William “Bat” Masterson (1851-1921)
“I have been connected nearly all the time in the gambling business and have experienced the vicissitudes which have always characterised the business. Some days… plenty, and more days … nothing.”
Bat Masterson was born in Iberville, Quebec, Canada. Bat is arguably the most famous lawman of the Wild West. Buffalo hunter, politician, and a sheriff at 23 during which time he ran the Lone Star gambling concession, US Marshal and became later in life a writer. He was an avid gambler, fisherman, and later a sports editor and columnist.
Bat had a wide and well-earned reputation as a top gun and one that was so widely spread that men usually gave into him without forcing him to draw his guns. Bat in his youth was a person who seemingly loved being in trouble or hovering on the edge of it. Bat belonged to a clan of lawmen, this being himself and his two brothers and they we’re as loyal to each other as the three musketeers! They committed themselves wholeheartedly to taming one of the wildest towns of the Wild West “Dodge City”
One of five brothers, they were the offspring of a Kansas Rancher who eventually settled on a prairie farm near Wichita in 1871. Bat Masterson baptised Bartholomew but used the name William Barclay Masterson . The two youngest of the brothers George and Tom would never have any particular claim to fame. Ed,(Edward John Masterson) the older brother eventually became the marshal of Dodge City, Bartholomew (William Barclay) the second eldest “Bat” for short served as the sheriff of Ford County and Jim (James Patrick) the third brother followed Ed as Dodge’s Marshall. Of the three brothers “Bat” was regarded as the leader and the maker of “big plans”.
BUFFALO HUNTING, INDIAN FIGHTING AND SCOUTING
In 1872 at the age of 19, Bat talked Ed and Jim into leaving the farm life behind and an adventure in Buffalo hunting in the wilds of South West Kansas. Ed and Jim would return to the farm occasionally but Bat never returned. Bat followed the Buffalo herds from Kansa down to Indian Territory and into the Texas panhandle, meeting up with adventure that was enough to satisfy the most adventurous of farm boys. At a tiny town called Adobe Walls, which consisted of a total of two stores, a blacksmith and a saloon, he had his first taste of Indian fighting. For 5 days, 35 hunters held off an attack of 500 Kiowa Comanche, Cheyenne and Southern Apache warriors who were creating chaos in the region. Later he rode as a scout for Colonel Nelson Miles during an army campaign, once again in the Texas panhandle area against the same tribes.
BAT’S FIRST GUNFIGHT
In 1876, Bat has his first gunfight at Sweetwater, Texas. The details of the gunfight have never been completely unwound, but what is certain is that Bat took a girl called Molly Brennan from an US army sergeant called Melvin King. When King found Bat and Molly together at a saloon, King opened fire on Bat. Molly threw herself in front of Bat to protect him and the bullet went straight through her, killing her instantly and lodged itself in Bat’s pelvis. As Bat fell and with the sergeant cocking his pistol for another shot, Bat fired back. King died in the army camp the following day. Bat suffered a slight but permanent limp from this gunfight and started carrying a cane. At first this was because he needed it but later used one for effect alone.
On arriving in Dodge he wore a south-western sombrero that had a rattle snake band a bright red silk neck chief and a Mexican sash around his middle. Burnished silver plated six shooters in silver studded holsters and a pair of gold mounted spurs. An observer on Front Street jokingly said that all the finery would give Bat the edge in a gunfight by blinding his opponent with all the bling.
Bat had however returned to Dodge not bent on gun fighting but intent on doing business, which was gambling. Ed and Jim were already well established there and Jim was the co-owner of a saloon cum dance hall that was well reviewed by the Dodge City Times and Ed has just been appointed the assistant Marshall of Dodge City.
Bat being Bat, he was in trouble shortly after his arrival and found himself on the wrong side of the law. It all started when Marshall Larry Deger, a huge man who weighed around 300 pounds, was marching a small lowlife called Bobby Gill off to jail for disturbing the peace. Bobby took his time and was walking so slowly that the sheriff saw fit to speed him up by giving him a good few kicks in the rear end. Bat got involved by grabbing the Marshall around the neck, (one or two whiskeys too many? we wonder) which gave the prisoner a chance to escape. The Marshall then tousled with Bat and called for the bystanders to help and get Bat’s gun. With the assistance of a dozen or so men they managed to disarm Bat. Deger then hit Bat with a pistol until he was bleeding form the head and shoved him in jail. The Dodge times recounted in an article every inch of the way was closely contested, but the city dungeon was reached at last, and in he went. If he had got hold of a gun before going in, there would have been a general killing”.
That same afternoon Ed, Bats brother, performed his first act as assistant Marshall and arrested Bobby Gill and threw him in Jail next to Bat. The following day in court, Bobby got off with a $5 fine and a ticket out of town, but Bat being the brother of a law man had to pay $25 plus costs. He developed a long and abiding dislike for the Marshall Larry Deger as a result.
SHERRIF OF FORD COUNTY
Quick to make his mark, Bats fame and daring spread quickly assisted by the Dodge Times and while his brother Ed became the Marshall of Dodge City, Bat became the sheriff of Ford County. Bat quickly cleaned up his act and discarding his sombrero and sash started to wear a black tailored suit and a black bowler hat. Bat was described by Eddie Foy as “A trim good-looking young man with a pleasant face and carefully barbered moustache, well-tailored clothes, hat at a rakish tilt and two big silver-mounted, ivory-handled pistols in a heavy belt.”
Two weeks after assuming office, Bat proved the confidence that the people had given in appointing him and the creation of the legend as a lawman was entrenched. At a place called Kingsley in Edwards County about 35 miles from Dodge City six bandits tried to rob a train, unsuccessful in this, they fled into the countryside. Two separate operations were set up one by the Marshall of Edwards County and the other by Fort Dodge who sent out troops. Bat did not join either of these parties and instead set up his own operations and by anticipating the bandits movements he took his posse in a driving blizzard to Crooked Creek, about 55 miles from Dodge where they hid in an abandoned camp. Two of the outlaws approached seeking shelter and Bat send one of his men out as a decoy to invite them into camp. As they were brushing the snow off their coats Bat arrested them and turned them over to Edward County. Back in pursuit of the other 4 bandits, Bat took his posse 80 miles south of the neck and into Indian Territory. This hunt was not successful but a month later two of the outlaws arrived in Dodge City hoping for news of the position of the Sheriff’s posse. One of these men was spotted at a dance hall. Bat called for his brothers and took out the bandits without a gunfight. The fifth bandit managed to escape the law for over six months and the sixth was never captured. Bats triumph however was complete.
The smart young lawman became a familiar sight as he patrolled and took his buggy around his area, an enormous area which covered 100 miles from east to west and 75 miles from North to South. Outlaws and horse rustlers started to give the area that Bat covered wide berth.
In April 1878, Bats brother Ed was killed while trying to disarm two drunken cowboys. The town mourned Ed Masterton’s death and every business in town closed down and the windows draped in black cloth.
After leaving Dodge and over the next forty years, Bat travelled extensively flitting from boom town to boom town, returning to Dodge when his brother Jim needed him, this was in particular for one incident where his brother’s life , he travelled what he called “a thousand miles” to get back to Jim and come to his aid.
In Colorado he turned up as a gambler in the town of Leadville, in Trinidad as the town Marshall and in Creede he combined both of the above. As Creede’s Marshall he kept such a tight rein that a newspaper reporter wrote “all the toughs and thugs fear him as they do not other dozen men in camp. Let an incident riot start and all that is necessary to quell it is “There comes Masterson”.” As the manager of the gambling house he walked around his own premises in a lavender corduroy suit.
As the years passed and took their toll on Bats reflexes, speed and eyesight he knew he could not live on his reputation alone and so he left the lawman and gunfighters life. In one year in Denver he managed a saloon that had a variety show and it is reputed he married one of the performers, Emma Moulton, and although concrete evidence has never been found that they did marry, their relationship endured until the death of Bat. He also turned to promoting prize fights, he lost his bank roll on bad bets and started to drink heavily.
Bat eventually arrived in New York, earning his living as a sports writer. Bat Masterson by now a national celebrity had left his lawman and gun slinging days for good and when he was offered appointment by President Theodore Roosevelt as the US Marshall for Oklahoma, Bat said no to the president in this sad but touching letter. “I am not the man for the job. Oklahoma is still woolly, and if I were Marshall some youngster would try to put me out because of my reputation. I would be bait for grown up kids who had fed on dime novels. I would have to kill or be killed. No sense to that. I have taken my guns off, and I don’t ever want to put them on again.”
Bat passed away from a heart attack while sitting at his desk in New York City on the 25th October 1921.