Clovis resident Randy Guijarro had no idea five years ago that spending the last $2 in his pocket on three turn-of-the-century photos would eventually launch him into the media spotlight.
The 4-by-5-inch tintype he picked up from a box of old photos outside an antique shop turned out to be the second known photo of famous outlaw Billy the Kid — playing croquet with his posse, the Regulators, no less — valued at $5 million.
Stories about the big find have been splashed across national headlines, and Guijarro and several other Clovis residents who helped him authenticate the photo have been interviewed by multiple media outlets.
National Geographic Channel featured the photo and everything it took to get it authenticated in a two-hour documentary called “Billy the Kid: New Evidence,” narrated by Kevin Costner that premiered Sunday.
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Inside Clovis Sports Cards & Collectibles in Old Town, Guijarro — while joking with his buddies and purchasing packs of sports cards — told the story of his discovery, and his longtime affinity for collecting “anything fun” that led up to it.
“[Last] Sunday [was] Glorious Junk Days, and back when I was a kid it was ‘glorious throw your junk away,’” said the 1979 Clovis High graduate. “I would go around the neighborhood at (age) 10, 11 and say ‘Oh, this is cool!’ and drag it home. And my Spanish dad would say ‘You know, that was in the trash for a reason!’
“So I didn’t get to keep a whole lot of that stuff.”
Guijarro collected comic books, coins, toy cars, sports cards and oil paintings.
“If you can have fun with it, we’ve handled it and collected it,” he said of himself and his wife, Linda, a registered nurse. “When we first got together we enjoyed collecting. She loves photography and she loved collecting photos ... naturally we did all that stuff together.”
Before authenticating the now-famous photo became a full-time job, Linda worked in the intensive care unit at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno for six years. Randy was a telecommunications technician for the State of California, keeping up the radio systems for the highway patrol, fire departments and other agencies.
“I’m a techie and a Trekkie,” he joked.
It was on his drive home from work one day that the Kid’s photo made its way into his hands.
In late summer 2010, Guijarro was driving home from work near Olive and 99, heading east. He stopped by the now-closed Fulton’s Folly Antique Collective in the Tower District and said hello to one of the dealers there.
“He said ‘Hey, Randy, you collect photos and stuff, these two guys have two boxes of junk. They had a lot of photos of Fresno. I just sent them around the corner; go catch em,’” Guijarro remembered. “I walked right back out and I caught up to them. These two guys had two boxes of junk. A lot of photos of Fresno stuff, old, turn of the century.”
The men said they had just come from an old storage place and needed to sell what they found.
“I had just had lunch, had only a couple of bucks left,” Guijarro said. “I told them ‘I’ll give you two bucks for these three photographs,’ and they took it. I looked at it, it was nice, but you know, nothing jumps out because you really need to look at it under a microscope.”
The photo, along with two other 19th century photos of women, sat in Guijarro’s truck for a week.
“My wife likes to go with me (to hunt for collectibles) so I was kind of hiding things,” he said, laughing. “So about a week later I brought them in and said ‘Honey, look what I found,’ and she gave me the frown like ‘you went without me.’”
Guijarro grabbed a loupe to look at the photo through magnification.
“I said ‘Man, that guy in the middle looks real clear.’ And I said ‘Whoa, he looks familiar.’ And I said ‘that’s Billy the Kid.’ and my wife is like, ‘Yeah right, who are his buds?’” Guijarro recalled. “But I zeroed in and, you know, you give him the once over, and I said ‘That’s him.’
“I could just feel it. I couldn’t prove it to save my life, but it’s like you know.”
Billy the Kid, born in New York as Henry McCarty in 1859, is one of the Old West’s most notorious outlaws. He was killed by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881, at the age of 21. According to legend, the Kid killed 21 men in his short life, but historians think the number was closer to nine.
Linda researched Billy the Kid’s associates, Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre, who were members of the Regulators during the Lincoln County War.
“Well Tom has a known picture on the internet,” Randy said. “So we brought him up, we lined him up with this guy (pointing a man in the tintype) and if they’re not the same person, they’re twins. And then I thought ‘Oh, now it got interesting.’”
“And this guy over here on the horse, while he is blurry, we brought a very famous picture of him up and his wife,” said Guijarro of Charlie Bowdre.
“This guy (pointing to Charlie) has one picture of himself,” said Guijarro’s friend and Clovis Sports Cards & Collectibles owner Brad Stoops. “And it’s his wedding picture, and it was in his pocket when he got shot and killed. It has his blood on it.”
Randy and Linda Guijarro compared that photo to their own, and found that both Charlie and his wife, Manuela, were in their photo.
“And we’re off to the race,” Guijarro said. “That started a five-year journey.”
About a year ago, Stoops’ friend KSEE Sunrise co-anchor George Takata became interested in the story. He introduced Guijarro to television producers Jeff and Jill Aiello, also of Clovis.
The group began to work on a reality-type show about the photograph, but Leftfield Pictures (producers of Pawn Stars on the History Channel) heard about it and offered to co-produce the show.
Eventually National Geographic wanted it, and Kevin Costner took a personal interest in the project and decided to sign on as the documentary’s executive producer and narrator.
“This has taken on a life of its own,” Guijarro said. “Through no fault of my own, but by default, we’ve become authenticators. We’ve come in contact with specialized individuals in multiple fields from facial recognition to antique collodion photography, other collectors and experts. we went to universities and spoke to a professor in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an archivist in Las Cruces, New Mexico .. we’ve been all over the western U.S. looking, on a treasure hunt to prove it.”
Over the years, each of the 18 people in the photograph were identified, including two of Billy the Kid’s love interests, Guijarro said.
“This is Sallie Chisum in the middle,” Guijarro said, pointing to woman in the photo. “She was the niece to cattle baron John Chisum of the area. And this is Paulita Maxwell. Her dad and brother Lucien and Pete owned Fort Sumner, a huge cattle ranch. And (Billy) was thought to be romantically involved with her ... I just leave that as a nice story.”
Sallie Chisum’s journal turned out to be a huge clue.
“It talks about how the group came together,” Guijarro said. “She mentions meeting up with Charlie, Billy, the Regulators, the cattle drivers ... you know, all of the clues were in there.”
The last piece of the puzzle involved finding out where the photo was taken.
“That took a lot of detective work,” Guijarro said. “The schoolhouse (pictured) still exists. It’s in Chaves County, New Mexico, which was split a long time ago from Lincoln County. Originally this was Lincoln County. This is the Old Schoolhouse on Old Schoolhouse Road, and it’s about a mile or so up the road from John Tunstall’s home.”
The photo was taken in August or September of 1878, two years before the only other known photo of Billy the Kid was taken.
The first photo of Billy, of him posing with a gun, sold in 2011 for $2.3 million.
Guijarro’s photograph of Billy the Kid and the Regulators could become the most expensive photograph ever sold — it’s been appraised and insured for $5 million by Kagin’s Inc. in Tiburon. Donald Kagin has a Ph.D. in numismatics and specializes in Western Americana and coins.
“It’s now the second known photo of Billy The Kid,” Guijarro said. “And even the Regulators, together, that’s why it’s so amazing, it’s like a Twilight Zone photograph, they’re not supposed to be (seen together). You know? Come on, it’s like not really real.”
Linda Guijarro is going “down to the pixel” to restore the photograph, Randy said.
“There are so many things in the picture that you can bring out, we’re still not done,” he said. “We’re trying to restore the faces back.”