Last week I commented on the Billy the Kid PBS special and how the famous picture of Billy the Kid kept appearing on the screen over and over.

That’s because there are only two authentic photographs of Billy the Kid presently in existence.  The most famous one is a two-by-three-inch ferrotype or tintype, taken by an unknown itinerant photographer outside Beaver Smith’s Saloon in Old Fort Sumner, around 1880…Because it portrays Billy as a very unattractive person, many have called it his visa picture.

Originally people didn’t realize that since it was a tintype, the image was actually reversed.  So, everyone though Billy the Kid was left handed. This misconception even inspired the 1958 movie “The Left Handed Gun,” starring Paul Newman as Billy. 

Finally firearms experts looked at the Kid’s Winchester and noticed its spring plate, where the cartridges are loaded, was on the left side.  But Winchester produced firearms with spring plates only on the right side.  So, later books and publications have the reversed image reversed, so it’s correct.

Recently this picture went on the auction block and a retired Wichita industrialist who collects everything from Wild West memorabilia to Picassos bought it for $2 million…Incidentally, it was thought it would go for about $300,000.


Saw the Billy the Kid TV show.  If you didn’t you missed a great biography.  That Billy the Kid was sure a unique individual.

Two things struck me about the show.  First, most of the talking heads are friends.  And let me tell you, they picked the cream of the crop.

The second thing was that it was obvious and sad that there is only one picture of Billy the Kid.

That picture has an interesting history.  Right now I’m on my way to Denver, CO.  When I get home, I’ll tell you a bit about the history.



On January 10th at 9/8 Central PBS history series AMERICAN EXPERIENCE will be kicking off a month-long “Wild West” collection with a new show about Billy the Kid.

This should be a must see for anyone interested in The Kid.


Billy Wilson and Pat Garrett

Billy Wilson and Pat GarrettDuring the Old West men changed names so freely that sometimes there’s confusion as to their real ones, and their aliases. Some say the subject of today’s story’s real name was Billy Wilson; others David Anderson. In reality, what a man calls himself isn’t important; it’s what he does while using that name. Under the name of Billy Wilson, our man came to Lincoln County, New Mexico and bought a livery stable. Later he sold it, and was paid in crisp new $100 bills. Unknown to him, they were counterfeit. On the run for passing counterfeit money, he joined Billy the Kid and his renegade posse.     
In 1881 Pat Garrett arrested our man. Wilson was sentenced to 25 years for counterfeiting. But, he escaped jail, and went to Texas. There he used another name… David Anderson.        
Our man, using his new identity, bought a ranch. This time he used real money, got married, had children and became a respected citizen of the area. But, eventually his real identity was discovered, and it seemed he would be returned to New Mexico to serve his sentence.          
But a strange thing happened. The governor of New Mexico filed a petition to have our man given a Presidential pardon. Accompanying the petition were about 25 letters, including one from Pat Garrett, the man who originally arrested him. Our man was granted his pardon. 
David Anderson eventually became the county sheriff. But on June 14, 1918, unarmed, David confronted a young man who was causing a disturbance. The kid pulled a pistol, and killed Sheriff Anderson. Unlike Anderson, the young man was given no chance to reform his life. Within an hour of Anderson’s death, he was hanged.  


Sometimes in life a person needs to let well enough alone, and not push an issue.  Billy Claiborne should have learned that lesson. Billy ClairbornUnfortunately, on November 14, 1882 he didn’t let well enough alone, and paid the ultimate price.

 Billy Claiborne was born in Louisiana in 1862.  He came out west where he worked for cattleman “Texas” John Slaughter.

Billy was a cocky young man who would swagger when he walked.  And he carried two guns.  His friends started calling him “Billy the Kid” after the real “Billy the Kid”.  Billy Claiborne liked the name, and so did the girls.  He even started referring to himself as “Billy the Kid” Claiborn.

Now, as time passed, Billy wandered down to Tombstone, Arizona and there he hooked up with the McLaurys and Clantons.

On October 26, 1881 “Billy the Kid” Claiborne found himself with the McLaurys and Clantons in a Tombstone, Arizona alley facing the Earps and Doc Holliday.  Realizing the desperate situation, Claiborn bugged out just before the shooting started.

Now, this is where Billy Claiborne should have left well enough alone, and high-tailed it out of town for a place where tempers were not raging.  But, Billy wasn’t that smart.

After the shootout at the O. K. Corral, and the death of Virgil Earp at the hands of the cowboys, Wyatt Earp declared vengeance against all cowboys.  One member of Wyatt’s posse was Buckskin Frank Leslie.  During the cowboy roundup, one of the more prominent cowboys, Johnnie Ringo was killed, and Billy Claiborne thought the gunman was Buckskin Frank.

So on November 14, 1882 Billy Claiborne came after Buckskin Frank.  Billy shot twice, and missed.  Buckskin Frank shot once, and hit his mark.

As Buckskin Frank walked up to Billy, Billy said, “Don’t shoot again, I am killed.”  An observer was heard to say, “Sure weren’t no Billy the Kid. He missed at thirty feet.”

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