Only authenticated pic of Billy the Kid sells for $2.3 million

The Upham tintype of Henry McCarty, aka William Bonney aka Billy the Kid, the sole authenticated picture of the famous outlaw, sold at Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction in Denver on Saturday for $2.3 million. The pre-sale estimate was $300,000 – $400,000, but Florida billionaire, alternative energy investor and America’s Cup winner William Koch finally took it home for eight times that amount.

According to one of Billy’s old girlfriends, the tintype was taken by a traveling photographer on the street outside Beaver Smith’s saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1879 or 1880. One of the things that makes it such an iconic image of Billy and the old West is that it’s not a posed and polished studio portrait, but rather captures the Kid wearing his crumpled hat, thick sweater, thoroughly lived-in boots and baggy pants, with his 1873 Winchester carbine rifle in his left hand and his Colt .45 single action revolver in a holster on his right hip. (This picture is the reason Billy the Kid was widely thought to have been left-handed during much of the 20th century, when in fact tintypes are mirror images so really he was holding the Winchester in his right hand.)

Tintype of Dan Dedrick, ca. 1880, included in the auction lotThe camera used to take the photo was multilense, so four identical pictures were made at the same time. This is the only one known to have survived. Billy gave it to his cattle rustling colleague Dan Dedrick, who claimed he was present when the photo was taken, and who in turn gave it to his nephew Frank L. Upham in the 1930s.

The image was already famous by then. It was first printed in the Boston Illustrated Police News, January 8, 1881, when the Kid was still alive and in the Santa Fe jail that he would break out of, killing two deputies. The year after that Pat Garrett, the sheriff who had shot the Kid dead three months after that jailbreak, published the picture in his biography The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid.

As famous as it was, within a few decades the original tintype appeared to be lost. It wasn’t until 1986 that the Upham family announced that they had lovingly kept their tintype of Billy the Kid and that they were donating it to the Lincoln County Heritage Trust in New Mexico. That is the only time the tintype was ever on public display.

There was a stipulation, however, that if the Trust ever dissolved, then ownership of the picture would revert to the Upham family. The Trust ceased to exist in 1998 and the tintype went back to the Uphams. They put it up for auction Saturday along with an 1880 tintype of Dan Dedrick, six other pictures of Dedrick and his family, plus letters and documentation, all included in the lot.

Koch intends to loan the iconic picture to several small museums before taking it home to “just enjoy.”


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Comment by Mr. Murphy in VA
2011-06-28 12:51:05

Every post on this blog offers some new insight or fascinating discovery. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen the picture of Billy the Kid and never once noticed that he was wearing a big puffy sweater. It never ocurred to me that them thar cowboys would ever stoop to a bulky knit fashion statement. I guess that watching Gunsmoke for all those many years blinded me to this curious detail.

Comment by Steve
2011-06-28 12:52:36

Really???? 2.3 million???? For a picture??? Why do rich people have to be insane???

Comment by livius drusus
2011-06-28 13:47:18

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen the picture of Billy the Kid and never once noticed that he was wearing a big puffy sweater. It never ocurred to me that them thar cowboys would ever stoop to a bulky knit fashion statement. I guess that watching Gunsmoke for all those many years blinded me to this curious detail.

If it’s any consolation, I thought it was a shirt for years, too. It wasn’t until I saw the tintype in high res while writing this entry that I saw that ribbed knit on the shoulders and sleeves. Dan Dedrick is sporting classic Gunsmoke fashions, though. ;)

Comment by INGO
2012-02-08 16:30:04

He IS wearing a shirt, same style as Dan Dedrick, with a vest on top and then an unbuttoned cardigan-sweater on top of that.
Id like to know what’s that on his chest under his bandana, looks like an Indian necklace?
Great to see all the detail, would love to see it in a museum.


Comment by Matt Recktenwald
2013-02-07 14:37:53

The motif on hie shirt is – probably – an anchor. Go for Bob Boze Bell’s book about BTK + you will see that.

Comment by carlos beltran
2013-02-13 02:21:10

yo tengo una foto de billy the kid con una rubia hermosa a un lado dee el sentado con su winchester su colt su porta balas de pecho su sombrero pa;uelo y ella apuntandole ala cien con otra pistola foto de 1800 contactenme

Comment by Anonymous
2013-12-16 06:13:21

Henry Antrim was known to have blue eyes. Take a look at the tin-type.

Comment by David Snell
2014-07-10 15:39:03

“[I]n the Santa Fe jail that he would break out of, killing two deputies.” This is, of course, incorrect. So many times you read “Billy escaped from jail, killing his two guards.” Where he was kept awaiting execution bears no resemblance whatever to a jail. He escaped from c o n f i n e m e n t .
not from jail. And, needless to say (?), he escaped in Lincoln town, not SFe.

Comment by rick stewart
2015-02-26 17:56:31

I was going through some old pictures that i got from my grandmother one of the pictures shows two men with the names biily the kid and pat garrett. I am trying to find out how i can see if the pictures are the real ones. The facial features on the one i have a very similar to the two i have seen of billy the kid. Can anyone help me.send me in the right direction.

Comment by David Snell
2015-02-27 16:02:32

The whole photo-of-the-Kid business is a real quagmire. There have been quite a few sorta possible Kid pictures surfacing lately. Of course, it all dominos back to “the only authentic” photo of him. All the other portraits are touted according to how much resemblance it bears to the “approved” one. I did some digging around, looking for the source of that “official” designation. There is nothing but a long oral tradition that supports the claim. There are IMHO other reasons to suspect that it is not he. Whether or not you believe that the picture is genuine is largely an article of faith at this point. So, even if your photo is a dead-on match of the “real” one, the question remains: Just who is this person?

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 19:25:49

Rick, I believe that I can ID your picture of who may be Billy and Pat Garrett. You can email me at: I know what the kid looked like, I think, better than anyone. If you would like,you can email me and request a copy of my pics of the kid and you can match them to yours. You will want to find out where your picture came from, possibly who owned it before you. My pictures of the kid were owned by Sallie Chisum, so provenance is good. I have a bunch of Sallie’s photographs, mostly tintypes.

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 19:33:03

Billy had clear blue eyes with brown rims and little brown spots in the cornea. His hair was brown and very wavy/curly. Curls fell over his forehead. His complexion was clear. He had a very light beard, more like peach fuzz. Billy’s mouth was narrow with full lips and he would close over slightly protruding teeth, which were really more twisted that buck. One slightly overlapped the other. He had well shaped ears and detached lobes. Billy was a nice looking young fellow and extremely youthful in appearance. While small, he was a powerful young man for his size and a wonderful athlete. He constantly smiled and laughed easily. He had a clear, fine tenor singing voice and he loved to dance.

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 19:40:58

Billy was confined in the upstairs room of the old Lincoln County Courthouse that had been the Murphy/Dolan store. There were five other prisoners held with him, but they were locked in rooms. Billy was held in the court room, chained either to the floor or to his bed. When I first visited the building, years ago, there was a steel ring in the floor, but I do not know if it was authentic or a later addition. I suspect the latter. It is no longer there. He was guarded by two men, J.W. Bell and Robt Olinger. Olinger took several prisoners across the road to eat lunch in the restaurant in the Wortley hotel. (Some stories say he ate “dinner”, but one must recall that dinner, in those days, meant lunch.) The shootings took place in the early afternoon. Billy shot Bell and then Olinger as he came running across the road.

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 19:48:25

Sallie Chisum owned a least two pictures, both tintypes, of the kid. I own most of her collection of photos, including those two. They were taken about three years apart..maybe a little less and the younger of the two, when held up to the “Upham” photo matches perfectly. Email me and I’ll send them to you. Sallie’s collection is pretty amazing and contains many of her family and friends which includes several Regulators. I found them in a little antique store in Oregon. After some years of searching I found Walter Pitzer’s heirs who used to own the collection. They sold it in a yard sale! I’ll be happy to send you copies of any that you would like to see…please don’t request all of them…there are a bunch.

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 19:52:17

Oh, now I understand David! LOL. The jail in Lincoln was a pretty miserable place. It was a hole in the ground covered by some sort of wooden shanty. A ladder was lowered down into the hole and after the prisoners climbed down there the ladder was pulled up. It would fill with water sometimes. By the time the kid was held in Lincoln that old pit jail was no longer in use.

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 19:55:49

Both of my pictures of the kid that I own show his clear blue eyes. One in particular shows them clearly. One can even see their color and the brown rims around the cornea.

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 20:00:45

Billy used to enjoy square dancing with Sallie Chisum. Dances were held often and young people would come from all around to join the fun. They would sometimes stay for a few days, like a large sleep over. They would dance until dawn. Sallie mentions in her diary that she and Billy, whom she called “Willi” would sit in chairs outside to cool off. I suspect that on evening while sitting in the gathering chill the kid complained of the cold. I think that Sallie must have run into the house and returned with her uncle’s sweater. His name was Pitzer Miller Chisum, who went by his initials PM. By this time he had left the South Springs Ranch. Billy took the sweater and kept it, Sallie didn’t care, PM had already left (He eventually returned) This is the sweater, I think, we see in the Upham photograph.

Comment by Steve McCarty
2015-05-02 20:05:09

That photograph is the forth most valuable photograph extant. I don’t know what the other three are though.

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