Culture & Society

Gun Collection Once Owned By Texas A&M Professor Nets $12 Million

The collection of former engineering professor and cartoonist Jim Earle included the gun that killed Billy the Kid and its record $6 million price tag.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications September 7, 2021

Pat Garrett's revolver used to kill Billy the Kid.
Pat Garrett’s revolver used to kill Billy the Kid.



A large gun collection once owned by a Texas A&M University professor – including the gun that killed Billy the Kid – recently sold for more than $12 million.

The collection of Jim and Theresa Earle featured items the couple had purchased over a 50-year period. Jim Earle ’54 was a longtime engineering professor at Texas A&M. He retired in 1995 and was named a Legend of Aggieland in 2000. He died in 2019.

The crown jewel of the collection was a gun used by sheriff Pat Garrett to kill Billy the Kid. It was estimated to be worth from $2-3 million, but sold for over $6 million, believed to be the highest price ever paid for any firearm, according to the auction house Bonhams.

Some of the items sold include:

  • The gun that was used to kill Billy the Kid, purchased for $6,030,000
  • The shotgun used by Billy the Kid to kill deputy Bob Olinger during an escape in New Mexico, purchased for more than $978,000
  • A revolver used by John Selman to shoot notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin at the Acme Saloon in El Paso, purchased for more than $858,000
  • John Wesley Hardin’s gun used in the above shootout, purchased for more than $625,00
  • Wild Bill Hickok’s Springfield rifle, purchased for more than $475,000
  • A revolver once owned by Bat Masterson, purchased for more than $375,000

“To be honest, I am not that surprised,” said Susan Palmer, one of the Earle’s daughters. “My sister and I were told all of our lives how valuable this collection would be one day. We always knew the gun that killed Billy the Kid would be highly sought by collectors.”

Her parents would be “quite pleased,” she said.

“It took them over 50 years to collect these items,” Palmer said. “I personally know some of the people who bid on and purchased these guns, so it is good to know that they are going into good hands who will cherish them the way our parents did. And I have to say the Bonhams’ auction people did a super job of arranging the entire collection.”

Earle, a lover of Western history, was an authority on Billy the Kid and other figures, and amassed a collection of items from the period.

As a student at Texas A&M, he drew a comic strip 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. Called Cadet Slouch, the comic was based on actual experiences of Earle, who was in the Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in 1955.

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