Accessibility links

Junk Store Photo of Billy the Kid Valued At Millions

  • Zlatica Hoke

A California couple purchased three Old West photographs for $2 from a junk store in Fresno, California, only to learn that one of them -- the earliest known image of the world famous Wild West outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid -- may be worth $5 million.

Experts say the 1878 tintype photo is so valuable because it is a rare historic document.

McCarty, who also used the pseudonym William H. Bonney, is one of the most notorious 19th-century U.S. outlaws.

Wild West outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid

Wild West outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid

Books and movies have made Billy the Kid a celebrity -- known to Wild West fans at home and abroad.

But now a photo from the summer of 1878, showing the gunman playing croquet with his gang members and family, is serving as a basis for a new documentary.

"It's the holy grail of not just Western photography -- it's the holy grail of photography. It is the rarest photograph in the world and it was found in a Fresno junk shop," said Jeff Aiello, the film's director.

That happened in 2010, when a couple picked up the photograph from a box of old photos in a local secondhand store.

Wild West outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid

Wild West outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid

The couple first chose two photos featuring women. Then, a third one depicting a country scene caught the husband's eye.

"So I picked it back up and (thought), it's got a hole on top, kind of beat up," Randy Guijarro of Fresno remembers. "OK, so I got those three photographs for two bucks."

But a reputable Americana expert recently appraised the photo at $5 million, and film director Aiello found it useful in making his documentary "Billy the Kid -- New Evidence."

Wild West outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid

Wild West outlaw Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid

He said it helped him find remnants of the New Mexico house where the photo was taken. "We found the old lumber underneath. We found those exact rock piers are still there," he said.

The director's wife, Jill Aiello, who has aided the research, said it has helped to identify one of the women in the photo who recorded some of the contemporary events. "I found that not only did Sally Chisolm have a diary, but she also has a journal that predates the diary," Jill Aiello remembers.

Billy the Kid, nicknamed for his youthful looks, participated in a deadly factional war in the New Mexico Territory in 1878, shortly after the photo was taken. He escaped after his group lost a decisive battle and was killed by authorities three years later.

XS
SM
MD
LG