Iconic Billy the Kid photograph up for auction

Sat Jun 25, 2011 12:05pm EDT
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By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - One of the most iconic photographs taken of a 19th-century Wild West outlaw, that of legendary gunslinger Billy the Kid, is up for auction on Saturday, when it is expected to sell for at least $300,000.

The credit card-sized tintype, or ferrotype, of an armed Billy the Kid wearing a tall black hat cocked on his head, is the only authenticated photo of the infamous gunman, according to Brian Lebel, owner of Old West Auctions.

"This is the Holy Grail of photographs," Lebel told Reuters at an auction preview.

Other purported photos of Billy the Kid have surfaced over the years, but none has ever been conclusively verified as an image of him.

Hardly resembling any of the Hollywood actors, Paul Newman among them, who portrayed the Kid in various movies, the tintype depicts a snaggletoothed young man grasping the upright barrel of a Winchester carbine rifle, a holstered Colt single-action pistol strapped to his hip.

In the reverse, mirror-image of the tintype, the holster appears to be on the Kid's left side, leaving the false impression that he was left-handed. The 1958 Newman movie about the outlaw was even called "The Left Handed Gun."

The picture was likely taken by a traveling photographer outside a saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in late 1879 or early 1880, long before the Kid became a legendary figure in American Western lore, Lebel said.

Myths continue to swirl around the gunslinger, who was born Henry McCarty but known in New Mexico as William Bonney and reputed to have killed 21 men.   Continued...

<p>Henry McCarty, a.k.a. Billy the Kid, is pictured in this undated photograph obtained by Reuters on December 16, 2010. REUTERS/Library of Congress/Handout</p>