One man is a lot happier and possibly $5 million dollars richer after experts authenticated his 4×5 inch tintype picture as only the second-known photograph of the famous outlaw Billy the Kid (aka Henry McCarty or William Bonney). Randy Guijarro purchased the photo at a Fresno, California junk shop for just $2 dollars. The photo shows the smug-faced Billy the Kid and his gang, the Regulators, playing a game of croquet at a New Mexico ranch.
The photo was acquired by Guijarro five years ago. After careful examination, he thought one of the croquet players highly resembled Billy the Kid (Guijarro is a U.S. history buff and was familiar with the Kid). However, experts quickly shot down his find as an authentic photograph of Billy the Kid. Guijarro stood his ground though and through much research, was able to identify several of the people in the photograph including Sallie Chisum, a woman who kept a diary documenting the movements of Billy the Kid and the Regulators gang. When Chisum’s diary was tracked down, it was found that a wedding between gang member Charlie Bowdre and his bride Manuella took place at a Roswell, New Mexico ranch owned by Billy the Kid’s boss John Tunstall, sometime around August 1878. The event would have brought members of the Regulators gang and Chisum together to celebrate – just as seen in the photograph.
Guijarro next searched and found the location of Tunstall’s farm and visited the ranch where the wedding was held. There he found the schoolhouse, nestled in front of rolling hills, just as pictured in the background of the photo. When the clapboard was removed (another structure had been built around the school’s original clapboard), the building in the tintype photo was revealed, still intact.
Given the preponderance of evidence, facial recognition expert Kent Gibson examined the photo and validated it scoring individuals in the photo in the high 70’s and low 80’s – far higher than the 60% threshold used in a court of law for facial recognition evidence.
This month, Kagin’s, a San Francisco authentication house that specializes in Western Americana collectibles, announced it had officially authenticated and insured the photo for $5,000,000 dollars. In a statement, Kagin’s team wrote:
“Simple resemblance is not enough in a case like this. 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.”
Much of Billy the Kid’s life is steeped in myth, including reports that he killed 21 men. What is certain is that he was shot dead at age 22 by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881, months after a daring jailbreak. For decades, the only known photo of Bonney was an iconic 2-by-3-inch tintype portrait of the outlaw standing outside a New Mexico saloon, gripping the barrel of a Winchester carbine rifle and with a single-action Colt pistol holstered on his hip.
The newly-discovered photo is only the second known photo of Billy the Kid and the only known picture of the Regulators gang together. Billy the Kid is the fourth individual from the left (see photo below).
If Bill the Kid playing croquet seems unusual, consider that croquet used to be viewed as an outlaw’s sport. According to Arnet:
“If croquet seems an uncharacteristically genteel pursuit for such a notorious outlaw, you’d be surprised to learn that the sport had a downright unsavory reputation back in the day. According to James Charlton and William Thompson’s Croquet: The Complete Guide to History, Strategy, Rules, and Records, “it had become associated with gambling, drinking and philandering to such an extent that it was banned in Boston by one Reverend Skinner.”