New image shows Billy the Kid, the play of croquet

Billy the Kid tintype verified by Americana expert and coin dealer Kagin (Kagin’s).

A rare coin dealer in California has concluded that a grainy image of the legendary gunman Billy the Kid, playing croquet is the real thing and would not be worth more than $5 million.

That’s not bad for a picture purchased by Randy Guijarro of Freemont, Calif. for $2 as part of a miscellaneous lot of a Fresno junk shop in 2010, according to Kagin’s. The company is in negotiation for a private sale of the picture.

“We have a couple of people interested at this time,” Kagin’s senior numismatist David McCarthy said said.

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The 4×5 inch tintype – about Billy the Kid and several members of his gang, The Regulators, or relax in the summer of 1878 – will be the subject of a two-hour documentary Sunday broadcast on the National Geographic Channel.

Taken just one month after the turbulent Lincoln County War came to an end, provides a rare look at the lives of these men. Instead of a threatening outlaw Billy the Kid seems to be enjoying some downtime following what Kagin said it was a wedding.

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Experts have found that Billy the Kid as the man in the left of this picture, wearing a hat. (Credit: Kagin’s)

(Experts have found that Billy the Kid as the man in the left of this picture, wearing a hat. (Credit: Kagin s))

The only other known photo 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 were not sure that it is authentic, adding that “if you do a search on the Internet, there are 20 people taking a picture of a man who looks like Billy the Kid.”

“When we first saw the photo, 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.

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“We had to make sure that we could answer and verify where, when, how and why this picture was taken. Simple resemblance is not enough in a case like this – a team of experts should be assembled to address every detail in the photo to ensure that nothing of that,” 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 of authenticity.”

McCarthy said experts began to believe that the tintype was really after they were able to determine that there are four people in the photo using facial recognition software – were those who spent time with Billy the Kid. Then, they went on the search to events in which they were all together around that time.

She stumbled upon a diary of Sally Chisum, in which she describes a cattle drive, with all the players in the photo as well as a wedding, that took place between Charlie Bowdre (sitting on the horse in the picture) 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 of the employers, John Story. But to confirm that the site of the photo, McCarthy actually flew to the site in the vicinity of Roswell and researched in a building that appeared to have been built “over” a structure that was actually in the photo.

“I stood on a corner of the building, and I could see that the structure of the stucco on the front of the building,” McCarthy said, adding they were tipped off by a researcher, who saw what the thought was a building of the photo at the ranch. “You could see the vertical wooden supports through the stucco and I
looked at the photo and they were in the exact same place. I was surprised. That picked up.”

Kevin Costner will tell and the production of the two-hour documentary for the National Geographic Channel, Western Americana enthusiast Randy Guijarro’s odyssey to verify this unique photo. The documentary will also feature extensive interviews with various experts in digital facial
recognition, antique photography, geographical positioning, and vintage croquet sets.

“The historical importance of a photograph of Billy the Kid in addition to well-known members of a gang and prominent Lincoln County citizens is incalculable – that is perhaps the most fascinating piece of Western Americana that we have ever seen,” Kagin President, Donald Kagin said, in the press release.

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