I started collecting because I liked to read and wanted to keep every book and not have to return it to a library. My first book collection was Hardy Boys.
I got my passion for collecting outlaw and lawmen photos from reading about them. I do not know why they interested me so much. Maybe it was because Oklahoma, my native home, had so many of them.
My first original photograph was a cabinet card of Pat Garrett, given to me by his son Jarvis. It made me aware of what an “original” photo is and made me want more. They were fun and complemented my book collection.
The one that got away is the original Billy the Kid tintype…too expensive! Others got away from me because of cost and those no-good rival collectors! I got along well with most of them, and we actually helped each other…sometimes.
My most prized book is usually the most recently acquired rare one. That now would be Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen or the Female Jesse James, published in 1889. It was a 25-cent novel, mostly pure fiction, but it put Belle Starr on the map. Only three or four copies are known to still exist.
Another recent acquisition is a small book published in St. Joseph, a week after Jesse James was killed, titled An Authentic and Graphic Account of the Assassination of Jesse W. James at St. Joseph, Mo., April 3, 1882. The author, a St. Joseph newsman, was the first, along with the coroner, to go to the scene of the crime, not knowing the victim was Jesse, and interviewed the widow and the Fords. A very fragile little book, mine is the only copy known to still exist.
My favorite Western writer is Harvey Fergusson. He really knew the place, the people and the history of New Mexico and how to tell the story.
Don’t get me started on all those claiming to have found a Billy the Kid photo. The photos they come up with are utterly ridiculous! There is just the one-and-only authentic photo.
I once rented a cab in Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, to take me to my apartment in El Paso, Texas, and did not have the money to pay for it when we got there, so I had to rob my silver dollar collection.
The cheapest book I ever bought cost me 31 cents. At the age of 15, I wrote the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in New York City and asked for a copy of Train Robberies, Train Robbers and the “Holdup” Men by William A. Pinkerton, 1907. The agency sent it with a nice letter. It cost me a three-cent stamp for my first letter, and one for my “thank you” letter, in which I enclosed a quarter to cover the cost of mailing the book to me. The book is now quite rare and is probably worth $1,000.
I’m working on a book about my dog Bear. Bear was a macho little guy, and everyone said he was the cutest dog in the world. His mom was a Pomeranian, and we think his dad was a stuffed animal. The book will be titled My Adventures Walking Bear.
For my money, the best Western movie ever is not really a movie. It is the CBS miniseries Lonesome Dove.
History has taught me the hardships our forebears went through to settle the West and build the nation that we now have. We must not forget them.
ROBERT G. MCCUBBIN, WORLD’S FOREMOST OLD WEST PHOTO COLLECTOR
As a charter subscriber to True West Magazine, Robert G. McCubbin fulfilled one of his dreams when he bought the magazine in September 1999, along with his partners Rick Baish and Bob Boze Bell, the current executive editor and co-owner. Besides building up his ongoing Western history photograph and book collections, he served as the president for the Wild West History Association for its first three years. Although the Billy the Kid tintype photo is probably the Old West photo most people know about, his personal favorite is the “Fort Worth Five” photo of the Wild Bunch, because it has five of the West’s most famous outlaws and the photo became a part of history itself when discovered by the Pinkertons.