Inside the Capitol

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Billy photo, computer probs again. Hope this works

FRI, 4-29-11

       SANTA FE – After eight years of former Gov. Bill Richardson promoting Billy the Kid, one might think it should be all over. But Billy never dies.

       Now it is Billy's one remaining authenticated picture that s causing a stir. Billy had a tintype made, probably in Fort Sumner near the beginning of 1880. Photography was in its infancy.

       There were perhaps as many as a half-dozen photographers in New Mexico and they all had studios. None were traveling, itinerant photographers. So this one may have been on the edge of his compentcy.

       Many have wondered how such a homely boy was able to charm girls and women wherever he traveled. One reason may have been the adjustments the photographer made for the late afternoon shadows that distorted the image. Another possibility is the agonizingly long time it took to pose for a photograph. Billy may have been clowning around and making faces.

       The tintype now is being auctioned on June 25 at Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction in Denver. Collector Bob McCubbin, of Santa Fe, estimates the picture will go for $100,000 to $1 million. Lebel pegs the amount between $300,000 and $400,000.

       McCubbin says there is no more famous photograph in the world. Some call it the Holy Grail of photography. Several museums are known to want it but some fabulously wealthy people want it for their personal possession, including the Koch brothers, most recently known for the phone conversation one of them didn't have with the new governor of Wisconsin.

       This is the lone surviving tintype of the group of four duplicates that the photographer cut apart after shooting them. It is known that Billy kept one, which later was retained by fellow rustler Dan Dedrich after Billy's death. The tintype now belongs to Dedrich's great nephew Frank Upham of Northern California.

       During the mid-1980s, the tintype was loaned to the Lincoln County Trust for display in its museum in Lincoln. During that display, some say the tintype turned almost completely black from exposure in the air. Lebel says that did not happen, that the tintype did not have to be restored and that it still is in good shape.

       Whatever might be the truth; the tintype now is kept in an oxygen-free envelope and is in sufficiently good shape to attract some big money.

       The image definitely is reversed. Otherwise, The Kid wore women's clothes. It must have been a cold day because Billy wore several layers, all of which buttoned on the wrong side for a man. Gun enthusiasts also can see clues in his firearms.

       But it is still popular to think of Billy as left handed, possibly because of the sinister connotation, which we left handers don't appreciate. Would "The Right-Handed Gun" have sold as many movie tickets?

       Researchers allow that there may have been another authentic picture of Billy. A half-tone from G.B. Anderson's "History of New Mexico Resources and People" is thought by some historians to be authentic but the original never has been found.

       So Billy still is causing a commotion. The question about his pardon was resolved on the last day of former Gov. Bill Richardson's term when he decided that Gov. Lew Wallace's reasons for not issuing Billy his promised pardon in 1881 were unclear.

       That still hasn't ended the controversies, however. Remember the Lincoln County sheriffs who went over to Prescott, AZ, to dig up John Miller, whom some thought was Billy? They dug up two bodies with a back hoe and said one looked like Billy, complete with chest wound.

       A sheriff sent a DNA sample to a Texas lab along with a sample from the work bench on which they said Billy died. Nothing has been heard from the lab or the sheriff. Does that mean no match exists? Dr. Gale Cooper, a historian and author, says it leaves a doubt that must be clarified so the public won't be misled.


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