History tells us that the outlaw known as Billy the Kid (aka Henry McCarty, aka William Bonney) was gunned down—at the ripe old age of 21—by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. He was buried, it is said, in Fort Sumner Cemetery, with his “associates” Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre, and the epitaph “Pals”—though none of them are likely directly under the tombstone there today. He’s since been romanticized in print, and on stage, television, and film as an emblem of the lawless West.
“As a society back then, people were tough, strong, and fearless, and yet this little guy is known as the most deadly outlaw of them all,” says Daniel A. Edwards, author of Billy the Kid: An Autobiography. “He is either a folk hero that single-handedly stood up against a corrupt government system, or he is a ruthless outlaw and cop killer that left a wake of terror in his path.”
Whether his story actually ended in 1881, however, is another matter. People in Hico, Texas—population 1,379 and home to the Billy the Kid Museum, tell a slightly different version.
In 1948, a paralegal named William V. Morrison was investigating a man named Joe Hines, a survivor of the Lincoln County War, the feud that helped make Billy the Kid’s name. Hines told him a whopper of a tale: Billy the Kid had not been killed in New Mexico, but was alive and well and living in a town called Hico in Hamilton County, Texas, as one Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts. Morrison approached Roberts who, perhaps sensing the end of his life was near (if he had been Billy, he’d have been 90 at the time), made a confession. He hoped that Morrison could help him claim the pardon that New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace supposedly promised Billy the Kid back in 1879.
“Brushy Bill was very well known around these parts,” says Jane Klein, historian at the Billy the Kid Museum. “He would tell people around here, ‘You know, I have a secret and one of these days you’re going to find out what it is.’ He didn’t want to tell his story at first. After he thought about it, though, he told [Morrison] that he was Billy the Kid. All he wanted to do was to get that pardon that he’d been promised, and I believe he felt this was his last chance to get it.”
In November 1950, Morrison filed a petition on behalf of Brushy Bill. But it wasn’t to be. Roberts died a month later, and neither Billy the Kid nor Brushy Bill Roberts ever received a pardon. Since that time, debates have raged over Roberts’s claims, and whether he was truly one of the West’s most notorious gunmen or just an old man looking for attention.
In researching his book, Edwards analyzed photographs of Billy the Kid and Roberts, and dug into the details of Roberts’s account of his life and comparing them with known facts about Billy the Kid. “Before I made the discoveries I made in my book, I did not have an opinion on Brushy Bill,” says Edwards. “I now believe without a doubt that Billy the Kid was not killed by Pat Garrett in Ft. Sumner. I believe he lived, had many more adventures … before he finally died in Hico in 1950.
“When you listen to his real story, he talks about how he wasn’t an outlaw, how he never robbed banks or stagecoaches, how he resented the fact that Governor Lew Wallace reneged on his promise of a pardon in 1879 and left him to die,” Edwards says. “Now these are strange things for someone that is a fraud to focus on. They are personal things, and things that make complete sense for him to be upset about if his story was true.”
The Billy the Kid Museum opened in Hico nearly 40 years after Roberts’s death, and the city actively celebrates the connection. In Hico Billy is everywhere, from a statue downtown, to the standee in the Chamber of Commerce, to the monumental arch over Roberts’s grave. There is no doubt there that Billy the Kid is one of their own, and they’re happy to tell the world.
“From what I’ve heard, [Brushy Bill] told a pretty credible tale,” says Hamilton Historical Commission Chairman Jim Eidson. “I believe all communities are built on legends, and in Hamilton County Brushy Bill’s stories connect us to those wild days of the frontier.”
Eidson’s “official” position on the story echoes that of the rest of the Historical Commission—we keep an open mind. We’re not trying to deceive anyone. It’s all just part of the area’s mythology.
“Brushy Bill and Billy the Kid, the whole story, that’s part of who we are now,” Eidson says. “I think people really like being associated with it now. Outlaws have a romantic air about them and I think the people in Hamilton County really enjoy having this as part of the history.”
The terms “gunfighter” or “gunslinger,” as they are most often called today, are actually more modern words utilized in films and literature of the 20th Century.
During the days of the “real” Wild West, men who had gained a reputation as being dangerous with a gun were more commonly called gunmen, pistoleers, shootists, or bad men. Gunslingers weren’t even called gunslingers during the ‘Wild West’ period. They didn’t wear the standard ‘gunfighter’s rig’ of a low-slung hip holster tied to their thigh for a faster draw. The terms “gunfighter“ or “gunslinger“ are more commonly synonymous to a hired gun who made a living with his weapons in the Old West.
Here’s a look at 10 of the deadliest Wild West gunslingers.
1. John Wesley Hardin
Some say the worst bad man that Texas ever produced.
John Wesley Hardin was easily the deadliest gunfighter of all time and one of the darkest characters in the Old West. He was a kind of a guy who will shoot first and ask questions later. This American outlaw and gunfighter claimed to have killed 42 men though the newspapers attributed only 27 killings. He was so quick tempered with a gun that it has been said that he once killed a man for snoring.
Hardin committed his first murder in 1868, when he was just 15 years old (gunned down an ex-slave) and then proceeded to kill three Union soldiers before going on the run. Hardin was known for carrying two pistols in holsters strapped to his chest, which he claimed facilitated the quick draw, and he used them to gun down three more people in various gunfights soon after his flight. At age 17, he was arrested for the murder of a Texas City Marshal, but he was able to escape. At 25, he was finally arrested by a team of Texas Rangers, and eventually served 17 years in prison before being released at the age of 41. Shortly after his release, he was shot in the back of the head by John Selman Jr. in the Acme Saloon in El Paso, Texas, while playing dice.
2. Jim “Killer“ Miller
James “Killin’ Jim“ Miller, also known as “Killin’ Jim“, “Killer Miller“ and “Deacon Jim“, was an American outlaw and assassin of the American Old West who is credited with killing at least 14 people, though legend has it that the number is somewhere closer to 50. As a teenager, Miller blasted his sister’s husband in the head with a shotgun after a disagreement. He was handed a life sentence for the murder but escaped justice owning to a technicality.
Described as being cold to the core, Miller famously declared that he would kill anyone for money, and is rumored to have gunned down everyone from political figures to famed sheriff Pat Garrett. On April 19, 1909, following the murder of former Deputy Marshal Allen “Gus“ Bobbitt, he was arrested and his days of bloodshed finally came to an end. Before he died, he made two requests. He wanted his ring to be given to his wife (who was a cousin of John Wesley Hardin) and to be allowed to wear his hat while being hanged. Both requests were granted. He also asked to die in his black frock coat; this request was denied. Apparently, he screamed, “Let ‘er rip,“ before stepping off the box. His body was left hanging for hours until a photographer could be found to immortalize the event.
3. James “Wild Bill” Hickok
A legend in his own time.
James Butler Hickok (a.k.a. Wild Bill) was the most notorious man in the Wild West. A gunfighter, gambler, civil war spy, Indian fighter, peace officer, Hickok was said to have killed more than 100 men. At the age of 17, he left home and worked as a “canal boat pilot“ in Utica, Illinois. Got his nickname “Wild Bill“ from fighting in the Union army during the Civil War. During this time, he provided many services, such a spy, scout, and a sharpshooter.
In 1865, on the streets of Springfield, Missouri, he gained a reputation for being handy with a gun after he killed David Tutt with a single bullet from 75 yards away (first classic “Wester-style“ quick-draw duel). Suddenly he could not go anywhere without being recognized. On August 2, 1876, Deadwood, South Dakota, Hickok was playing poker when he was shot in the back of the head by a gambler named Jack McCall (better known as “Crooked Nose Jack“), supposedly in retaliation for a prior insult. Hickok was supposedly holding a pair of Aces and Eights at the time, a combination now known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.“
4. Tom Horn Jr.
Thomas “Tom“ Horn, Jr. was a respected lawman and detective, but he was one of the most cold-blooded killers of the Old West. In the 1880s, Horn made a name for himself as a tracker and a bounty hunter. He was eventually hired as a detective by the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency and was responsible for the arrest of many feared criminals. Quickly becoming known for his volatile temper and dangerous capacity for violence, he was forced to resign his position with the Agency after becoming linked to the murders of 17 people.
Following his resignation, he developed a reputation as a hitman and is said to have been responsible for as many as 50 murders in his 43 years of life. Thomas Horn was arrested, tried in a controversial trial and hanged the day before his 43rd birthday in 1903. A retrial was held in 1993 in which he was declared innocent. The New York Times described the trial, “Once Guilty, Now Innocent, But Still Dead.“
5. Clay Allison
Robert Clay Allison was a Texas cattle rancher and gunfighter. Known for his unpredictable personality and violent temper, Clay was a gunslinger who is remembered as one of the deranged outlaws of the Old West. Allison fought in the Civil War, but was discharged after a blow to the head started causing unpredictable behavior in him. Historians believe this event explains some of his shockingly brutal actions, which included once beheading a man he suspected of murder and carrying the head into his favorite bar to share a drink.
After this incident, which bond his reputation as one of the most dangerous figures of his day, Allison was participating in a number of gunfights against fellow gunslingers. The most famous of these gunfights was against outlaw Chunk Colbert, whom Allison shot in the head when the other drew his gun on him following a meal they had shared. When asked why he had eaten with a man who wanted to kill him, Allison replied, “I wouldn’t want to send a man to hell on an empty stomach.“ He died in 1887 when he fell from his wagon and broke his neck. His gravestone is said to read:
“Clay Allison. Gentleman. Gun Fighter. He never killed a man that did no need killing.“
6. Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp was an American gambler, deputy sheriff, and deputy town marshal inTombstone, Arizona. He spent most of his life roaming the West, supporting himself with police work, mining, gambling, saloon-keeping, and real estate deals.
Famed lawman Earp is perhaps the most storied figure of the Wild West, but he was also an accomplished gunslinger who was greatly feared by the bandits of the time. Earp had a violent career that saw him travel to boomtowns like Wichita, Dodge City and the lawless town of Tombstone to serve as sheriff, and he participated in some of the most legendary gunfights of the 1800s.
Best known for his participation in the controversial “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,“ which took place at Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26, 1881. The famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a 30-second gunfight between the semi-outlaw group “The Cowboys“ (Ike and Billy Clanton and Tom and Frank McLaury) and lawmen (Earp, his brothers Virgil and Morgan, and Doc Holliday), that is generally regarded as the most memorable shootout in the history of the American Wild West and the greatest gunslinger moment of all time (the outcome of the shootout: Earp, Virgil, and Morgan wounded; Doc Holliday grazed; Tom and Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton killed.). The shootout and the bloody events that followed resulted in Wyatt Earp acquiring the reputation as being one of the Old West’s toughest and deadliest gunmen of his day. All told, Earp participated in numerous gunfights in his life, killing anywhere from 8 to 30. He would become the fearless Western hero in countless novels and films.
7. Dallas Stoudenmire
Dallas Stoudenmire was a feared lawman and is known for participating in more gunfights than most of his contemporaries. Stoudenmire earned himself repute as a legendary lawman and gunslinger, but he also made himself a lot of enemies. Armed with two guns, he was an accurate shooter with both hands, and he had a reputation for being tough and dangerously shot-tempted when he had a drink or two. After being wounded several times while fighting in the Civil War, Stoudenmire moved to the lawless and violent city of El Paso, Texas, to serve as sheriff. On the third day on the job, he killed three men with his two 44 caliber Colt revolvers in a famous incident known as the “Four Dead In Five Seconds“ gunfight.
Witnesses generally agreed that the incident lasted no more than five seconds after the first gunshot though a few would insist it was at least ten seconds. Marshal D. Stoudenmire was responsible for three of the four fatalities with his “twins.“ Less than a year after these incidents, he would kill as many as six more men in gunfights while in the line of duty, eventually gaining a reputation as one of the most feared lawmen in Texas. In 1882, Stoudenmire was shot to death by a group of outlaws during a verbal confrontation.
8. Billy The Kid
Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William H. Bonney or just “Billy the Kid,” started his life of crime with petty theft and horse thievery, but is said to have first killed a man at the age of eighteen. In 1877, he was deputized during the so-called “Lincoln County War” and rode with lawmen who were seeking to arrest a group of corrupt businessman responsible for the murder of an innocent rancher. Billy’s group, called, “the Regulators,” became known for their wanton violence, and were themselves soon regarded as outlaws.
The group was unfazed by their new classification as bandits and proceeded to go on a killing spree, gunning down three people in the course of just three days, including a sheriff and his deputy. The group was eventually broken up by law enforcement, but the Kid managed to elude capture. He formed a gang and increased his notoriety after shooting down a gambler in a New Mexico saloon. After a number of run-ins with the law, the Kid was again captured and sentenced to death, but he managed to escape after he got a hold of a weapon and gunned down the two men guarding him. After three months on the run, he was killed when Sheriff Pat Garrett and two deputies shot him to death in 1881. All told, Billy the Kid is said to have killed a total of 21 men, one for each of the years of his life, though this number is often regarded as inaccurate and exaggerated.
9. King Fisher
One the lesser-known but more violent pistoleers of the Old West, gunfighter, and one-time lawman John King Fisher was in and out of prison from the age of sixteen. By the early 1870s, Fisher became known as a bandit when he joined a group of outlaws whose specialty was raiding ranches in Mexico. Though quickly becoming known for his flamboyant style of dress, (always seen wearing brightly colored clothes), and signature twin ivory-handled pistols, it was his propensity for aggression that singled him out.
Among his many exploits, he was known for gunning down three members of his own gang during a dispute over money and then killing seven Mexican bandits a short time later. In his most famous gunfight, Fisher is said to have taken on four Mexican cowboys single-handedly, which after hitting one with a branding iron, outdrew another. Then in his well-documented sadistic style, then shot the other two who were unarmed. In 1884, Fisher was ambushed and killed, along with gunslinger Ben Thompson, by friends of a man Thompson had previously killed in a gunfight.
10. Sam Bass
Sam Bass started out an honest man. He had a simple and modest dream of moving to Texas and becoming a cowboy. Eventually he did just that but decided after one season he didn’t like it. While transitioning from simple farmer to famed outlaw might be a stretch for some, Bass did it seamlessly. He began robbing banks and stagecoaches and became rather proficient at it.
After his 7th stagecoach robbery, Bass and his gang turned their sights on bigger prizes and decided to rob trains. They eventually robbed the Union Pacific gold train from San Francisco, netting over $60,000, which is to this day the largest single robbery of the Union Pacific. He was wounded by Texas Rangers on the way to rob a small bank in Round Rock and died two days later on his 27th birthday.
Posted: Sunday, February 7, 2016 11:00 pm |Updated: 11:57 pm, Sun Feb 7, 2016.
By Anne Constable
The New Mexican
Another photo said to be of the famous outlaw Billy the Kid — showing a young man posing on a rock, holding one pistol in his right hand and another in his holster — surfaced last week.
It is still unauthenticated and lacks provenance.
But like all the other purported Billy the Kid photos, this one has an interesting backstory.
Two Gun Billy is one of nearly 500 photos in an Old West collection believed to have been owned by Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum.
The photos are now owned by an unidentified couple who traveled in the 1990s to Checotah, Okla., where they stopped at an antique store called the Downtown Antique Mall. The woman, who is an artist, purchased several photos from the store to use in painting profiles.
Both she and her husband are Western enthusiasts and, after comparing the photos to those in their books on the Old West, they went back to the antique store the next day, and the day after that, and spent a few hundred dollars on the collection.
The couple believe that 100 of the photos depict people involved in the O.K. Corral shootout, their family members and others from Tombstone, Ariz.
Because there were photos of Phillips and his family among those the woman purchased, she and others who have examined them concluded that they once belonged to Phillips, whose 3,700-acre ranch in northwestern Oklahoma, called Woolaroc, was only 100 miles away from where the photos were purchased. And the property was adjacent to land frequented by outlaws. The photos came to be known as the Phillips Collection.
Jim Williams, a Western antique dealer with a shop in Springfield, Mo., was hired by the couple to help authenticate the photo called Two Gun Billy and market it. Cathy Briley, Williams’ fiancée, a real estate appraiser and collector of antiques from Palmyra, Neb., said they immediately felt the albumen print was of Billy the Kid.
They didn’t have the resources, Briley said, to hire people with the software to do facial recognition — and besides, they were unsure if it would work because the photo shows the Kid in profile. But they did decide to try to find the location where the photograph was taken, and they were pretty sure the landscape depicted New Mexico.
They came here in December, after studying Google Earth images for weeks and weeks. In New Mexico, everyone gave them different opinions. They failed at first and spent the night in Ruidoso before driving home.
It was there when Briley had an idea that the photo might have been taken at the time of the shootout at Blazer’s Mill between the Lincoln County Regulators and the buffalo hunter Buckshot Roberts. The Regulators apparently were hunting down anyone associated with the murder of John Tunstall, which had set off the Lincoln County War. The confrontation took place three days after the shooting of Sheriff William Brady, a crime for which Billy the Kid was convicted in 1881. The Regulators, including the Kid, were supposedly in Blazer’s Mill to eat at Mrs. Godfrey’s Restaurant.
The connection hit Briley, she said, “like a ton of bricks.”
They now believe the photo was taken on a hillside between Lincoln and Tularosa overlooking a 19th-century village called South Fork. The area subsequently became part of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. Williams and Briley believe the photo was taken April 3, 1878, the day before the shootout.
Williams went back to New Mexico and on Jan. 20, Briley said, he found the rock overlooking South Fork on which the Kid had been posed, and matched up the mountains in the background as well as old Indian trails.
Briley said the face looks identical and the body type and size are “perfect” when compared to the authenticated tintype of Billy the Kid purchased by billionaire William Koch for $2.3 million in 2011 at an auction in Colorado.
Furthermore, the figure is wearing patterned suspenders and an unadorned sombrero, and is pictured with the types of guns Billy was known to carry. There’s a bandana wrapped around his leg above his right knee, which could be related to injuries sustained in the Brady ambush, Briley said.
In Koch’s tintype, the Kid looks sloppy, but in this photo, his tie is tucked into his shirt and, according to Briley, he was known as a “snappy dresser.”
Briley said she has seen another photo that surfaced in recent years — one said to show the Kid playing croquet in New Mexico in 1878 — and the National Geographic program that aired about the photo last year. In that case, the photo was bought by a California man for $2 or so from a Fresno County memorabilia shop.
She believes that photo is of the Kid, but she conceded many photos claimed to be of him don’t get received very well. “They get a lot of negative response,” she said. “Western enthusiasts immediately deny them if there’s no provenance attached to the photo.”
So, she said, even though “I do think our photos are the genuine article … we are fighting an uphill battle.”
But that doesn’t stop people who think they have the real deal, she added. “We’re just going to be inundated with photos because people are seeing dollar signs.”
Briley said several photos from the Phillips Collection already have been sold, including those of outlaw Belle Starr and lawman Wyatt Earp’s brother James, and one of Earp himself in a forest with several other people. Two of those were bought by Williams and resold. There are two other photos of the Kid in the Phillips Collection, Briley said.
The original Oklahoma vendor, however, had no idea of their value, she said. Online, Briley called the collection “likely one of the largest historical finds in recent history.”
But Daniel Kosharek, photo curator at the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives in Santa Fe, said the number of Kid photos cropping up is getting to be “almost as bad as Elvis sightings.”
“This one is a pretty good stretch,” he said of Two Gun Billy.
Korsharek said there are many photos that could show the Kid, and even in the Museum of New Mexico collection, he said, he could probably find a half-dozen tintypes that could be of the famous outlaw.
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.
Billy the Kid tintype authenticated by Americana expert and coin dealer Kagin’s (Kagin’s).
A rare coin dealer in California has concluded that a grainy image of legendary gunman Billy the Kid playing croquet is the real thing and could be worth as much as $5 million.
That is not bad for a photo purchased by Randy Guijarro of Freemont, Calif. for $2 as a part of a miscellaneous lot at a Fresno junk shop in 2010, according to Kagin’s. The company is negotiating a private sale of the photo.
“We have a couple of people who are interested right now,” Kagin’s senior numismatist David McCarthy told FoxNews.com said.
The 4×5-inch tintype – which depicts Billy the Kid and several members of his gang, The Regulators, relaxing in the summer of 1878 – will be the subject of a two-hour documentary airing Sunday on the National Geographic Channel.
Taken just one month after the tumultuous Lincoln County War came to an end, it offers a rare window into the lives of these gunmen. Rather than a threatening outlaw, Billy the Kid seems to be enjoying some downtime following what Kagin’s said was a wedding.
Experts have identified Billy the Kid as the man standing in the left of this picture, wearing a top hat. (Credit: Kagin’s)
The only other known photograph of Billy the Kid is a portrait of the outlaw taken in Fort Sumner, NM in 1880. It sold for $2.3 million to Palm Beach, Fla., businessman William Koch in 2011 at Brian Lebel’s Annual Old West Show and Auction in Denver. In that photo, Billy is packing a Colt revolver and trademark 1873 Winchester carbine rifle.
When they first got hold of the latest image, McCarthy said they weren’t sure it was authentic adding that “if you do an Internet search, there will be 20 people who have a photo of some guy that looks like Billy the Kid.”
“When we first saw the photograph, we were understandably skeptical – an original Billy the Kid photo is the Holy Grail of Western Americana,” Kagin’s senior numismatist David McCarthy said, in a press release.
“We had to be certain that we could answer and verify where, when, how and why this photograph was taken. Simple resemblance is not enough in a case like this – a team of experts had to be assembled to address each and every detail in the photo to insure that nothing was out of place,” he continued. “After more than a year of methodical study including my own inspection of the site, there is now overwhelming evidence of the image’s authenticity.”
McCarthy said experts began believing the tintype was real after they were able to determine that four people in the photo – using facial recognition software – were those who spent time with Billy the Kid. Then, they began looking for events in which they were all together around that time.
They stumbled upon a diary of Sally Chisum, in which she described a cattle drive featuring all the players in the photo as well as a wedding that took place between Charlie Bowdre (seated on the horse in the photo) and his wife Manuella.
The cattle drive helped researchers narrow the location of the photo to New Mexico and the former ranch of one of Billy the Kid’s employers, John Tunstall. But to confirm the site of the photo, McCarthy actually flew out to the site near Roswell and examined a building that turned out to have been built “over and around” a structure that was actually in the photo.
“I was standing at an angle from the building and I could see the texture of the stucco on the front of the building,” McCarthy said, adding they were tipped off by an investigator who saw what the thought was a building from the photo on ranch. “You could see the vertical wooden supports through the stucco and I
looked at the picture and they were in the exactly the same place. I was amazed. That clinched it.”
Kevin Costner will narrate and produce the two-hour documentary for National Geographic Channel, covering Western Americana enthusiast Randy Guijarro’ s odyssey to authenticate this unique photograph. The documentary will also feature extensive interviews with a variety of experts in digital facial
recognition, antique photography, geographic positioning, and vintage croquet sets.
“The historical importance of a photograph of Billy the Kid alongside known members of his gang and prominent Lincoln County citizens is incalculable – this is perhaps the single most compelling piece of Western Americana that we have ever seen,” Kagin’s President Donald Kagin said, in the press release.