Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Plague of the Billy Wannabes

 October 21, 2020

   We in the Old West collector's world live with a phenom we jokingly call The Plague of the Billy Wannabes. Here's how it started. 

Before Koch and After Koch

   I was there when the only known photo of Billy the Kid was auctioned off for $2.3 million. I don't want to overstate this, but it actually felt like the oxygen was being sucked out of the room.

   Several weeks before the auction, my friend, Brian Lebel, brought the tintype out to the True West World Headquarters and I actually got to hold it in my hands. I had gloves on to protect it, of course, but the experience was quite surreal. First off, to think that the Kid held this in his hands was off the chart crazy. And, even though the piece of tin is no larger than a credit card, and is dark and covered with "noise" (the surface is thick with aging marks and debris, including strand marks from the sweater he wears in the photo!), there was a hypnotizing effect just staring at it, as if you could see deeper into the image. I felt the Kid's presence, and I'm not that kind of guy, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

   For years the photo was considered lost, but then in 1986, descendents of one of Billy Bonney's pards, Dan Dedrick, donated their tintype to the Lincoln County Heritage Trust in Lincoln, New Mexico. When the trust ended, the photograph went back to the Dedrick family and they ultimately contacted Brian Lebel, who put it up for aucton at the Brian Lebel's 22nd Annual Old West Show & Auction in Denver. This was in June of 2011. Brian told me he thought it might fetch $400,000 and, so, we asked on a True West cover, "Would you pay $500,000 for this Little Piece of Tin?" Boy Howdy. Turns out we were both wildly off.

   The bidding, at the Denver Merchandise Mart, started with five bidders and within two minutes, the bids shot past the one million mark. The air seemed to be crackling with electricity. At the $1.5 million mark several bidders dropped off, and then with a calm determination, Bill Koch bid $2 million and all the competition dropped away (Koch confided to a friend of mine before the auction, "I'm not leaving this building without that photo.")

   "When the bidding ended, the whole room erupted in clapping and people leapt to their feet," said Melissa McCracken, wife of Brian Lebel. "I've never experienced anything like this before."

   A $300,000 "buyer's premium" was tacked on to the winning bid, bringing the total selling price to $2.3 million.

   Koch is one of the sons of Fred C. Koch, founder of the Wichita based energy conglomerate Koch Industries, one of the largest private companies in the U.S. Bill has a twin, David and another brother, Charles, who are prominent conservative activists.

   Ever since this auction we have been besieged with one new Billy wannabe photo after another. It's not an exaggeration to say a new one pops up every week. Everyone smells that multi-million dollar payday. So far, none of them have passed the provenance test.

"The owner of the photograph believes he is living every collector's wildest fantasy and lots of folks are rooting for him. He believes in the photograph and has enlisted some persuasive allies in his quest to prove its authenticity. I fear, however, that he is simply 'tilting at windmills.' The whole quixotic episode proves yet again the eternal, worldwide fascination with America's favorite bad boy. Billy would love it—but even he might say 'buyer beware.'"

—The Top Secret Writer


  1. Phil -=A=-12:40 PM

    Perhaps you should point out that David Koch died Aug 23, 2019, in Southampton N.Y. -=A=-

  2. Anonymous7:37 PM

    .Brushy said that he was born William Henry Roberts on December 31, 1859 in an area of Texas known as Buffalo Gap. His parents were James H roberts and Mary Adeline Roberts. Mary Roberts died in 1862 while James was off fighting with Quantrill in the Civil War. After his mother died, Brushy said he went to live with Catherine McCarty and her son, Joe. n. Fearing that Brushy's father might try to take him back, she covered her tracks and gave the name Henry McCarty to Brushy as an alias. If Brushy was the Kid, then all the questions of his origins would be answered.rushy said that a man named Billy Barlow was killed by Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881. Barlow, he said, was partly Mexican,had a beard, looked like the Kid, was a little younger than the Kid, and was possibly related to the Clements family, the cousins of John Wesley Hardin. Brushy also said that he doubted that Billy Barlow was the man's real name. Brushy said that after Barlow was killed, he fled Fort Sumner. After fleeing Sumner, Brushy said he lived in Mexico with some Indians for two years,retutrned to the U.S. and worked in Carlton, Texas, was arrested in Kansas City because he recognized as the Kid, Footnote:Catherine Antrim (Devine)Birthdate: circa 1829Birthplace:Waterford, Waterford City, Waterford, IrelandDeath: September 16,1874 Silver City, Grant County, New MexicoPlace of Burial: Silver City, Grant County, New Mexico:Wife of William Henry AntrimEx-partner of Patrick Henry McCarty and William Harrison BonneyMother of Joseph McCarty and Henry McCarty "Billy The Kid"Sister of Annie Beatrice Donnelly antrim Catherine Devine McCarty Antrim Family MembersSpousesWilliam Henry Antrim1842–1922 (m. 1873)Patrick Henry McCarty1805–1865ChildrenWilliam Bonney1859–1881Joseph Antrim(1862–1930)Joseph McCarty Known Associates: Brother of Billy the Kid, Younger Brothers, The Wild Bunch DoB: 1863 New York City, NY Died: November 25, 1930 Denver, Colorado Height: 5 feet 11 inches Weight: 180lbs Head Shape: Oval form Eyes: Blue Ears:billythekid:Mother was Catherine McCarty/Antrim. His younger half-brother was Joseph McCarty /Antrim. Step-father was William Henry Harrison Antrim. Height: 5’8’’ Weight: 140lbs Eyes: Clear Blue Hair: Sandy Blonde to Light Brown Marital Status: Single. The Kid never married, but he had plenty of girlfriends.Joesph McCarty AtrimJoe Antrim and Jennie Stone married in 1891. son:Claude shows up in 1900 at the age of 12, living in the household of Henry Milton Antrim and Elizabeth Antrim in Neosho, Missouri.1911, the Denver city directory shows an L. Claude Antrim, circulation manager at a publishing house, living at 621 Colfax avenue, while Joe (“John” in this year’s directory) is at 1530 Market. In 1913, Louis Claude Antrim is living at 1771 Pennsylvania, and working as an assistant manager for Western Wheeled Scraper Co. He lives with his wife, Mrs. Anna Antrim, who is a clerk at Joslin Dry Goods. In 1914, there is an L. Claude Antrim and Anna E. Antrim, both of 1540 Grant, while Joseph Antrim is a clerk living at 1928 Lawrence. Chicago Daily Tribune on Thursday, November 4th, 1908.Miss Anna Elizabeth Hughes, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar E. Hughes, 666 Roscoe street, and Louis Claude Antrim.Louis Claude Antrim, born in 1888 (from later census records), who in 1899 can be traced to a private school in Neosho, Missouri, who marries an Anna Elizabeth Hughes, and is often found in the vicinity of Joe Antrim in Denver, Colorado. first wife Anna around 1915, he married a second time, to an Isabela Ackerson, Louis Claude Antrim and Isabela Ackerson Antrim had two children, Louis Claude Antrim, Jr., and Richard G. Antrim.


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