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.”

61 thoughts on “Only authenticated pic of Billy the Kid sells for $2.3 million

  1. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been there. For those who have never visited NM, SPOILER ALERT! New Mexicans are wholly unacquainted with the concept of “hospitality.”

  2. Hi David: If a New Mexicaner learns that one is a Texan he might shoot him on sight.(exaggerating)For some reason people from these two neighboring states just don’t see eye to eye. The population in New Mexico is sparse and sometimes locals just don’t “cotton” to strangers and I too have experienced some less than charming people in New Mexico, but not always. Besides the interesting old west history of the state, one goes there to witness the amazing light. It is an artist’s dream. Because the weather is so dry many ancient structures survive and one can visit many building that Billy would have seen and entered. So that’s fun. Not the Billy the Kid is any kind of god or anything like that. He was about half thug.

  3. “He was about half thug.” Can’t agree there, Steve. Billy is very/very high on the list of the most unfairly maligned individuals in all of American history. Could you give us an example of his “thuggery?”

  4. David: While I tend to be a supporter of the kid and just as he said, it was unfair that only he stood trial for the murder of Brady, but he did indeed hide behind that gate and shoot at him…He, of course claimed that he was shooting at Billy Maxwell. Relevant? Not really. Moreover, I have never thought that the Billy did the right thing in Greathouse affair, which lead to the murder of James Carlyle. IMV Billy should have just let Carlyle go. Was the murder of Morton and Baker justified? While I understand why the Regulators did the shooting, it was cold blooded murder. Is cold blooded murder ever justified? People, like the Coe cousins who liked the kid liked him a lot. Sallie Chisum was charmed for a while by him and of course Paulita Maxwell. People who were afraid of the kid, Barney Mason and Pat Garrett, were justifiably scared to death of him.Billy would, and did, draw and shoot at the blink of the eye without a moments hesitation. The tragedy is that Billy, who was just a minor player in the LCW, was targeted by the evil Santa Fe Ring who blamed all of the ills of the LCW on the kid and those accusations stuck. They were a well organized criminal ring and maintained influence in New Mexico until the 1960s. The deck was stacked against Billy the Kid. I wonder that if Billy and Paulita had escaped to old Mexico, as they were apparently planning to do, if the kid would have been able to go straight. Henry Brown tried…didn’t work. Would the kid have been any better?

  5. Billy was at his best when bullets were in the air. Whether he liked taking chances or had a death wish he was in the thick of things during a gun battle. Frank Coe said that he never saw anybody so cool and collected when under fire. I think Billy looked forward to gun fights. He was also a excellent shot and he was what we’d call today a “gun nut”. If he wasn’t shooting his guns he was tinkering with them, taking them apart and cleaning them. One of the Coe cousins said that Billy didn’t care about money except to buy cartridges with. They were both hard to find and expensive, 50 cents a box. Billy enjoyed hanging out in saloons, but he was not a big drinker. Maybe a few beers. He wasn’t a heavy user of tobacco. He liked playing Mexican or three card monte. He was apparently good at it.
    The boy always wore a smile and he laughed often and enthusiastically. He loved to sing around the campfire. He could probably play the guitar and piano. Girls liked the kid, probably because he was crazy about them. I’m sure he’d hit them with his twin blues, flash a wide, honest smile as he lead them onto the dance floor. The kid danced as well as he shot.

  6. “Is cold blooded murder ever justified?” A prickly question. But it is justifiable. We see it in the news every day. Billy’s killings were not meant to be fair fights; they were acts of war. Why call it the LC W a r instead of BtK’s crime spree? He was a soldier. Soldiers kill. It’s their job. And it works both ways: kill or be killed. Reilly shot Juan Patron in the back, and Rynerson killed the chief justice of the NM supreme court. But thenotoriousoutlawBillytheKid (one word) is all anyone talks about.

    I’m not sure “gun nut” is the proper term, but in his arena effective gun usage wasn’t really optional. I know of no occasion when he was credited with “making a good shot,” something beyond what the ordinary reasonably-experienced person could do.

    Seen the current True West Magazine with him on the cover? I couldn’t find anything new in it. Some things were quoted out of context purely for sensationalism. Can’t really recommend it. Also can’t recommend “Chasing the Santa Fe Ring.” It’s really skitzy. Not as bad as “Alias Billy the Kid,” but pretty bad. He writes a whole book on the ring and then says, well, know what, there was no Santa Fe ring. The chapter on the LCW is all rehash.

  7. I certainly am enjoying our discussions. I have been working on pictures of the kid/Regulators for 8 years nearly in a vacuum. The Coes said that Billy was an excellent shot, shooting birds from fence rails, etc…When he turned, drew and shot John Grant in the chin it was an outstanding shot and quick! If he shot James Carlyle as he was jumping through the window, well, that was a heck of a shot too.I think that people who were afraid of the kid feared his skill with a six shooter. He was good with a Winchester too, but George Coe claimed to be a better rifle shot.

    My favorite book is Utley’s, but I’ve read about all of them. They take up an entire shelf in my library. I have not read the resent book on the Santa Fe Ring. Billy, of course never got very old and maturity was not his long suit. He was not a crazy thrill seeker, but he was the kind of guy who would have tried to become a fighter pilot. He considered standing up to danger a challenge and he enjoyed it.

    Just bought the latest issue of True West. My opinion is about like yours. If you look at the page that has the six small pics that may be the kid, mine is the top left. It enlarges beautifully. I don’t think I have your email, but if you’ll send it to me outside of this site I’ll send you one or two.

  8. I do agree that the Regulators considered the Lincoln County War a “war” indeed. They believed that they were soldiers in that war as such the killing was justified…just as is a soldier’s. But the law did not see it that way. The law was tainted and Brady and Dolan were allies. Brady was in hock to Dolan “up to here”. (Hand u to neck.) Billy, I think, thought that his shootings were justified. I’m still not sure about Carlyle though. But maybe the kid didn’t shoot.

  9. Steve McCarty, you’re right on the mark. Loved your photos!! Hey, contact me, my book has taken a turn for the better. The research in Dodge City went better than expected. 🙂

  10. Thanks everybody who contributed to this discussion. It was more enjoyable and interedting reading this than a lot of the books I’ve read on Billy the Kid. Copied and pasted and stored in my BTK folder. : )

  11. :boogie: Steve, I thought about you and all those doubters of you when this new picture of BTK surfaced. All I could think is HA!!!!!!
    See here y’all. Another picture of BTK shows up in a thrift store setting with Sallie as well…and in Fresno, not a far hop from Oregon.

    Hope all is well with you. I look forward to seeing a close up of Sallie in this picture.

  12. All tintypes are black and white, of course, but every single one of mine, that were owned by Sallie Chisum are tinted, usually at their cheeks. Tintyper’s often assigned their wives the tinting job. The photographer in this case, George W.Morgan was married and they did have children and I believe they have living heirs. Certainly his wife did the tinting.

    Both of my tintypes of the kid are so tinted. The one of the older kid is tinted in his eyes and bow tie using the same light blue color. The original tintypes are very small and it would have required a very steady hand and small brush to apply the color.

  13. AFter studying this new picture of the Kid, I think it is indeed as the owner claims it to be. The fellow who looks like the kid is probably indeed Billy. I can’t be sure of course, but all of the people look about right to me.

    I think the people are gathering for one of their popular dances “bailes” in Spanish. They would show up and dance until dawn, sleep, eat and sometimes dance for another night. In this photo the people are just showing up. Billy is playing croquet something he would enjoy doing. Is the building the dance hall that Cowjohn built on the South Springs Ranch? Could be.

  14. I think it was Billy the Kid, but I’m no expert! I do find all this interesting & have learned a lot from reading these comments. Thanks for “sharing”.

  15. Pondering that new tintype, and after seeing the documentary: I think the photo is legit.Apparently it was taken on Tunstall’s property. If that was the case then I doubt Tunstall is dead, which places the photo before Fed 18th 1878 which seems about right to me, no leaves on the trees. It is not a wedding but one of their monthly dances. If my theory is correct and the LCW has not kicked off yet there would be no guns in view. Anyway, they had kind of an unwritten law that there would be no gunplay at their dances, which were the only social events they had…other than attending church services. So we see kids playing and the adults gathering before the dance started. I don’t think the man with his outstretched arm is Tom Folliard, rather I think he is Frank McNab who would have been still living. Really hard to tell who he is. Sallie is indeed she, and I am sure of it. She wasn’t very tall, she was described to me, by someone who knew her, as “slight”.

  16. Ha! Yeah Marie, there are still photographs floating around out there that are of famous folks. However, they are very, very rare. I am constantly contacted by folks who believe thay have found a picture of Billy the Kid, etc… While possible it is very unlikely. My photographs are connected directly to Sallie Chisum, who knew the kid. Her living family recall Sallie’s pictures that I found. BUT I have found a few pictures on the internet that turned out to be authentic and I purchased them, they are of: Dick Brewer, Henry Brown, Charlie Bowdre, Ira Leonard and Robt Widenmann. These came from a sale that was from a place next to Viroqua, Wisconsin, where the photographer who took many of Sallie’s tintypes lived.

  17. Think of it this way, he was in New Mexico, what was raised there?, sheep, hence someone, most likely the Navajo probably knitted woollen sweaters and sold them to local farmers and ranchers, to beat the severe cold winters. This is just my thoughts.

  18. Some people talk here as they was knowing Billy the Kid in person !!! Nobody from us was there !! The story in Pat Garrett’s Book is a lie from the start to the end. There is not any proof… ANY, that Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid it all. Just because someone (a Alcoholic)writes a book to protect himself and be famous ? History is written on facts and conmen sense. The facts don’t line up and it would not make sense it all. Who can proof.. truly proof that Pat Garrett shot Bill the Kid on that day ?

  19. Birget: There is strong evidence that Garrett shot the kid. One is the story told by John Poe who was there and experienced it all. His testimony rings true. More over the people of Fort Sumner held an inquest the day after the Kid was killed. The transcript of that inquest is a matter of record. They found that Garrett had killed the kid in the line of duty. People who helped bury the kid lived a long time and gave many interviews to historians saying that they dug the grave and saw the Kid laid to rest. Garrett, of course, put in for the $500 reward and while it took some time, he finally collected it (twice!).

    Garrett shot and killed Billy Bonney. One of his girlfriends, Deluvina Maxwell, saw his body and turned it over. She pummeled Garrett on the chest with her fists. Crying, “You have killed by boy!”

    No, we don’t know the kid, but I feel as if I almost do. I own pictures of all of his friends taken at the time. He probably held at last some of them in his hand. We have a legend in my family that we are related to him. If so, then his father was John McCarty. John’s brother as my great great grandfather Elijah McCarty. John McCarty was captured at Chickamauga, sent to Andersonville where he died on 6 November 1864. I have seen his headstone.

    I feel as if I almost know the kid, we may share genes and I own two very clear tintype photographs of him. I know members of Sallie Chisum’s family, ranchers in Oregon. I knew a young women who said she was Sallie Chisum’s great granddaughter. My grandfather McCarty was a close friend of Sallie Chisum’s sister-in-law’s brother, Dr. Oscar H. Simpson, a Dodge City dentist. He created that concrete cowboy you see when you go to Dodge.

  20. I’ll try to characterize Billy Bonney. He never matured. He was always a kid. He was a thrill seeker and loved taking physical risks. Danger excited him. He believed that to be calm in a dangerous situation, like a gunfight. was a virtue. He loved to be the center of attention. He enjoyed being on stage. He loved to sing and dance and was know for doing both. He enjoyed little more that sitting around the camp fire telling stories, jokes and singing. He probably played the guitar. He loved guns of all kinds. If he had a hobby it was shooting, but he loved hunting and fishing too.

    He was crazy about girls and spent a lot of time wooing them. They were pretty crazy about him as well.

    He never, or seldom made long range plans. He was a spur of the moment kind of guy. He lived pretty much in the moment. Billy liked to read and while little educated he wrote well and had a pretty good understanding of the law and legal matters.

    Billy tended to trust people and he was loyal to his friends. He valued friendship and enjoyed being in the company of his pals.

    Billy may have dreamed about going straight, but he knew that unless his situation changed dramatically, he was doomed to a life of crime and he accepted his fate.

    Billy was interested in Sallie Chisum for a while, but I think he was in love with Paulita Maxwell. Th couple were probably planning to elope to Old Mexico, but before they could get away Garrett shot him in Pete Maxwell’s bedroom.

    Billy was not a wanton killer, but he would not hesitate to join into a fight, if he thought he had a good chance of coming out on top. Danger excited and challenged him. He was very confident that he’d find a way to come out on top.

    Billy loved riding and was a good horsemen. He was never a cowboy. He was a rustler.

    If you knew the kid you would find him easy to like, but he was a bit of a loose cannon. If you hung around him you’d likely find yourself in trouble. Billy avoided things that were safe and was drawn to things that were dangerous and therefore, exciting. Was the kid a bad man? Only if he thought you needed killing, and in cases like that he was a very bad man indeed.

  21. I have a picture i believe his billy the kid to whom do i take this picture i dont know what to do with it.

  22. Roosvelt, if you are still interested you can send a pic to me at and of all my what I call little Billy’s if any match I will send you back a pic. Remember lots of people like to keep these tintype people in a box. Usually William H Bonney was shot. So many of his pic’s make his eye’s look like he is on pain killers. The Dr’s would have given him what they gave women of that day. In reality there were 3 Billy the Kid’s that died within 18 months of each other. Arthur Pond, William H Bonney and Billy the Kid Claiborne. That is why there is so much on Billy the Kid.
    Arthur Pond was The King of The Highwaymen. Both him and Bonney were locked up in Santa Fe within 2 months of each other. Billy the Kid Claiborne says he killed 3 men for not calling him Billy the Kid. Arthur was lynched in Del Norte, Co. A few months later Bonney was killed by Pat Garrett. Several months later Claiborne was killed by the Earp’s.
    Legend runs these men together, Fact separates them.

  23. Good morning. My name is Bill I had just stumbled onto this forum. I just love old images and the history behind them. I am now studying about the outlaws of the old west. I have several questions and may also add to some of the discussion. Bill

  24. I am getting ready to sell my old Civil War images. I have been having some health problems and weeding through them. I am hoping there is a lot of old west and soldiers on this blog? I have had this cabinet card for about 20 years. I am 100% it is of Dave Rudabaugh. I didn’t know then of what I had. Just another interesting image in my collection. It pictures 3 young fellows smoking cigars and holding their poker hand to show in the photo. I am not sure who the other two are. My question here is now, what do I do with it? How do I get it looked at by the right people? I know there are a lot of gold diggers hoping to find that rare Billy The Kid. When I started collecting images 30 years ago, it was because I loved one of the kind stuff. Tintypes, ambrotypes, cdv, dags, and albumen were mostly one photo of the guy or gal. Now I am looking at value and rarity since I am getting ready to sell my collection. Any ideas as to how I can get a forensic study of my Rudabaugh to match the originals?

  25. I bought 8 tintypes thinking 1 looked like Billy. Doing some research I think I have Sallie Chisum also.The other pics may be matches to the Chisums and Paulita Maxwell family.Would like you to look at them for your opinion. You seem to have so much knowledge, thanks

  26. Hello Steve. I have been reading and viewing your work for some time. I am Bill Miller. I have the cabinet card of three men holding cards. One of Dave Rudabaugh. On the back it has a message from a Kate Bender. I had picked this card up many years ago from out west. I didn’s pay much attention to it at the time. I just collected old images. Then a several years ago I ran across an image owned by a young man that claimed his was of Dave Rudabaugh. I was surprised that mine looked just like a fellow in my cabinet card. I had it looked at by a forensic expert from out west. In face two of them. They are convinced mine is of the same fellow. The expert said the back has a famous outlaw name Kate Bender. He was known to like cigars, playing cards, and was a womans man. I did not know anything of these bout him. I am not sure if it was you? I ran across an article of a Steve McCarty that had FAKE on the card of mine. Can you contact me about this photo? I am getting old and want to put it up for auction someday soon. Thanks Bill 330 608 2369

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