The walls of Robert Baron and Karen Wilhelm’s home hold hundreds of years of history.
The couple has been avid antique collectors for over a decade, a passion that stems from the thrill of hunting for that rare treasure.
“We mostly like to try to collect for about the turn of the century, before 1900, the Victorian era is my personal favourite,” Wilhelm said.
The walls of their home are filled with photos of unknown faces from a different time.
“We really love old photos of anybody really, we have people in our house that we don’t’ know. And we put them all over our wall and they become our instant ancestors,” Baron said.
Their thrill of the hunting for old treasures could result in the thrill of a lifetime. Just a few months ago, that passion led the Regina couple to purchase an old tintype photo off VarageSale for $15.
Turns out, it could be one of the few photos of the infamous American outlaw, Jesse James.
“We had it for about two weeks when the seller contacted us back, saying that someone had contacted them who thought that the photo looked an awful lot like Jesse James,” Baron said.
“So we kind of thought, yeah that’s a real nice fantasy, and wouldn’t that be great but probably nothing to it.”
Baron said they started looking at other old photos of Jesse James, and were surprised by the resemblance to their tintype photo.
“A few photos looked a little like him, and a few photos looked a lot like him,” Baron said.
Intrigued by the new claim, the couple sent their tintype photo to a forensic expert in Los Angeles who ran the tintype through a facial recognition program.
“It came out with an 80 per cent match to known images of Jesse James, and he got back to us and said it is plausible that this could be an image of Jesse James,” Baron said.
If the photo is authentic, it would be like striking gold.
A recent rare photo of the American outlaw was unknowingly sold on eBay for just $10. It turned out to be genuine, and worth $2.8 million.
“If it does turn out to be Jesse James, it would be like winning the lottery,” Wilhelm said.
Thus began a journey of searching for clues, and putting together little pieces of history to solve the puzzle. One of those pieces could be right here in Saskatchewan.
“Now there seems to possibly be a connection to Jesse James and Saskatchewan. Specifically the Town of Dundurn,” Baron said. “Which is where the seller that sold it to us bought it a little over 20 years ago.”
Jesse James could have ties to Dundurn, Saskatchewan
Dundurn was, at one time, home to another outlaw, Charles Parmer, an acquaintance of Jesse James who boasted two notches on his gun.
“Apparently (Parmer) was pretty young and he held the horses while they robbed banks and were looting and doing everything else,” Wilson Museum board president Raymond Moskowec said. “And that is where he met Jesse James and his brother because they rode with Quantrill’s Raiders in that area, Missouri and Minnesota.”
Moskowec said after the American Civil War, they became outlaws, and Charles Parmer asked if he could join Jesse James’ gang, the James-Younger Gang.
But, as the story goes, Parmer just wasn’t bad enough.
“He asked to ride with Jesse James, and according to the story, James said you haven’t killed enough people, only two, so we really can’t take you on” Moskowec said.
James then sent Parmer to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
In 1905, Parmer came to Canada and settled down in Dundurn, to live out the rest of his days.
Moskowec said riders would visit Parmer in the middle of the night, and some were believed to be part of Jesse James’ gang.
“It was around that period that Jesse James was being pursued and hiding out in different places,” Moskowec said.
Jesse James himself possibly visited Parmer in Dundurn, though it has never been proven.
As for Baron and Wilhelm, their next challenge is to link together a chain of custody of the photo.
“The more information we keep digging for, it keeps surprising us,” Baron said. “That there is a possibility that we might have something here. So it’s an exciting ride to be on that’s for sure.”
The couple has been documenting all of their rare finds on their vlog. To follow along, head to Bargain Barons on YouTube.