Billy the Kid photo for sale in Denver: Price tag $400,000?

A credit-card-sized tintype of William H. McCarty, alias William Bonney, alias Billy the Kid -- arguably the single most famous photograph to emerge from the Wild West -- will be up for public sale for the first time ever in Denver next weekend. And no, the young desperado in the photo doesn't look anything like Paul Newman, Kris Kristofferson, Emilio Estevez, or any of the other actors who played the Kid in the movies. Well, Michael Pollard, maybe.

Experts regard the tintype as the only authenticated surviving image of the Kid. It was taken around 1879, outside a saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, when McCarty was barely out of his teens and already a budding cattle thief and jailbird. (Note the shabby clothes and goofy hat in the larger image below.) The Kid gave it to his pal Dan Dedrick, and it's been in the family ever since. It's occasionally shown up in museum shows and has been featured in numerous books on the Kid, including one by Pat Garrett, the sheriff who gunned Billy down on July 14, 1881--130 years ago next month.

The photo will be up for auction at Brian Lebel's Old West Show & Auction at the Denver Merchandise Mart June 24-26, with an anticipated sale price in the $300,000-$400,000 range.

That's a more magnificent range than Billy ever rode. The New York Times reported that there will be "armed guards" when the photo is previewed June 24, just in case some varmint in the crowd decides to turn outlaw.

That would be a bad move. Ask Billy.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast