Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Bat Masterson

asterson. Bat Masterson.

Born Wiliam Barclay Masterson, Bat Masterson was more than just a lawman. He was a buffalo hunter, a writer, a gambler, a scout for the U.S. Army, and a U.S. Marshal. He is also the first Canadian "gunslinger" I've run across, so far. He was born November 26, 1853 in Henryville, Canada East. He was actually baptized as Bartholomew Masterson, but chose to go by William Barclay as he got older.

His father was first generation Canadian, with an Irish family, while his mother was born in Ireland. He had five brothers and two sisters, and was the second oldest. Two of his brothers would also become lawmen: James and Ed Masterson. But first, they took off, the three of them, to be buffalo hunters, somehow getting roped into fighting Indians, specifically the Kiowa and Comanche, for the U.S. Army. He fought in the Battle of Adobe Walls on July 27, 1874, at 21 years of age. It was during his buffalo hunting days that Bat Masterson met Wyatt Earp, who taught him how to gamble.

In 1877, Bat became a sheriff's deputy, along with Wyatt Earp, in Dodge City, Kansas. Just a year before, he had killed a man in a gunfight, though it was established that the man had begun the fight, all over a woman. When the man fired at Bat in a jealous rage, the woman threw herself in front of him. Bat came away with a gunshot to the pelvis, which he fully recovered from, but the bullet had gone through his lady first, killing her.

It didn't take long for Bat to become sheriff, just a few months, in fact. However, he was voted out in 1879, not due to lack of a sparkly record. During his time as sheriff he avenged his brother Ed's death in the line of duty (U.S. Marshal), brought in members of the Mike Roark Gang (train robbers) and the murderer of entertainer Dora Hand. There was never a complaint about him in his role of sheriff, and he very rarely had to pull his gun, his reputation as a sharp shooter preceding him wherever he went.

After he was voted out, he became a Deputy U.S. Marshal. He then began working with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, aiding them in their battle with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad to establish a right of way through Raton Pass.

Lacking a badge, he drifted around as a gambler for a time, even joining Wyatt Earp as a casino/saloon enforcer and manager in Tombstone, Arizona. His time there was short, though, as a telegram arrived for him from an anonymous source stating that two fella's were going to kill his brother, James. He immediately raced back to Dodge City, running into the two men who were purported to be gunning for his brother. He immediately addressed them, asking to talk to them. They knew who he was, as well as that he was one of the best shots in the west, so they fled, inciting a gunfight (they shot first, or else they would have been killed immediately, or so folks said). Despite the fact that others joined in the gunfight, no one was killed, though Bat wounded one of them, resulting in his arrest. As the man survived, Bat was released on $8 payment, and he and James left Dodge City. This was his last gunfight; he was 27 years old.

Bat returned to his law roots shortly thereafter, serving as a marshal in Trinidad, Colorado and a sheriff in Pueblo, Colorado. He and his crew single-handedly cleaned up the city of Trinidad, Colorado in one year. As of 1888, however, he was back to dealing faro and gambling, working his way around Colorado. He and Soapy Smith were involved in a scandal together concerning election fraud in Denver, Colorado. This is also where he met his wife, an actress (gee, he and Wyatt had a LOT in common) named Emma Walters.

It was his involvement in gambling that led him to prize fighting, which then led him to sports writing, first for George's Weekly in Denver and eventually the New York Morning Telegraph. He came to have a column in the NY Morning Telegraph three times per week, which was entitled Masterson's Views on Timely Topics. In this column, he continued discussing sports, but also expanded into all topics dealing with his city, including politics and recreation spots.

Bat Masterson wrote until his death, October 25, 1921, at the age of 67. He died of a heart attack. Yet another man of the west who died a most surprisingly simple death, considering the life he'd led.

1. Bat Masterson, during his newspaper days, would buy guns at pawn shops, carve notches in them, and sell them, claiming each one was the gun he used during his territory days.

2. Bat Masterson was a member of the Dodge City Peace Commission, which also included Wyatt Earp. They were involved in the Dodge City War, a bloodless war that occurred between opposing political groups in Dodge City. Masterson's gang was a powerful group, and a new mayor made it his mission to oust the old crew when he took over.

3. His story became legend because of a trick played on a reporter in 1881. When the reporter asked a man in Gunnison, Colorado about any man killers they'd had in the area, the man launched into a tall tale about Bat Masterson, even pointing to a man in the building and claiming he was Bat, despite the fact that he'd already left the territory. He said Bat had killed 26 men in his time in the west, which was far from the truth (excluding his time in the military). This reporter published his story in the New York Sun, which was widely circulated. It was re-printed in other papers across the country, solidifying the tremendous fictional character forever attached to the real Bat Masterson.

4. During his writing years, Bat worked as a U.S. Marshal in New York at the request of president Theodore Roosevelt. 1908-1912. President Howard Taft fired him when he came to power, as he was removing all of Roosevelt's appointees.

5. In 1902, Bat Masterson was arrested for illegal gambling.

6. Bat was famous for getting drunk and walking down Main Street in Trinidad, Colorado, shooting out lights. When he sobered up the next morning, he'd go around and pay for the damage.

7. He was involved in the prize fight officiated over by Judge Roy Bean in between Texas and Mexico Territory. It was his responsibility to protect the prize money and see it got to the winner.

8. He was asked to leave Denver City in 1902, due to his issues with alcohol and public drunkenness.

9. He referred to himself as "The Genius" when self-publicizing.

10. It is thought he killed only one man in a gunfight, outside his military/Indian Scout years. Yet he gained notoriety for his shooting prowess, anyway.

You think Masterson and Earp were separated at birth? Where was the line drawn, back in the Old West, between lawman and criminal?

May you find your Muse.

*Letter M courtesy of OCAL at
**Beschreibung: Bat Masterson 1879, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
***Beschreibung: Wyatt Earp (rechts) und Bat Masterson 1876, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
****Bat Masterson, Aged 61, at Johnson - Willard fight, Havana, Cuba, April, 1915., By Kelly Parker, Greyhawk Media [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
*****The "Dodge City Peace Commission" June 1883. From left to right: Standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson; Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown. By Camillus S. Fly, ca. 1890. 111-SC-94129. From Wikimedia Commons


Lindi said...

Okay--all that before he was 27? Wow--very interesting guy. Love reading your blog. :)

DonnaGalanti said...

Fascinating tale! Gritty stuff of the Old West. Thanks for the in depth article on this man in history. Nice to be on the A to Z with you.

DL Hammons said...

I've just always loved the name 'Bat'! That, and his bowler hat. :)

Cherie Reich said...

I hadn't heard of Bat Masterson before, but I do love that he referred to himself as "The Genius." :D

mshatch said...

Nice to see Bat here; I actually have him appear in one of my stories, flirting with one of my characters in Tombstone.

Beverly Diehl said...

I had heard various legends, but somehow it escaped me that he later became a writer. Love it!

Mary Aalgaard said...

The law was the people. "He took the law into his how hands" comes from that time. What else could they do? I hear that it's like the Wild West in Western ND right now as the oil industry is bringing in all sorts of shady characters.

Play off the Page

Julie Jordan SCott said...

So interesting! I've been to tombstone in Arizona, it is a fascinating place.

I love this sort of historical blog... (obviously, my blog is one of them!)

Julie Jordan Scott
Fellow A to Z Challenge Writer
twitter: @juliejordanscot
L is for Lydia Huntley Sigourney
On a Mission to Spread Word-Love Throughout the World

Shelly said...

Even back then peeps in power did crooked things. However, he sounded likeable. Good post, Shannon.

Julie Flanders said...

The name Bat Masterson is so awesome. It's hard to believe it was a real person. I think all of these old west characters are so fascinating!

Hope you're having a great weekend, Shannon. :)

Debra Harris-Johnson said...

I really loved this peice and to think he eneded up being a writer. I actually visited Tombstone Az in January and nothing eluded to Bat. What an oversight. Great post!

Cecilia Robert said...

Oh, wow. Bat had such a colourful record. I've never heard of Bat before, interesting character.

Elizabeth said...

Fascinating post and fascinating subject. He had quite an interesting life. I'd better get busy.

Andrew Leon said...

You need to do a post on faro. Maybe I don't know enough about gambling, but I have no idea what that is.

I think the Marshalls are cool. Only thing better? The Texas Rangers.

Chuck said...

Shannon, your stories are so interesting. I'll bet there were more men like Wyatt and Bat roaming the wide west. They sure did live very parallel lives.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Wow, that's fascinating. I'll bet it doesn't have much in common with the old TV show I watched as a kid.

SarcasticTestGuy said...

Thanks for that! I love westerns and although I've been exposed to many myths around Masterson, I've never seen anything claiming the truth. Probably because I never looked for it! :)

Mum of one said...

Fascinating tale. He had quite a life!

D.G. Hudson said...

An interesting character and post. There was an old TV show about Bat Masterson. (Gene Barry was the actor per Wikipedia)

Guns were the law of the old west, not sure what they represent today, except the ease with which they can be obtained.

ShannonW said...

Bat was one busy man! I only knew a small handful of information about him before now. Thanks for posting this!

Jemi Fraser said...

I didn't know he Bat M was born in Canada! What an amazing life. So much violence in that era. It's incredible!

Arlee Bird said...

Bat Masterson was one of my heroes of pre-adolescence. I used to love the television show. Now I've got the theme song in my head:
"Back when the west was very young,
There lived a man named Masterson.
He wore a cane and derby hat
His name was Bat--
Bat Masterson"

Great post.

A Faraway View
An A to Z Co-host blog

Nick Wilford said...

It was a fuzzy line alright, but then it was a very cutthroat world. Seems like he was more or less decent.

loverofwords said...

Someone else who remembers lyrics, Lee, so do I. I like the romantic idea of the Old West, like Newman and Redford's portrayal, but I know it wasn't like that. And the line was thin. I always learn something from your blogs. Thank you!

cleemckenzie said...

He certainly had a lot grist for his mill, didn't he? Very interesting bio. Thanks for giving me so much about this legendary old west figure.

Cat Lavoie said...

Absolutely fascinating! Henryville is actually not that far from where I live. Another awesome post! :)

Gregg Metcalf said...

Excellent choice for the M Word. Love stories about Bat or Wyatt. Wyatt's brother is buried in Portland. It was interesting to see his grave.

Jo said...

Amazing the way they lived then. As you say, where is the division between law and crime. Interesting post for M.

Betsy Schow said...

Holy Post Batman! Thanks for co-hosting the A-Z challenge. It's kicking my butt, in a good way I think :)

Leslie S. Rose said...

Love your question about the fine line between scoundrel and lawman back in the west. I guess it just depended on who was looking.

Amanda Trought said...

Shannon, he definitely managed to fit a lot in to his life! Amanda

Amanda - Realityarts-Creativity
Art Blog

Shannon Lawrence said...

Lindi, it makes me feel shamed, LOL. I feel like I hadn't accomplished much at all by age 27.

Donna, thank you, gritty indeed!

DL, that was one stylish hat, no?

Cherie, such low self-esteem he had, eh?

Marcy, love it! How fun!

Beverly, I hadn't known that before, either.

Mary, as much as I love the idea of the Wild West, I think I'm perfectly happy to avoid ND right now.

Julie, I need to go there! Never been, but one of these days. Maybe paired with a trip to Grand Canyon or something.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Shelly, that's still what makes a difference sometimes, isn't it? Being likable?

Julie, with a name like that, he was born to be notorious!

Debra, no way! How could they forget Bat? Probably because everything focuses on the Earp brothers?

Cecilia, he was definitely colorful!

Elizabeth, no kidding! I figure there's no way I could ever catch up with him.

Andrew, I also have no idea what faro is, other than the idea of it, of course. Walker Texas Ranger? ;-p

Chuck, Oh, I bet there were many! Maybe that would be a fun topic to cover in the future: colorful lawmen through the ages.

Donna, not sure. Was he shown as really pure? 100% hero?

Sarcastic Test Guy, at this point, I'm sure 75% of him is myth!

Mum, he certainly did!

Shannon Lawrence said...

D.G., heck, even police officers these days are discouraged from using their guns.

Shannon, glad I could maybe tell you a bit more about him! Such an interesting guy.

Jemi, I hadn't known that before, either!

Lee, yay, that was fun! Thanks for sharing it. A couple people who commented enjoyed the show.

Nick, as these guys go, I do think he was more decent than not.

Loverofwords, admittedly, I like the romanticized version of the Wild West, as well, at least to a point. I can covet a wild world like that, but...I like baths and being somewhat safe in my home.

Clee, he definitely did!

Cat, cool! Have you been there?

Gregg, I'm jealous! I'd like to visit his grave.

Jo, it was definitely a slim division, wasn't it?

Betsy, I hope you made it all the way through and loved it!

Leslie, maybe their intentions made a difference, too? At least for some?

Amanda, I'd love to fit in a portion of what he fit!