovered that the quest to understand is the best part. Learning and thinking is the vital center of what we do. And the only value of anything I share is the hope that it will help somebody else to learn and think. It doesn't matter if he thinks I'm onto something good, or if he thinks I'm an absolute fool and grinds his teeth at every sentence. The former can pick up where I left off, seek further confirmation, come up with new material, and revise based on new information and fresh thought. The latter can immerse himself in an effort to prove what an idiot I am. In either case, the purpose of history can be served. It is not about who's right, after all. It is about the search for understanding what happened. So go ruffle a few feathers!
Is by no means the definitive answer to who killed Garrett (or Fountain for that matter). It was the opinion of those involved in the discussion. Although a number of exceptional historians are... more
change in about any form, but particularly historical writings, comes from the lesser known. This subject, Miller, is far from being a dead horse. I, too, am looking forward to new information and... more
Mike, I am curious about why you say, "As to the WWHA findings, that discussion [the panel discussion on "Who Killed Pat Garrett?"] was not helpful and was inconclusive. I figure one of these days it ... more
Ellis, First, you had better go back a read the post. I did not say "as to the WWHA findings, that discussion was not helpful and was inconclusive. I figure one of these days it will be revisited." I ... more
Why don't you use your name rather than an alias, OldTexasCowboy? You are terribly confused about the message I posted. It was not in reply to your messages; it was in reply to Mike Tower's message... more
You may be referring to WWHA Ruidoso, and I was among the 333 attendees. Reminder of CAL'S reminder: "All historic facts are subject to change hourly." Lurking in dark places are collections to be... more