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Outlaws | Vintage Photos

The Phillips Collection

(Consisting of Doc Holliday, Big Nose Kate, Wyatt Earp, Josephine Earp, Mattie Earp, the Clanton's, Johnny Behan, John Clum, Jesse James, the Younger Brothers, the Masterson family, and many more.)


By Cathleen Briley
This article is all about introductions. First, I will introduce you to the photo collection and then move onto our connection to it. It has been agreed upon by all of those involved that the owners of the Phillips Collection should remain anonymous, at least for the time being. And it is a collection. A massive collection, in fact - there are over 200 photos. The "Owners," as I will refer to them, traveled to the small town of Checotah, Oklahoma somewhere between 1995 and 1997. Checotah has a typical old-fashioned downtown, and they stopped in a quaint little antique store called the Downtown Antique Mall that is tucked in amongst the rows of one and two-story brick storefronts. Mrs. Owner was attracted to a pile of old photos and began studying the faces that were looking back at her. An artist, Mrs. Owner saw an opportunity to sketch or paint some of the faces, particularly wanting to hone her abilities with profiles. Mr. and Mrs. Owner purchased several of the photos and took them home. While perusing her new collection, Mrs. Owner felt that she recognized some of the faces. Both being western enthusiasts, she retrieved several of their books about the Old West and compared her new photos to the photos of the Old West characters in the books. So convinced that she had a find, she and Mr. Owner went back to the same antique store the next day and purchased more photos. They did the same the next day, with the owner having provided more photos for them to look at that had been stored elsewhere. With that final purchase, they had spent a few hundred dollars and amassed over 200 photos.

Once the entire collection of photos was safely at home, Mrs. Owner began the process of researching and sorting. It is not an exaggeration to say that for her it became an obsession. She found that they have over 100 photos of those involved in the O.K. Corral shootout, their families, and the other major players who could have smelt the gun smoke in the air on that memorable day in Tombstone. These are all good condition, professional, studio-taken, posed cabinet cards at various stages in these people's lives. Further, she found that they have photos of Wyatt Earp before he came to Tombstone, Urilla Sutherland, Belle Star, the Masterson family, and many more. It is indeed a vast collection of Old West heroes and outlaws, but it also includes common-law wives and other family members as well.

Mrs. Owner surmised that whoever compiled this impressive collection had to have been wealthy or very well connected, or both. Her only clue to the original collector came from the photos themselves. After a little research, Mrs. Owner came to the conclusion that the collection might have been compiled by Frank Phillips because there may be photos of Mr. Phillips or his family mixed into the collection.

Frank Phillips formed Phillips Petroleum in June of 1917 and a massive fortune soon followed. By 1925, the large 3,700 acre FP Ranch was established in northeastern Oklahoma as his family's retreat that was eventually renamed Woolaroc. Phillips' beloved Woolaroc was adjacent to property frequented by several outlaws of the time including Al Spencer, Frank Nash, and Henry Wells. Phillips was known to have ridden over to Wells' cabin to play poker with him and his friends.1 It was either before or around this time that Phillips' well-known fascination with outlaws began. Phillips regularly had company get-togethers at his ranch. But, to celebrate his vast interest in outlaws, in 1927 Phillips organized the Cow Thieves and Outlaws Reunion party at Woolaroc and invited outlaws and lawmen plus members of the Osage Nation. A rule was implemented that all weapons had to be checked at the gate. It became an annual event and the party seemed to grow with each passing year. An invitation-only party eventually began to include all Native Americans and cowboys who showed up in correct dress. In 1944, Woolaroc was donated to the Phillips Foundation, and it is now operated as a wildlife preserve and museum featuring western art and artifacts and Native American material.2 Even though Frank Phillips passed away in 1950, the reunions continue to this day as a fundraiser for the museum.
Frank Phillips
Frank Phillips dressed in his cowboy outfit.
Photo courtesy of Western Fictioneers.blogspot.com
Clearly, during his lifetime, Frank Phillips had the interest, the money, and the connections to accumulate such a massive collection of outlaw photos. It would have taken a great deal of money and persuasion for the family members of the "outlaws" to have parted with not only individual pictures, but with entire collections. The Phillips Collection itself consists of at least two antique photo albums that were once full of photos plus a large number of loose photos and cabinet cards. Some of the loose photos still have the old black paper attached to the back indicating that they were taken directly out of family photo albums. It would also have taken a great deal of money for someone to not only locate the relatives of the many outlaws or players, but then travel the country in order to take possession of the photos.

But, it raises the questions of why and how the collection ended up in an antique store in a small town in eastern Oklahoma. Frank Phillips died in 1950. Much of his wealth and land had been donated to the Woolaroc Museum and the Foundation. But, the photo collection was not made part of the museum. Why? It could be that it was his personal collection. Outlaws were his obsession. But, when he passed, was the collection so personal that none of his descendants knew what the photos were? It's possible that someone took a look at the photos and had no idea who they were looking at. There are 30-50 photos in the collection that are currently considered "unknowns" including several photos of people who once lived in Wisconsin. Maybe a survivor of Phillips looked at them in haste and once they found themselves bewildered, gave them no further thought, and they were let go of. If the photos once belonged to Frank Phillips at his home in Woolaroc or Bartlesville, they only traveled about 100 miles to end up in that antique store in Checotah. Even though we have no definitive proof that this collection once belonged to Frank Phillips, the indications are all there. Therefore, we have come to refer to it as the "Phillips Collection."

It has always been the intention of the Owner's to sell the collection and share them with the world. I know you as the reader are now asking a question: Why now? It's 2015 and the photos were purchased nearly 20 years ago. Why is this just coming to light now? The answer to that question is that the Owner's weren't exactly sure what to do with the collection, how to authenticate the photos, and how to market them on any grand scale. A few of the photos have been sold to private parties. They included a photo of John Wesley Hardin and Belle Starr. Then, Jim Williams purchased one photo of Wyatt and Josephine Earp at Redwood National Forest in California and a cabinet card of James Earp in Salt Lake City and resold them.
 Redwood National Forest photo of Wyatt and Josephine Earp
The Redwood National Forest photo of Wyatt and Josephine Earp purchased and then resold by Jim Williams.
Wyatt Earp
Close up view of Wyatt Earp in the Redwood National Forest photo.
Jim Williams has dealt in Western Antiques for over 30 years and now only deals in high end Western items. Western Antiques is his passion, and is now his full-time career. It was only after a conversation that took place with the Owners after the original purchase of the two photos that Jim became aware of the vastness of collection and its contents. Jim was then commissioned by the owners of the collection to help them authenticate and then market the collection, in whole or in part, and he has exhaustedly continued the research started by Mrs. Owner. Jim included me because of my love of history and because I have done a great deal of historical research due to my director's position with a museum that I hold dear to my heart. I couldn't help but be enthusiastic about the possibilities because his excitement about the Phillips Collection was so overwhelmingly contagious. This is likely one of the largest historical finds in recent history. Because of the size of the collection, it has taken a great deal of time to identify the people in the photos because of the great lengths someone went to in order to include all of those involved in Old West events and their families. But, many are obvious, including Wyatt Earp, Johnny Behan, and John Clum. One of the most strikingly obvious photos is Mattie Blaylock Earp (Wyatt's common-law wife). For comparison purposes, a photo of Mattie is provided on the left. This photo is taken from Wyatt Earp: The OK Corral and the Law of the American West by William L. Urban. The photo is attributed to J.T. Parker and Company, Fort Scott, KS.

The photo on the right is the photo of Mattie from the Phillips Collection.
Mattie Blaylock Earp
Mattie Blaylock Earp
It is our intention to share the collection with you in a series of articles, with each article showcasing one or two famous people and comparing them to known authenticated photos. In the near future, we will provide photos of Doc Holliday while in Texas, Wyatt Earp at different stages in his life, Josephine Earp, Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings (Big-Nose Kate), the Clanton's, and several others. For future reference, the photos that will be provided from the Phillips Collection will be in ovals, such as Mattie above. Because of the great importance of the Doc Holliday, Josephine Earp, and Wyatt Earp photos, they are currently being analyzed by a professor of forensic arts using a facial regression technique before they will be presented. For some of these famous people, we will be able to show you photos of them from their youth until their later years.

Pictures are worth a 1,000 words and the Owners have over 200 photos to share. That equals a lot of words! As you will soon see, some of these photos will change what we thought we knew about some of these very famous people.

The photos of the Phillips Collection will eventually replace some of the unauthenticated photos on the internet. It will also mean no more comparing photos to distant or distorted photos. Our claim is bold and may seem unbelievable, but as you will see in the near future, the proof is in the photos.
Phillips collection
1 Frank Phillips (oil industrialist). (2015, January 17).
In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Retrieved 16:50, May 4, 2015, from
2 http://www.woolaroc.org/pages/about-us, May, 2015

© Cathleen Briley
June 11, 2015 Feature

The Phillips Collection :

Introduction | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

More Outlaws | Vintage Photos

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