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Letter from Wild West - December 2011

By Gregory Lalire 
Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: October 06, 2011 
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What's an Iconic Western Photo Worth? Well, the Forth Worth Five Is Valuable
But the one-of-a-kind Billy the Kid tintype soars above the rest

A picture is worth a thousand words—or $2.3 million, as the case may be. This so-called Editor's Letter, constrained by space to about 700 words, is not worth even one full picture, though you can read it for $5.99 or less (even free if you play your Web cards right). My words this issue concern pictures, specifically those from frontier days. If you truly want your money's worth, by all means turn back the pages and feast your eyes on the cover image—one of the iconic photos of the Wild West era. Taken in Fort Worth near the end of that era, in November 1900, it is still wild enough, even if the five Wild Bunch outlaws are all duded up and the big two, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, look nothing like Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Florida billionaire Bill Koch caused a sizzle last summer when he purchased at auction the one and only authenticated Billy the Kid tintype for a measly $2.3 million (including the buyer's premium). Koch, a fan of Montana and the Old West, planned to loan it out for exhibit, starting with the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Mont. "That's good news," said Bob McCubbin, a fellow collector with not quite as deep pockets. "It's the No. 1 Wild West photograph and maybe the top historical photo of any kind." No need to feel sorry for McCubbin. He might not own the Kid, but he is the proud owner of an excellent tintype of Texas killer John Wesley Hardin as well as a "cool version" of the Fort Worth Five photo (Will Carver, Ben Kilpatrick and Harvey Logan posed with Butch and Sundance) on this month's cover. Another version sold at auction for $85,000 in 2000, even though the image isn't one of a kind. For the record, McCubbin rates the top five gunfighter photos: 1, Billy the Kid; 2, Dodge City Peace Commission (featuring Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Luke Short); 3, Fort Worth Five; 4, Jesse James in 1864 guerrilla garb; 5, John Wesley Hardin.

It is uncertain exactly why the Wild Bunch quintet decided to dress up and pose for a formal portrait in the Fort Worth studio of John Swartz, but authors Richard Selcer and Donna Donnell consider the possibilities in this issue. More important, they reveal that it was little-remembered Fort Worth Detective Charles R. Scott, not a Pinkerton operative or Wells Fargo detective, who put the soon-to-be-famous photo into circulation—an act instrumental in bringing down the Wild Bunch. Scott's tale is certainly enlightening. But the authors also suggest that as Carver and Logan are the two outlaws standing in the photo, the gang considered them the most important of the five. McCubbin doesn't buy this "standing" argument, nor does Wild Bunch expert Dan Buck. Selcer and Donnell counter that lawmen in 1900 considered Logan the big shot of the gang. Buck contends the gang had "no single leader," that Carver "was a minor actor in the saga" and that Cassidy was as famous as Logan at the time Swartz took the picture. Cassidy biographer Richard Patterson chimes in: "I doubt that Butch really served as a strong leader of the gang. I believe that idea was largely created by accident…but it's not surprising—he was an interesting and sympathetic character." Donna Ernst, who writes often about the Wild Bunch, has a somewhat different take, suggesting that Carver and Logan were probably better known than Butch and Sundance in Texas but that Logan "deferred to Cassidy, the leader of the gang." A July 1899 article in the Rawlins (Wyo.) Republican, she notes, reads in part, "Nine of Butch Cassidy's Gang…."

These experts do agree that the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid distorted the image of the gang and resurrected the legend of the title characters. If a picture such as the Fort Worth Five is worth a thousand words, then certainly that popular motion picture is worth ten thousand more.


8 Responses to “Letter from Wild West - December 2011”


  1. 1
    Robert says:

    I just want to know.

    Did Dan Buck go to wild bunch university.

    Who gave him a degree in the wild Bunch…So what if he wrote a book….it is just his opion…or does he have a PHD in western history?
    There are others that have written books they are not experts!!

    Who gave him this status… Did the Queen of England stop by, maybe it should be SIR Dan Buck It is just a question!!!! Lots of
    people would like to know…..

  2. 2
    Steve McCarty says:

    Gosh, I'd think my collection should be in McCubbin's list somewhere since I have so many tintypes of the Regulators and a few of the House Ring too. Most of my collection were gathered by none other than Sallie Lucy Chisum herself and I ran across them for sale in an antique store. Yeah, pretty unbelievable, but true nevertheless.

    The Kid really was a nice looking young fellow! He was also disarmingly youthful looking. Tom Folliard was taller and heavier than we see in the well known picture. He was a read head. My tintype of Alex McSween may be the most interesting. It is very clear and one can easily see his thinning hairline and that long droopy mustache and narrow set eyes. I've also got neat pictures of Richard "Dick" Brewer and even of Ira Leonard. He had a halo of white hair that ran into an equally white beard.

    Anyway, I'll be happy to send you scans of any picture that I have. Just reply here.

    Thanks.

    Steve

  3. 3
    Steve McCarty says:

    Oh, there is no charge for any pics that I send to anyone. They are free. I want to share the images, because if one is a fan of Billy the Kid and the Regulators they are interesting.

    I do not have a picture of Fred Waite, but I have all of the others, even John Middleton and Big Jim French. He was a very big fellow. Middleton looks a little like Ernie Kovacs with a huge and inky black mustache and curly dark hair. The photo is amazingly clear and one of the best tintype portraits I have ever seen. I actually have two of Middleton. I also have William Brady and Bob Olinger, Barny Mason and family as well. I also have Henry Brown and Charlie Bowdre, none of these are known images. Charlie has yet to grow his "stash" and Henry Brown has just started his. These were taken just before the fight at Blazer's Mill because they include a very clear and close up picture of Dick Brewer, who of course died in that fight.

    • 3.1
      Joy Waller says:

      I would like a copy of photo of Big Jim French he is my Great grandfather, Lou Branaman PO Bx 157 Menard, TX 76859

      • 3.1.1
        Steve McCarty says:

        I just ran across your reply. I have three pictures of who I believe are Jim French and I think a cousin. My pictures were in Sallie Chisum's collection.

        Can you give me an email and I'll send one right off to you.

        Oh, you can find another picture of French in that well known picture of cowboys at the South Spring Ranch. It is the one that shows Frank Chisum on the white horse. I believe that Big Jim is that huge guy sitting in the middle of the bunch. His feed hang way below the horse's belly.

        email me stepmccarty@outlook.com

  4. 4
    molly says:

    Big JIm French is my GRGRGRgrandfather do u have a picture of him

    • 4.1
      Steve McCarty says:

      Molly: I found Sallie Chisum's collection of tintypes and she knew Big Jim pretty well. Her family hired him to be her bodyguard.

      I am not positive that the pic I have is Big Jim since there are no others to match it to, but the man is a giant and I found it with absolutel pictures of Billy the Kid, Sheriff Brady, Tom O'Folliard, and John Middleton. So it is likely this is legit.

      Send me an email at stepmccarty@q.com and I will respond with the picture and any other's you would like to see.

    • 4.2
      Joy Waller says:

      Molly my sister in law is Lou Branaman and Jim French is her Great Grandfather. Please let me know how she can get in touch with you or write her at Lou Branaman PO BX 157 Menard TX 76859



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