Bat Masterson


The changes, which occur in a man’s lifespan, are indeed strange. From gunfighter to newspaper writer in a big city paper is what I refer to. And yet this is precisely what happened to gunfighter Bat Masterson, born in an age when culture was upon the eastern seaboard and savagery along the frontiers of an expanding country.

Bat was born William Barclay Masterson in 1856. As a young man he left home to become a buffalo hunter on the Great Plains when the vast herds were being annihilated by thousands of hunters who left the meat to rot and shipped skin and bones off to St Louis by the trainload.

Mr. Masterson had distinguished himself as a frontiersman by taking part in the historic Battle of Adobe Walls in which 19 hunters were attached by 1000 Commanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. Also, Wyatt Earp, frontier marshal, had a good opinion of Bat Masterson as is indicated when we see that he was made one of the Dodge City Peace Commission of 1883. Bat also wrote a book about his frontier days.

That he was a fighter; there is no question. He knew and understood the big country and became an army scout at Sweetwater, Texas. He derived his name “Bat” partially because of an incident, which happened here in Texas. An army sergeant by name of King had a girl friend whom Bat asked for a dance and a fight ensued in which Bat was shot in the leg, fracturing the bone. King was killed in the fight with a bullet in the heart. This leg wound made Bat limp, and because he later came to use the cane as a club on recalcitrant cowboy heads when he became a peace officer, he earned the sobriquet, “Bat”.

Wyatt Earp became the marshal of Dodge and had his hands full of hell-raising cowboys off the trail, along with gambling men and killers in general, and so he offered Bat and his brother Ed jobs as deputies, which they readily accepted. Bat became a familiar figure along the boardwalks with that formidable cane, and with a tilted hat. It also gave him a debonair and a cosmopolitan look, save for the ivory-handled pistols swinging at his sides. He was a natural born fighter and as fearless as they come. He always claimed he owed much to his teacher, Wild Bill Hickok, for his manner in handling his guns.

Bat received word that Wild Bill Hickok had been slain in Deadwood, South Dakota, by Jack McCall and decided therefore to quit his job and go to visit the wild mining town. He got no further than Cheyenne, where he lost considerable money and then decided to return to Dodge. He ran for sheriff of Ford County, which he won at the age of 22.

Bat disliked many of the gunfighters who hung about the gambling halls of town, and he put up with Doc Holliday simply because he was Wyatt Earp’s friend. It was Bat who captured and jailed the notorious Dave Rudabaugh, who had been robbing trains in the vicinity. Bat had shot down a couple of hard characters in fair street fights and so his popularity soared.

Ed Masterson was not the man his brother was. In a street gunfight with gunslingers Alf Walker and Jack Warner, Ed was cut to ribbons and lay bleeding in the street when Bat came upon the killers. His guns immediately went into action and left Jack Warner dead in the street and Alf cut down and on his knees with a bullet in his guts.

Wyatt Earp had gone on to Tombstone, Arizona, and wrote both Bat and Luke Short to come down to the lively mining town and he would put both of them to work in his new business venture, the Oriental Saloon. This offer was accepted. However, Bat wanted to go into business for himself and soon left Tombstone for Colorado where he opened up a gambling house of his own in Trinidad.

The fast pace was telling on Bat. He decided to slow down. He was offered an U.S. Marshalship in Arizona but declined this offer from President Theodore Roosevelt. Instead, he accepted a post of U. S. Marshal in New York State. Then he quit this job, feeling that some hoodlum would shoot him sooner or later, and went to work as a sports writer on the New York MorningTelegraph. He became a familiar figure at ringside at all the top fights and a night goer along the Big White Way of Broadway. He took sick in 1921 and cashed in his chips at the age of 65 years.