Saturday, April 14, 2012
M is for 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.
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.
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 clker.com
**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