The Wild West is without a doubt synonymous with outlaws, cowboys, and gunslingers, among them the notorious Billy the Kid. Countless tales and legends tell us what we know and perceive about these outlaws, but we occasionally get treated to some rare memorabilia—such as Billy the Kid’s $2.3 million portrait.
The rare and only surviving photograph of Billy the Kid above was recently sold at $2.3 million, making it the 4th most expensive photograph in the world. But, what exactly makes this photograph special and the outlaw notorious? Allow us to tell you the lowdown.
History has quite a paradoxical profile of Billy the Kid, who went by the names William Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, and William H. Bonney. He was a wanted man—a cowboy, cattle rustler, and dangerous gunman by profession. A legend tells of 21 men meeting their demise through Billy the Kid’s hands, yet some stories say only around four to nine. However, he was also seen as a “beloved folk hero”—a friendly, agreeable person, a “neat dresser” who loves simple Mexican sombreros, and a cunning gunman adept at firearms.
On June 25, 2011, Billy the Kid’s portrait was sold to private collector and Old West enthusiast William Koch during an auction in Denver, USA. Assumed to be taken around 1879 to 1800, the gunslinger’s portrait was taken using tintype, an early photographic process that used metal plates. He was wearing layered clothing and a scrunched hat, had a Colt revolver on his left side, and was standing while holding a Winchester carbine on his right hand. The aged photograph not only affirmed the classic Old West look, but also dispelled the myth that the outlaw was left-handed.
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