FORT SUMNER, N.M. (KRQE) – A flea market treasure could mean big things for New Mexico’s history. A North Carolina man believes he may have a photo of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
Frank Abrams traveled all the way to New Mexico to learn more about an old tintype he purchased years ago. KRQE News 13 followed Abrams to Fort Sumner, New Mexico to try and get to the bottom of this historical mystery.
Billy the Kid’s legend lives on more than a century since his reported death.
“I knew only Billy the Kid from the movies,” Abrams chuckled. But the North Carolina attorney is learning much more about the western outlaw, especially since he may have a photo that could blow the lid wide open on a piece of history.
“The holy grail might exist,” Abrams told KRQE News 13.
Abrams spent $10 on an old tintype at a North Carolina flea market years ago. He said it was the rough looking cowboys that caught his eye.
The tintype sat hanging in a guest room for years.
Recently, the newly-verified photo of Billy the Kid playing croquet, now appraised at $5 million, got Abrams thinking.
“After I Googled Billy the Kid, I said ‘oh my gosh, he looks like Pat Garrett!” Abrams recalled. “And that’s what got it started.”
Legend has it Billy the Kid was killed by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in July of 1881.
Convinced his photo shows Garrett possibly with the Kid, Abrams brought high resolution images of his tintype to meet with local experts.
“The improbability of this situation is such that I need to find out,” Abrams told KRQE News 13.
Abrams and his wife flew to New Mexico, then hit the road to Fort Sumner, home to the Billy the Kid museum and his reported gravesite.
Inside the museum’s walls are rare pieces of history, including Billy the Kid’s gun, his wanted poster, and dozens of old artifacts.
Tim Sweet is the museum’s owner. “The first thing when I looked the photograph, the first one that stood out to me was Pat Garrett,” Sweet told KRQE News 13.
Sweet said he’s 95-percent convinced the man with the mustache in Abrams’ tintype is Pat Garrett.
“If this is the real deal, Frank has got a jewel right here,” said Sweet.
Finding out who the other men are and why they were together is key. Sweet believes if the tintype is a photo of Billy the Kid, it may have been taken when Garrett and a crew took him to be arraigned, and before Billy’s escape.
Sweet said the capture was cause for celebration. “All of them are smoking cigars,” Sweet pointed out.
There are other features that have him thinking. Abrams points out a defined Adam’s apple on the man he believes to be Billy the Kid, compared to the known photo of the Kid. Both photos show a pronounced Adam’s apple.
Still, Sweet said more research is needed, and more experts need to analyze the tintype.
Sweet, along with local historians, would be curious to figure out why Garrett would have taken a picture with Billy the Kid and when.
If Abrams does have a photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Sweet said, “I think it just proves what took place.” It would be the first photograph of the two together, which Sweet admits would be “big.”
Either way, Abrams said his first trip to New Mexico, and the adventure this photo has led him on, is worth it.
“I’m going to do whatever is necessary to find out,” Abrams told KRQE News 13. “This picture would clear up a lot of mysteries, historical mysteries. The truth is the key.”
It took a team of experts more than a year to authenticate the second-known photo of Billy the Kid playing croquet. Abrams said he’s in it for the long haul to get to the truth.