March 13, 2012
By Rick Hacker
During a career that included a purported 21 killings (some say it was only four), outlaw folk-hero William H. Bonney — aka Billy the Kid — had only one photograph taken before being shot down by Pat Garrett in 1881. But it has become one of the most iconic and reproduced photos in western history.
Taken by an unknown photographer outside Beaver Smith's Saloon in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, the 2x3-inch tintype shows a cocky Billy the Kid wearing a Colt Single Action Army on his left side and leaning on a Winchester Model 1873 carbine. The most popular guns of the era, they were often chambered for the same cartridge — in this case, judging from the bullets in Bonney's belt, the .44-40. The Winchester New Model of 1873, as it was initially called, was truly "The Gun That Won The West" and came out concurrently with the .44-40 centerfire cartridge.
This tintype has been the inspiration for songs, but it was Hollywood that made the false assumption Bonney was left-handed. Emilio Estevez had it right in "Young Guns," wearing his pistol on his right side. But Paul Newman in "The Left Handed Gun" got it dead wrong — literally — as a southpaw.
The erroneous conclusion was drawn because tintypes depict a reverse image. The most obvious giveaway is the Model '73 loading gate on the left side of the receiver. Winchester loading gates are on the right side.
Nonetheless, on June 25th 2011 this tintype sold for $2.3 million at auction. And to think, Bonney only paid 25 cents to have the picture taken.