Billy the Kid showed up at a flea market in North Carolina – maybe. A tiny tintype photo of the Kid, the notorious American Old West gunfighter, flanked by four other men, could turn out to be only the third authenticated photograph of Billy the Kid, born Henry McCarty. If indeed a photo of the Billy the Kid, the $10 find would be worth millions.
Writes USA Today on Jan. 11: “How Billy the Kid killed 21 men, one for each year of his short, notorious life, until he was killed by his former friend, Pat Garrett, is the stuff of Wild West legend. How lawyer Frank Abrams may have bought an authentic photograph of the infamous outlaw and the famed sheriff for $10 at Smiley’s Flea Market in Fletcher, N.C., may turn out to be an even stranger tale.”
The tintype photo – a process used in the 1800s where a direct positive is created on a thin sheet of metal and then coated with a dark lacquer or enamel – shows five men, all in hats, some with cigars. Four of them have mustaches. The man on the far right is holding a pistol.
The clean-shaven fellow in the back, second from the right, with the pronounced Adam’s apple and holding up a whiskey bottle to the right of his face, is thought to be Billy the Kid. A rouge pastel was used to color in the men’s cheeks, common for that era.
“This could be one of the most famous photos in American history. It could belong in the Metropolitan Museum,” Abrams said, referring to the Museum of Art in New York.
One person has already been identified. The heavily-mustachioed man on the far left is Pat Garrett, lawman, bartender and the eventual sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico who shot and killed Billy the Kid, also known as William H. Bonney. Garrett shot Bonney dead in a darkened bedroom when Billy unexpectedly entered.
Adds NewsOxy: “In October, National Geographic Channel aired a documentary about the strange history of a photo that showed Billy the Kid and friends playing croquet beside a cabin in New Mexico. The photo had been uncovered in a Fresno, Calif., storage locker and later bought at a flea market for $2. Investigated by a team of forensic experts, the croquet photo was insured by Kagan’s Auction House for $5 million.”
Experts are now studying the photo and performing a facial recognition analysis to determine who is in Abrams’ tintype. While no one has stepped forward to definitively say that Billy the Kid is there, no one has said he is not.
Tim Sweet, the owner of the Billy the Kid Museum in Lincoln, New Mexico, confirmed the presence of Garrett.
“That’s definitely Pat Garrett on the end,” Sweet said. “I’m not sure who the others are.” Garrett and Billy the Kid were both cattle rustlers before they became sworn enemies. Sweet said the man on the far right, with the gun, could be Dirty Dave Rudabaugh, who rode as a member of Bonney’s crew.
Abrams is hopeful that his photo will be a windfall. “I’m not going to speculate, but it would be my retirement,” he said. “I’ve only made two promises.” And those are? He promised to send some of the money to his church, and then improve the coffee that he gets each morning from the public defender’s office where he works.
“I’d like to see a poster there: Coffee courtesy of Billy the Kid and Frank Abrams,” he said.