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Photos of the Captured Billy the Kid & His Rustlers?

If there is one thing all Billy the Kid aficionados agree on, it's that we are all dying to see a second photo of the Kid, something besides his only known, badly tarnished tintype. As a result of this desire, alleged photos of the Kid crop up with regularity, with the surge seeming to gain momentum of late as several "potential Billys" are surfacing monthly. These candidates typically resemble the Kid at a glance, though are often discredited when more in depth analysis is conducted. Assuming the alleged photos pass this scrutiny and their resemblance to the genuine Kid remains possibly more than just chance, there is the issue of provenance. No matter how much a subject may look like the Kid, if the photo in which he appears was taken in 1890, or was taken in Ohio, then it's obviously not our boy. By the same token, if a photo lacks provenance that would outright discredit it, but simultaneously features nothing which could pin its origins to a time and place that jives with the Kid's life, then it tends to be neglected, cast aside until more evidence arrives.

For these reasons, many Billy researchers are jaded when new prospects of a photographed Kid emerge. However, I say just because 100 alleged photos may be proven false, doesn't mean we should automatically rule out the 101st photo without giving it equal grounds for having its case presented. The way I see it, despite our own disillusionment cause by these red herrings, we must do as we can to maintain our objectivity, and assess each photo that comes our way on its own merit.

Below are four of such alleged photos, though only one is proposed to be the Kid. I was recently e-mailed these photos from someone who purchased the originals as a lot. According to their owner, these four photos bear remarkable similarities to Billy the Kid and the three members of his gang with which he was captured at Stinking Springs in December 1880; Dirty Dave Rudabaugh, Billy Wilson, and Tom Pickett. As one can expect, I was dubious when I first heard such an idea, but nonetheless optimistic. When I finally saw the photos, I had to agree with their owner's conclusion, that all four do strongly resemble known photos and/or descriptions of their alleged namesakes.

As usual, there is no real provenance, other than the photos were purchased by their current owner in Texas, a locale within the realm of Billy's wanderings. I am no photo expert, and for all I know there may be something in each of these photos that could automatically discredit them (i.e. clothing of a later period, subjects able to be identified as someone else, etc.). Still, one can't deny they are intriguing. One theory I have as to how these four photos, if they be genuine, came to be is that they were taken when the four outlaws were brought to Las Vegas after their capture. It would make some sense, as Vegas was known to have photographers at the time and the capture of such outlaws was a celebrated event. No contemporary source mentions anything of such photos, but that doesn't innately discredit them. Also, the clothing and overall appearance of all four subjects is perhaps not what we would like of for a bunch of rogues. However, it is possible after they were taken to Vegas, they were permitted to wash and change clothes; in fact, if their photos were to be taken, then it is very likely they would be cleaned up beforehand.

For comparison reasons, included beside each alleged photo is a verified one of its potential subject. But enough explaining for now. Onto the photos...

This is the obvious alleged Billy, which, in my mind, bears as much resemblance to the authentic tintype as any proposed photo yet to come forth. The odd hat is perplexing, but the photo's owner put forth the idea that maybe whoever was guarding Billy at the time made him wear it as a source of mockery. Then again, Billy was known for his sense of humor, so maybe he chose to wear the hat (a photo studio prop?) as a goof.

On the left we have a candidate for Dirty Dave Rudabaugh. On the right we have the only known photos of him, post mortem, obviously. Despite having such limited comparison value, there remains obvious facial similarities, perhaps most poignantly around the nose, as the body-less Rudabaugh seems to have a bent nose, an attribute shared by this man. Beyond this, the alleged Rudabaugh matches contemporary descriptions of the ruffian.

In the center is a possibly Billy Wilson, framed by two photos of Dave Anderson, who (this is where it gets confusing) probably was Wilson, the Billy Wilson name being an alias. The two authentic photos of Anderson were taken sometime in the late 1890s or early 1900s, approximately twenty years after his capture at Stinking Springs. The boy in the center photo appears be in his late teens or early twenties, around the age Wilson was at the time of his capture. Beyond that, there are obvious similarities to the Anderson photos, most notably around the cheekbones, eyes, and ears.

The similarity between these two photos is eerie. The poster, the clothing; it's almost as if whichever photo was taken later was aware of the first and attempting to duplicate it. The photo on the right is of Tom Pickett, that on the left of someone who could be him. In my opinion, there is much in common in the ears, nose, chin, and brow. At the same time, the eyes of the man on the left are very vividly light, while the authentic Pickett's eyes appear of a darker shade. Though, this discrepancy could be attributed to the limits of photo technology of the time, or the fact that Pickett seems to be squinting, shadows from his heavy brow being cast over his irises.