Culture & Society

Famous — And Infamous — Western Items For Sale On Aug. 5

The collection of a former Texas A&M professor includes several rare treasures, such as the gun used to kill Billy the Kid.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications June 16, 2021

They don’t call it the Wild West for nothing, and some of the era’s most famous artifacts involving several of the most infamous outlaws will be auctioned off Aug. 5 as part of a unique collection owned by former Texas A&M University professor.

The auction, containing items valued in the millions of dollars, will be held in Los Angeles by Bonhams.  It will feature the Western collection of Jim and Theresa Earle and the rare items they amassed over a 50-year period. Jim Earle was a longtime engineering professor at Texas A&M. He died in 2019.

Susan Palmer, their daughter, said saying goodbye to the Western collection will be bittersweet.

“My parents spent years and years collecting these things,” she said. “I remember riding in the car in the early 1970s to the DFW airport in Dallas in the middle of the night to collect his first historical firearm — a Wyatt Earp shotgun — which was arriving by plane from California.  Daddy even saved the crate and packing material for years because the gun was that special to him.  Collecting was a passion for them.”

Among the items to be auctioned off:

  • The gun used by sheriff Pat Garrett to kill Billy the Kid
  • Outlaw John Wesley Hardin’s final bar tab, which he had signed just moments before he was killed outside of a saloon in El Paso
  • Legendary figure Bat Masterson’s Colt revolver, purchased in 1885
  • A rare tintype (metal photograph) of lawman Virgil Earp
  • A book contract signed by Pat Garrett for his agreement to tell his story about the life of Billy the Kid

Garrett’s gun use to kill Billy the Kid is expected to bring between $2-3 million, while Masterson’s gun could sell for as much as $300,000, according to Bonhams.

Also in the auction will be the shotgun used by Billy the Kid to kill his last victim.

“It’s my favorite item in the collection,” Palmer said.

“Billy the Kid was in jail in New Mexico and he was being watched by two deputies. One named Bob Olinger went across the street, and while he was gone, Billy the Kid fought with the other guard and shot him with the shotgun that a guard had left behind. When Olinger heard the shots, he went back to the jail and Billy the Kid was waiting for him and shot him with both barrels. It’s the only documented gun on record used by Billy the Kid that shot and killed a person.”

On April 28, 1881 Olinger became the last person ever killed by Billy the Kid, whose real name was William Bonney.

“It’s really tough to see the collection go,” Palmer added. “My mom and dad collected these items for almost 50 years. But it’s time to let someone else own them, and we hope that whoever does will protect the collection and love it as much as my mom and dad did.”

Earle graduated from Texas A&M in 1954 and taught at the school before retiring in 1995. He was named a Legend of Aggieland in 2000.

In 1953, he began drawing a comic strip called Cadet Slouch that ran in the student newspaper The Battalion from 1955-85. Earle produced about 5,000 of the strips, which spoofed life in the Corps of Cadets. Some were based on actual experiences of Earle, who was in the Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in 1955.

A lover of Western history, Earle became one of the country’s premier authorities on Billy the Kid and other figures and began to collect items of the period.

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest auctioneers and has offices in London, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong.

Media contacts:

  • Sung-Hee Kim, Bonhams, 646-276-4460,
  • Keith Randall,

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