You may consider yourself a history buff or someone who likes to collect things, but no one loves historical relics like these two brothers, Keith and Brian Collins. If all you do is mention that you might have something valuable or historically significant, you can bet your pretty penny that these two guys will go out of their way to check it out. As always, the past is their passion.
These two spend most of their time at thrift stores, searching for items that reveal something special about the past. And it turns out they really do have a knack for finding special souvenirs – those unique gems. But despite all their years of experience, they still weren’t ready for what they came across one day in Tombstone, Arizona.
This is the story of two brothers and a very special photo…
Keith and Brian Collins’ obsession with history leads them to different parts of the country where historic artifacts tend to be more prevalent. Hoping to get their hands on something meaningful, they charted a course for the famous Old Western town of Tombstone, Arizona. People from all over the country (and world) flock to Tombstone.
There, they can get a taste of what life was like during the 1800s. Many of the old-fashioned buildings are replicas, which happens to be right up Keith and Brian’s alley. Previous experience in Tombstone hinted to them that the small town might be a hot spot for some of the more interesting historical artifacts.
In 2011, the brothers took a trip to the Carriage House antique shop in Hesperia, California. There, they garnered plenty of public attention as the two visited the shop in search of historical finds. They took away with them quite the discovery, too. They found an authentic photo album that featured the famous figure Wyatt Earp, along with several members of his family.
The album sat among a pile of other old photographs, but none were nearly as special as this. In case you didn’t know, Wyatt Earp was a lawman and gambler in the Old West. He was also the deputy marshal of the town of Tombstone. Now, on this trip to Tombstone, the history brothers hit the thrift shops in hopes of finding more historical goodies.
In the first antique store they entered, Keith and Brian immediately asked the owner if there were any old photographs for sale. Of course, they were hoping to find something similar to the Wyatt Earp album. They eventually found and bought this tintype of two men. They bought the tintype, and two other photographs, for a $13.
Then, ty tossed the pictures into their car’s glove compartment. Later that night, though, Keith examined the image of those two men in the photo. He stared at it closely, then passed it to Brian. “I’m looking at it, and I’m thinking, ‘That can’t be who I think it is.’ So I passed it to Brian (who said,) ‘That’s Billy the Kid.’”
Did the brothers really just stumble upon an original photo of Billy the Kid, the notorious outlaw and major player in the Lincoln County Regulators gang? He’s perhaps the only Regulator anyone really even remembered. To this day, the name “Billy, the Kid” is recognizable. In fact, abstract artwork of the famous outlaw hangs in a modern museum.
This guy was a big deal, and so Keith and Brian were beyond intrigued and wanted some answers to all their questions. When they asked the owner of the antique store, they bought the photos from where he got them, the man told them, “Oh, we actually dug it up at a tent.” That tent was located in a spot known for gambling – something that excited the brothers.
The photo was presumed to be of Billy the Kid and his half-brother Joseph Antrim. The two were big gamblers, which, according to Keith, added to the evidence that the photo was legitimate. But, as it turns out, not everyone held this belief. Bob Boze Bell, the executive editor of True West Magazine, had no doubt that the photo was a fake.
According to Bell, he sees people with “authentic” Billy the Kid photographs “almost every week.” the way he sees it unless you have a letter from someone “who actually knew the Kid and who specifically mentions this photo, there is no way to prove anything.” Bell even doubted the famous 2010 Billy the Kid photo that eventually sold for $5 million.
Back in 2010, a man named Randy Guijarro bought an original photo of Billy, the Kid that showed him playing croquet. He purchased the photo at a thrift store in Fresno, California. Later on, with the help of a National Geographic producer, Jeff Aiello, Randy was able to prove the photo’s authenticity.
Aiello helped Randy for more than a year, just trying to determine whether the photo was legit or not. As you can expect, Aiello was just as interested in Keith and Brian’s find. And so, he volunteered to help them out as well. The biggest factor in determining the photo’s authenticity, as Aiello had learned with Randy, was facial recognition technology.
Unfortunately, when the brothers’ photo was put to the test, the results were nowhere near as exciting as they hoped. In the end, the photo didn’t land enough percent points to justify a match. Aiello admitted, “In my opinion, neither one of those guys is close to Billy. I laid out facial recognition data over them. Facial geometry doesn’t match.” He added, “It’s a cool image though.”
As much of a bummer as that was to hear, the brothers weren’t disheartened. As Keith said, “Brian and I are trying to preserve history before it’s gone.” All these guys want is to have the importance of the era appreciated by others. Still, though, they’re always on the lookout for all Old West photos…