Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2015 Issue

A $5 Million Photograph, Purchased for $2 in an Antique Shop

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Close up of man thought to be Billy The Kid in Guijarro's photo (left), and the only known photo of Billy (right).

This brings us back to 2015 and Guijarro's photo. He thought one of the men in the photograph might be Billy, and some of the others his fellow Regulators. He had face recognition analyses performed on some of the figures which showed a likelihood of identity. He then went to Lincoln County and attempted to find the location of the photograph, primarily using the shape of the hills in the background. He headed for the area of Tunstall's ranch, and with the assistance of the current owners, found a spot that appeared to be the same, not that far from Tunstall's home. Kagan's experts would later visit the same location and reach the same conclusion. There is a building at the spot, and they concluded that despite changes, it was the same one. If so, it is hard to imagine who else would have been photographed there at this time besides Tunstall's employees, the Regulators and their friends.

 

This takes us to the great incongruity in the photo. Why would Billy and his cohorts be playing croquet? How on earth did a croquet set appear on the desolate back country ranch lands of 19th century New Mexico? The answer is John Tunstall. He was an Englishman. He brought a set with him. He alluded to playing croquet in his diary.

 

Kagan's has dated the photograph to late summer 1878, after a wedding. By this time, the brief Lincoln County War had come to an end, though there would be scattered related killings in the years ahead. If the timing, location, and participants in this photograph are as said, it's an indication that while they were in hiding, they must not have had to take hiding too seriously. Hiding out on Tunstall's property would have been hiding in plain sight. They certainly do not appear to be the least bit concerned.

 

Perhaps more authentication will be needed before someone shells out $5 million for this photograph, or maybe there is enough now. We aren't certain. What we can say is for those who treasure hunt for old books and paper, there are still some prizes to be found. Even if you don't achieve quite the level of success as Randy Guijarro, the fun is still in the chase.


Posted On: 2015-11-13 18:10
User Name: laurelle

And, The territorial Governor of New Mexico at the time was General Lew Wallace, author of "Ben Hur".


Rare Book Monthly

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