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Man Finds Rare Wild West Photo Worth Millions at Flea Market

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billy the kid

Flea markets are often filled with useless cheap junk, but every once in a while, there is a true treasure. Recently, one unsuspecting man discovered one such treasure, a rare piece of American history that changed everything we know about the Wild West. The famous person in the photo was legendary outlaw Billy the Kid. Even more shocking was another man who appeared next to him. Many books and songs have been written about the mysterious figure that is Billy the Kid, but nobody knew much more about him until this surprising photo appeared at a flea market in North Carolina. Read on to see why this random flea market find shocked historians everywhere.

1. An Amazing Find

One day in 2011 a man named Frank Abrams was out shopping at a local flea market when something caught his eye: a very old tintype photograph. A tintype is a photograph that is made on a thin sheet of metal by using a direct positive of the image.

Checkingfax/Wikimedia Commons

This type of photography was popular during the 1860s and 1870s. In the average flea market in North Carolina, it is common to find such photos depicting everyday scenes in the Old South, but this photo was different. What tipped him off?

2. Six Long Years

Abrams bought the tintype photo at the flea market for a mere $10, but it wouldn’t be until six years later that he would come to discover the actual worth of the picture and who the people were in the photo.

billy the kid flea market

Photo by Szilas/Wikimedia Commons

For the time being Abrams hung the photo in one of his spare bedrooms, one that he rented out to guests on Airbnb. There it stayed for the next six years until he found out what a rare find it actually was.

3. Jesse James and Billy the Kid

Frank Abrams knew there was something special about this tintype photograph because it was a picture taken in the Wild West, not the Old South, which is common to find in the region. He would even joke with his guests, telling them that it was a photo of Jesse James.

Print Collector/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The thought that the tintype photograph might be one of a Wild West legend like Jesse James came to Abrams’ mind after seeing a documentary about a different tintype photo. Jesse James was a notorious outlaw and the leader of the James-Younger Gang throughout the 1860s and 1870s. So who was in the photo?

4. The Wild West

The documentary that inspired Abrams to look deeper into the photo’s subjects was about the discovery of a tintype photo of the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid. The documentary stated that almost no photographs of Billy the Kid exist today.

Billy the Kid rare pic

Ben Wittick/Wikimedia Commons

It turned out the photo wasn’t of Jesse James, but it was pretty close. Abrams, being the history buff he is, quickly started researching and trying to identify the people in his photo. The mystery became more interesting the more he researched.

5. The Search Begins

Abrams’ research led him to believe that one of the men in the photo was Pat Garrett, the man responsible for the death of Billy the Kid. He compared and contrasted as much as he could by himself then he started searching for Billy the Kid.

billy the kid

Ben Wittick/Wikimedia Commons

Abrams started searching for experts who would be able to assist him with the identification of the people in the tintype photo, as well as the photo’s authenticity. There was always a chance that the photo was a fake and worthless.

6. A Close Resemblance

As far as Abrams could tell, one of the men in the photo closely resembled Billy the Kid, and another man in the photo looked like it could be his killer, Pat Garrett. It didn’t take him long at all to find the right people to figure it out.

Pat Garrett

Materialscientist/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Abrams set out to confirm that the photograph was an authentic tintype of Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett. He made sure to be as thorough as possible, not leaving any stone unturned and connecting with the best experts available.

7. Possible Goldmine

Should the photo be authentic, that would make it the only known photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett together in existence. But the task of verifying whether the photo was of them and indeed authentic wouldn’t be easy.

Billy the Kid & Pat Garrett only known photo

Glen Lewis/Pinterest

The process would take Abrams months to complete and he would have to meet with multiple people to inspect the tiny photograph. Even though the process would take a very long time, it could all be worth it if the photo turned out to be a rare piece of history.

8. The Experts

Abrams consulted with forensic analysts and college professors with expertise on Billy the Kid. A forensic analyst was able to confirm, by using facial recognition software, that the small tintype photo that Abrams bought for $10 at a flea market was of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.

forensic testing expert

IAEA Imagebank/Wikimedia Commons

The photo was also taken to a handwriting expert in Texas to confirm the signature on the back. To Abrams’ delight, the expert was able to match the signature with at least ten other known handwriting samples from Pat Garrett.

9. Very Rare

Frank Abrams’ find is a huge event in the history of Billy the Kid as we know it. There are very few pictures of him in existence and to find one with the man who killed him, Pat Garrett, is even rarer.

pat garrett

American Stock Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Another expert looked at the time frame the picture would have been taken and deducted that the tintype photo was taken sometime between 1875 and 1880. “This is completely unknown, that Garrett and Billy are in a picture together,” said Abrams. “This is amazing, everybody is excited.”

10. To Sell or Not to Sell

Abrams told reporters that he feels like one of the luckiest people in the world for having stumbled across the super rare photo. He jokingly added that he should have been charging more for his Airbnb room since that’s where he hung the photo.

Bettmann/Getty Images

Since discovering that his tintype wasn’t just a photo of five unknown cowboys from the Wild West, Abrams has since moved the priceless piece of history to a safe deposit box. But for the time being he isn’t looking to sell the photo.

11. Bargain Buy

Abrams paid a mere $10 at a local flea market for the tintype photo, only to find out that the picture of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett would be worth a small fortune. But still, he doesn’t know exactly how much it’s worth.

pat garratt

Bettmann/Getty Images

What we do know though, is that the photo is definitely worth millions. But Abrams isn’t looking to sell the valuable Wild West relic just yet. He is more interested in the history behind the piece and the story that it portrays.

12. Croquet Kid

Just a few years before Abrams discovered the stunning truth behind his old photo, another ultra-rare snapshot of Billy the Kid was found. Randy Guijarro, an antique collector, stumbled across an old tintype photo at a store in Fresno, California.

billy the kid - Randy Guijarro

Inside Edition/YouTube

Guijarro paid a mere $2 for the photograph which showed people playing a game of croquet in front of a schoolhouse. Experts believe that the photo shows all the members of the Lincoln County Regulators gang, the gang Billy the Kid belonged to.

13. The Inspiration

The tintype photograph Randy Guijarro purchased has been fully authenticated and its net worth is estimated to be around $5 million. At the time it was only the second known photograph of the infamous gunfighter known as Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kid


The company that confirmed the photo’s authenticity spent over a year painstakingly analyzing and researching the tintype photo before they finally gave it their stamp of approval. National Geographic even produced a special program about the finding of Guijarro’s photograph.

14. Historic Find

The National Geographic special about Randy Guijarro’s photo of Billy the Kid was the exact documentary that sparked Frank Abrams’ curiosity about his own Wild West photo. But Guijarro didn’t have an easy time convincing people to listen to him, let alone believe him.

billy the kid only known photo


Many thought he was wrong about the photo and many just didn’t want to listen to him altogether. This is because every time a historic and valuable item is discovered, loads of people come forward claiming they too have a similar object of value.

15. Worth the Wait

Most of the time people are wrong, seeing as there are only a handful of known Billy the Kid photos in existence. They are driven by the small fortune one of the pictures would bring them. The very first picture found of Billy the Kid sold for $2.3 million.

billy the kid story - horses

Noé Alfaro/Flickr

Randy Guijarro spent a total of five years trying to get his tintype photograph authenticated. But in the end, he says it was well worth the wait. “There were highs and lows. It was a bit of a lonely journey. This picture was almost Twilight Zone-ish. Too good to be true.”

16. Explorers

Randy Guijarro’s photo, it turns out, was taken after a wedding, just one month after the Lincoln County war in 1878. He said that he is going to use the money from the Billy the Kid photograph to keep exploring and do more treasure hunting.

Billy the kid rare photo

Fototeca Storica Nazionale/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“I hope this prompts others out there to look into trunks and attics because there are so many lost treasures out there,” Guijarro told The Guardian. He also has plans to pay off his debts and buy a new car.

17. Possible Origin

No one is quite sure where Frank Abrams’ tintype photograph came from or how it ended up in a flea market in North Carolina, but one theory exists. It is possible that it once belonged to author, journalist, postmaster, and Justice of the Peace Marshall Ashmun Upson.

Sheriff Pat Garratt billy the kid story

Pekkate/Wikimedia Commons

Upson was the ghostwriter of a book called The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. He lived from 1828 to 1894 and was asked personally to write the book by Sheriff Pat Garrett. The book is notable for being one of the very few references to the life of Billy the Kid and for spreading the legend of his wild tales, some of which were untrue.

18. The Legend of Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid was born in the fall of 1859 in Manhattan, New York City. His birth name was Henry McCarty. Later in life, he also went by the name William H. Bonney. Both of his parents were Irish immigrants.

billy the kid born in nyc

Detroit Publishing Co. , copyright claimant/Wikimedia Commons

His parents, Patrick McCarty and Catherine Devine, fled Ireland during the great potato famine which was responsible for over one million deaths between the years 1845 and 1852. Growing up, Billy spoke both Irish and English. It is also believed that he learned Spanish later in life.

19. The Life of Henry McCarty

Billy’s father Patrick died years before. Over the years, the McCarty family moved several times. After the death of the father, they moved from New York City to Indianapolis. Then they moved to Wichita, Kansas and then lastly to the then-territory of New Mexico.

wild west pic

Fotosearch/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Billy was only 14 years old when his mother Catherine died of tuberculosis in 1874. Since he was left with not parents and tragically became an orphan, Billy the Kid moved to a boarding house where he worked for his room and board.

20. First Crimes

Just shortly after Billy’s mother died and he moved into the boarding house, he committed his very first crime (at least one on official record). He was caught stealing food. From there, his crimes escalated quite rapidly, both in nature and frequency.

Billy the Kid

John Hacker, Andy Thomas/Wikimedia Commons

Just 10 short days later, he and a friend of his, George Schaefer, robbed a Chinese laundry. Together they stole clothing and firearms. Both were charged with theft and put in jail. But as it turned out, it wasn’t easy to keep Billy the Kid behind bars.

21. The Great Escape

Just two days after being captured and put in jail, Billy the Kid escaped. He found his stepfather and stayed with him but was eventually thrown out. Before that, though, Billy stole a few guns and some clothes from his stepfather.

escaping prison - billy the kid

Bain News Service, publisher/Wikimedia Commons

Now a fugitive of the law, Billy fled to Arizona Territory and earned money by helping out on a ranch. In Arizona, Billy started gambling and he became friends with another criminal named John R. Mackie. Around this time he started going by the alias “Kid Antrim.” Antrim was his stepfather’s last name.

22. The Kid

The man who was born by the name Henry McCarty was often referred to as “The Kid” due to his clean-shaven appearance, slight build, and his youthfulness. But he wasn’t just a cute little kid and he would soon become someone to be feared.

Billy the Kid notorious

Bettmann/Getty Images

In August of 1877 a local blacksmith, Francis Cahill, who had been bullying The Kid took one step too far and had to be dealt with. Billy and Cahill got into an argument that escalated into a fight and Billy shot Cahill at point blank range. Cahill died the next day.

23. Once Again

Billy the Kid was on the run for a few days but was captured by a justice of the peace. Yet again he proved to be hard to hold on to. Before the sheriff could arrive, Billy escaped, making it the second time he escaped custody.

Billy the kid wanted dead or alive

Bettmann/Getty Images

From there he fled back to New Mexico territory, where he had to be nursed back to health after being forced to walk part of the long way home because Apaches stole his horse. Billy then joined up with a band of cattle rustlers in Lincoln County and pretty soon the war broke out.

24. Notoriety

By this point, Billy’s name had been mentioned in multiple newspapers and he was gaining notoriety as an outlaw. Then the gang he was a part of, known today as the Lincoln County Regulators, got into a feud with a rival gang.

notorious around town - billy the kid

Atwngirl/Wikimedia Commons

The feud started because the rival gangs both wanted control of the county’s dry goods and cattle markets. From there the situation escalated into what would come to be known as the Lincoln County War, a series of revenge killings.

25. War Rages On

The war started after a member of the rival posse shot and killed John Tunstall while attempting to seize his cattle. The murder was the starting point of the all-out war in Lincoln County between the two groups, both vying for power.

billy the kid wanted

Winkelvi/Wikimedia Commons

The war raged on for around six months, resulting in dozens of deaths and neither side coming out victorious. Both of the competing gang factions collapsed and distrust and hatred grew in the region. The surviving members of the Regulators faction all became wanted men — including Billy the Kid.

26. Dead or Alive

The various members of the gang disbanded and scattered, and all of them had a price on their heads. Sheriff Pat Garrett, a former friend of Billy the Kid, vowed to hunt down every last one of them, including the Kid.

Billy the Kid rare pic

ullstein bild/Getty Images

For the next few years, Billy the Kid was on the run from law enforcement and he had numerous near misses and escapes from their clutches. Then in 1880, a bounty of $500 (around $11,000 today) was placed on his head.

27. The Capture

On December 23, Sheriff Garrett and his posse, after a fierce gun battle, captured four members of the Regulators and killed two other. Billy the Kid was among the captured outlaws. They were all shackled and sent off for sentencing.

sentencing billy the kid

PD-USGOV-MILITARY./Mattflaschen/Wikimedia Commons

The captured outlaws were met at one of the train depots by an angry mob and Billy later told reporters “if I only had my Winchester I’d lick the whole crowd,” referring to his Winchester rifle he was so known for.

28. The Verdict

Billy the Kid was given no leniency from the judge. Billy was sentenced on May 13, 1881 to hang for his crimes. He had one month to live. But would law enforcement be able to hold notorious Billy the Kid for that long without him escaping again?

billy the kid the verdict

Baker Co., Chicago/Wikimedia Commons

No, they, in fact, were not capable of such a feat. After a scuffle, obtaining a gun, killing a deputy and getting a horse, he escaped jail yet again. According to some of the legends, Billy the Kid was singing a song while he rode out of town.

29. A Last Hurrah

It took almost three months, but Sheriff Garrett finally caught up with Billy the Kid. This time he was out for blood. After hearing rumors that he was in the area of Fort Sumner, Garrett stopped by one of Billy’s old friends and set up an ambush.

Billy the Kid

Sam Vast/Wikimedia Commons

Sheriff Garrett was sitting in a dark room of the friend’s house when Billy the Kid suddenly entered and Garrett shot him twice, one bullet pierced the Kid’s heart, killing him instantly. Ever since his death, however, rumors have been swirling that Billy the Kid didn’t die that day and that he had been spotted numerous times, possibly in South America.

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