June 26, 2011 / 2:49 PM / in 6 years

Rare Billy the Kid photograph sold for $2.3 million

<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>

DENVER (Reuters) - The only authenticated photograph of infamous Wild West gunslinger Billy the Kid was auctioned off to Florida billionaire William Koch for an $2.3 million on Saturday night.

Koch, an energy company executive and well-known collector of art and American West artifacts, placed the winning bid in person before stunned onlookers at Brian Lebel’s annual Old West Auction in Denver.

Lebel said at an auction preview that he expected the tintype image to sell for between $300,000 and $400,000.

Koch told Reuters after the auction that he plans to allow some small museums to display the piece, and after that he will “just enjoy” the iconic piece.

“I love the old West,” he said. “This is a part of American history.”

The metallic photo, taken outside a Fort Sumner, New Mexico, saloon in late 1879 or early 1880, depicts the outlaw gripping the upright barrel of a Winchester carbine, with a Colt 45 pistol strapped to his hip.

The photograph was owned by the descendants of Dan Dedrick, who was given the photo by his cattle rustling partner, Billy the Kid himself.

Born Henry McCarty, but known in New Mexico as William Bonney, the Kid was shot dead at age 22 by lawman Pat Garrett in 1881, months after a jailbreak in which Bonney reportedly killed two deputies.

In the 130 years since his death, Billy the Kid has been depicted, with varying degrees of accuracy, in scores of popular culture movies and books.

Koch’s winning bid was actually $2 million, but a $300,000 “buyer’s premium” was tacked on, bringing the total selling price to $2.3 million, an auction spokeswoman said.

Brian Lebel said he was pleased that the photo wasn’t sold to an overseas buyer.

“I‘m happy that it will stay in this country and will be shared with the public,” he said.

Koch is one of the sons of Fred C. Koch, founder of Wichita, Kansas-based energy conglomerate Koch Industries, one of the largest private companies in the United States.

Editing by Steve Gorman and Ellen Wulfhorst

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