LAS CRUCES – The vintage photo features two young men in clean white shirts and suits. The handsome young man on the left can be positively identified as Dan Dedrick, said New Mexico history expert Frank H. Parrish of Las Cruces. And that’s the “clincher” that helps prove the identity of Dedrick’s good friend in the photo.
It’s the legendary Billy the Kid, Parrish said.
Parrish has come forward with images made from a tintype owned by a Mesilla Valley man who wishes to remain anonymous.
The tintype has some clear connections to the only universally recognized image of Billy, standing in his iconic outlaw pose, packing a Colt revolver and his 1873 Winchester carbine rifle, in a photo believed to have been taken in 1879 or 1880 in Fort Sumner.
The tintype sold for $2.3 million to Palm Beach, Fla., businessman William Koch in 2011 at Brian Lebel’s Annual Old West Show and Auction in Denver.
That now-famous tintype was given by Billy to Dedrick and was owned by his descendants, the Upham family, until the sale.
Billy – also known as William Henry McCarty Jr., William Bonney and Henry Antrim – was born Nov. 23, 1859, in New York and died July 14, 1881, in Fort Sumner, according to BillytheKid.biography.com.
“There are many purported photo images of Billy the Kid, but only one that is acknowledged by leading historians – until now,” said Parrish. “The famous standing bucktoothed Billy photograph was originally given to Dan Dedrick by Billy. It was not known until now that the same Dan Dedrick had his photo taken with his pal.”
Parrish said he was asked to help authenticate the tintype, which was once part of the estate of Pat Garrett, the sheriff who shot and killed Bonney. Longtime Doña Ana County resident Garrett was shot and killed on Feb. 29, 1908, at his ranch in the San Andreas Mountains. He is buried at the Las Cruces Masonic Cemetery.
Parrish said there has long been speculation that the formal, two-person portrait featured Bonney.
“The other individual had remained unidentified until recently when I identified him as Dan Dedrick, a very close friend of Billy’s. Identification of Dedrick is the ‘clincher’ in this image, elevating a near-certain image to a clearly and obvious picture of the Kid. It’s finally a good image of the Kid that reveals a young man as people who remembered him described him – not as the famous bucktoothed Billy we know so well,” Parish said.
At the tintype owner’s request, Parrish began tracing and authenticating the provenance of the tintype, and also found authenticated images of Dedrick.
Parrish, a well-known nature photographer, is an El Paso native with a lifelong interest in history. He holds degrees in geology and zoology, and has worked in oil-related research and exploration, and as a teacher and park and wildlife naturalist.
Parrish said his scientific and photographic training and skills were put to use in his investigations, along with his knowledge of New Mexico history.
“The full story of the research and evidence leading to the ultimate identification of Dedrick is a fascinating tale to be told at a later date,” he said.
He expects “there will be skeptics and doubters,” but he said he has found enough evidence to be convinced with “absolute certainty” that the image is the real deal.
“It’s Billy,” he said, but added that he is looking forward to further studies by experts.
“It’s possible. It could be,” said Las Cruces artist Bob Diven, who has studied the authenticated image extensively for projects in recent decades.
“I’d say I’ve made more than 20 sketches and I’ve just completed a mold for a life-sized bronze statue of Billy. The earlobes look different, but that could be affected by the hat he’s wearing in the well-known image,” said Diven, who also compared elements like eyebrows and face shape, and made allowances for possible age differences.
“As many things are telling me ‘yes’ as ‘no.’ I think this person is younger than the Billy in the authenticated picture, which isn’t of very good quality,” said Diven, who feels the newly revealed tintype definitely merits further study.
“Forensic analyses comparing known images of the Kid and Dedrick are pending,” Parrish said.
In the meantime, he stressed, he will not reveal the identity of the tintype’s owner, and it is not in Parrish’s possession.
“It’s secure, in a safe place, and the decision of what to do with this information, and the tintype itself, is up to the owner,” Parrish said.