Randy Guijarro is living out every collector’s dream. Several years ago, he picked up some old photographs for $2 at a memorabilia shop in Culver County, California. After more closely inspecting one of the photos, he had a hunch that it was none other than the American outlaw legend, Billy the Kid. Now, after five years of attempting to prove his hunch, the photograph has been officially authenticated and insured for $5 million.
He purchased the photographs simply because he liked the way they looked, initially having no idea what he had on his hands. In an interview with National Geographic, who has an upcoming documentary on the subject, he said “When I got to the guy wearing the hat, I went, “Wow, he’s really familiar, what’s up?” I’m familiar with Billy the Kid, so I knew who he was and what he looked like. I really looked hard and said, “Man, this is Billy the Kid, I can’t believe it!” To me it was striking—the way he was standing, the hat, everything.”
He and his wife spent a year researching and reading up on the outlaw and his gang, then spent the next four years traveling throughout the Southwest calling people, speaking with experts, and going to western shows.
Guijarro’s photo is a 4 x 5 inch tintype and shows The Kid alongside four of his gang members and his girlfriend in 1878, apparently enjoying a game of croquet. The photograph is incredibly rare, as just one other photograph of the legendary outlaw exists. The other authenticated photo of Billy the Kid was taken in 1880 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and sold at a Denver auction to billionaire businessman William Koch in 2011 for $2.3 million.
Kagin’s Inc., a numismatics firm, authenticated the photo earlier this month after a year of careful inspection. Kagin’s senior numismatist, David McCarthy, says “When we first saw the photograph, we were understandably skeptical — an original Billy the Kid photo is the Holy Grail of Western Americana… We had to be certain that we could answer and verify where, when, how and why this photograph was taken. Simple resemblance is not enough in a case like this — a team of experts had to be assembled to address each and every detail in the photo to ensure that nothing was out of place.
After more than a year of methodical study including my own inspection of the site, there is now overwhelming evidence of the image’s authenticity.”
Billy the Kid is one of the most iconic legends of the American West. Some say he killed 21 men over his lifetime before dying at the age of 21 at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner in 1881. Guijarro’s discovery is incredibly fortunate, and has now become an important part of Western American folklore.
The National Geographic documentary, narrated by Kevin Costner, airs Sunday, October 18th at 9/8c.