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FOUND: An Authentic Photo of the Outlaw Jesse James

The tintype photo (Image: Lori Gibson/Facebook)

Sandra Mills’ grandmother Isabell used to tell her stories about Jesse James. But these weren’t generic stories of cops and robbers and the Wild West. In these stories, James and his gang had spent time hiding at the Mills family’s farmhouse in Missouri, back in the 1870s.

Mills’ grandmother had a prop to back up her story, too: a tintype about the size of a playing card that she told Mills was a picture of the man himself. In 2003, three years before she died, Isabell gave the tintype to her granddaughter and told her to sell it and buy some land.

For years, Mills tried. But no one believed her when she said that the tintype showed the famous outlaw. Until she sent it to Lori Gibson, a renowned forensic artist in Texas. Gibson compared the tintype image to known pictures of James. She looked at features like his hairline, hair texture, eyebrow shape, nostril shape, lip size, chin length and neck width, and she determined, with great confidence, that Mills’ picture showed Jesse James.

“I am positive it’s Jesse James,” she told the Houston Chronicle. Plus, she found, the man sitting beside him is Robert Ford, the member of his gang who would eventually kill James for the reward money.

Mills should be able to collect her own bounty for James: the tintype could be worth millions of dollars.

Bonus finds: Mosaic map, high-wire mountain lion

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.