Five years ago, while browsing in a junk shop in Fresno, CA, antiques collector Randy Guijarro stumbled across a dusty old tintype photograph, which he bought for $2.
Since then, Kagin’s — a company specializing in Western Americana and rare coins — has spent over a year confirming that one of the people shown in the tintype is notorious frontier outlaw Billy the Kid.
After extensive research, experts have confirmed that the 4x5’’ photograph is the second known photograph of Billy the Kid (real name Henry McCarty). It is now estimated to be worth $5 million.
Billy is standing fourth from the left in the photo. He is even wearing his famous top hat, and holding a croquet mallet.
What’s more, the scene depicted in the tintype is believed to show all of the members of the famous Lincoln County Regulators gang, to which Billy belonged.
It wasn’t enough that the people in the picture bore a striking facial resemblance to the gang members. To find better evidence, they had to look closely at the setting.
They found that the scene took place at a New Mexico ranch that belonged to Englishman John Tunstall. He had immigrated to the southwest to start a lucrative cattle business. Later, he hired Billy and his gang to help him fend off his rivals.
It is believed that the photo depicts a wedding between gang member Charlie Bowdre (seated on the horse), and his bride Manuela.
To be extra sure, the experts traveled to the actual site of the ranch in New Mexico, and found that the original schoolhouse in the background of the photo was still standing, even though another structure had been built around it.
The National Geographic channel has helped immensely to source the origins of the photograph. At 9 p.m. this Sunday, it will be airing an original documentary special on the outlaw, and the hard work researchers put in to prove the validity of the photograph.
On finding this priceless artifact of American history, Randy told the Fresno Bee, "My wife and I know this is not a dream, but the reality of it all still hasn't fully hit yet, either."