William Barclay “Bat” Masterson


William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (November 26, 1853 – October 25, 1921) was a figure of the American Old West known as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Marshal and Army scout, avid fisherman, gambler, frontier lawman, and sports editor and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. He was the brother of lawmen James Masterson and Ed Masterson.

Name and birth

Born on November 26, 1853, at Henryville, Canada East, in the Eastern Townships of what is Quebec today, and baptized as Bartholomew Masterson, he later used the name “William Barclay Masterson”.

His father, Thomas Masterson (or Mastersan), was born in Canada, of an Irish family; and his mother, Catherine McGurk (or McGureth), was born in Ireland. He was the second child in a family of five brothers and two sisters. They were raised on farms in Quebec, New York, and Illinois, until they finally settled near Wichita, Kansas.

In his late teens, he and two of his brothers, Ed Masterson and James Masterson, left their family’s farm to become buffalo hunters. While traveling without his brothers, Bat took part in the Battle of Adobe Walls in Texas, and killed Comanche Indians. He then spent time as a U.S. Army scout in a campaign against the Kiowa and Comanche Indians.

Gunfighter and lawman

His first gunfight took place in 1876 in Sweetwater, Texas (later Mobeetie in Wheeler County, not to be confused with the current Sweetwater, the seat of Nolan County west of Abilene, Texas). He was attacked by a soldier, Corporal Melvin A. King, in a fight, allegedly because of a girl. The girl, Mollie Brennan, stopped one of King’s bullets and was killed. King, whose real name was Anthony Cook, died of his wounds. Masterson was shot in the pelvis but recovered. The story that he needed to carry a cane for the rest of his life is a legend perpetuated by the TV series starring Gene Barry.

In 1877, he joined his brothers in Dodge City, Kansas. Jim was the partner of Ed, who was an assistant marshal. Soon after his arrival, Masterson came into conflict with the local marshal over the treatment of a man being arrested. He was jailed and fined, although his fine was later returned by the city council. He served as a sheriff’s deputy alongside Wyatt Earp, and within a few months he was elected county sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. As sheriff, Bat won plaudits for capturing four members of the Mike Roark gang, who had unsuccessfully held up a train at nearby Kinsley, Kansas. He also led the posse that captured Jim “Spike” Kenedy, a 23-year-old cattleman who had inadvertently killed an entertainer named Dora Hand in Dodge City; with a shot through the shoulder Masterson eventually brought Kenedy down.

Fighting in Colorado on the Santa Fe side of its war against the Rio Grande railroad (see Royal Gorge Route Railroad), Masterson continued as Ford County sheriff until he was voted out of office in 1879. During this same period his brother Ed was Marshal of Dodge City and died in the line of duty on April 9, 1878. Ed was shot by a cowboy named Jack Wagner who was unaware that Bat was in the vicinity. As Ed stumbled away from the scene, Masterson responded from across the street with deadly force, firing on both Wagner and Wagner’s boss, Alf Walker. Wagner died the next day but Walker was taken back to Texas and recovered. The local newspapers were ambiguous about who shot Wagner and Walker, and this led some later historians to question whether Bat was involved. However, the recent locating of two court cases in which Bat testified under oath that he had shot both means that it must be accepted that Bat avenged his brother.

Battle of the Plaza

For the next several years, he made a living as a gambler moving through several of the legendary towns of the Old West.

Wyatt Earp invited Masterson to Tombstone, Arizona Territory, in February 1881, where Earp owned a one-quarter interest in the gambling concession at the Oriental Saloon in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer. Earp wanted Masterson’s help running the faro tables in the Oriental Saloon. Masterson remained until April 1881, when he received an unsigned telegram that caused him to immediately return to Dodge City.


Jim Masterson was in partnership with A. J. Peacock in Dodge City’s Lady Gay Saloon and Dance Hall. Al Updegraff was Peacock’s brother-in-law and bartender. Jim thought Updegraff was dishonest and a drunk, and demanded that Peacock fire Updegraff. Peacock refused. Their disagreement grew until threats were made, prompting the telegram. Bat boarded the next stagecoach and arrived in Dodge City on April 16. Getting off the train before it stopped, Masterson saw Updegraff and Peacock. He accosted them, “Hold up there a minute, you two. I want to talk to you.” Recognizing Masterson, Updegraff and Peacock retreated behind the jail and exchanged gunfire with Masterson. Citizens ran for cover as bullets ripped through the Long Branch Saloon. Other individuals began firing in support of both sides until Updegraff was wounded. Mayor Ab Webster arrested Masterson. Afterward Bat learned that his brother Jim was not in danger. Updegraff recovered. Because the shooter who hit Updegraff could not be identified, Masterson was fined $8.00 and released.

It was unclear who fired first. The citizens were outraged and warrants were issued, but Bat and Jim were permitted to leave Dodge.

Dodge City War

Main article: Dodge City War.

Masterson spent a year as marshal of Trinidad, Colorado, as well as serving as Sheriff of South Pueblo, Colorado. In 1883, he participated in a bloodless conflict and gunfighter gathering later called the Dodge City War.

Denver, Colorado

In 1888, Masterson was living in Denver, Colorado, where he dealt faro for “Big Ed” Chase at the Arcade gambling house. In 1888 he managed and then purchased the Palace Variety Theater. It was probably there that Bat first met an Indian club swinger and singer called Emma Moulton, born as Emma Walter near Philadelphia in 1857. The pair subsequently lived together and it has been widely reported that they married in Denver on 21 November 1891. Although no record of the marriage has come to light thus far and Emma was not divorced from her first husband until 9 November 1893, the partnership was to survive until Bat’s death. While in Denver, he met and maintained a long term friendship with the infamous confidence man, Soapy Smith and members of the Soap Gang. In 1889 the two friends were involved together in the famous Denver registration and election fraud scandal. In 1892 he moved to the silver boom town of Creede, Colorado, where he managed the Denver Exchange Club until the town was destroyed by fire. On the 1900 Federal Census record for Arapahoe County in Denver he lists his name as William Masterson with his birthplace as Missouri in 1854. His wife is listed as Emma Masterson married for 10 years and he lists his occupation as Athletic Club Keeper. Bat continued to travel around the boom towns of the West, gambling and promoting prize fights. He began writing a weekly sports column for George’s Weekly, a Denver newspaper, and opened the Olympic Athletic Club to promote the sport of boxing.

Fame and notoriety

Bat Masterson lived in the American West during a violent and frequently lawless period. His most recent biographer concludesthat, Indian-fighting aside, he used a firearm against a fellow man on just six occasions, far less than some of his contemporaries such as Dallas Stoudenmire, “Wild Bill” Hickok, and Clay Allison. However, the fact that he was so widely known can be ascribed to a practical joke played on a gullible newspaper reporter in August 1881. Seeking copy in Gunnison, Colorado, the reporter asked Dr W.S. Cockrell about mankillers. Dr. Cockrell pointed to a young man nearby and said it was Bat and that he had killed 26 men. Cockrell then regaled the reporter with several lurid tales about Bat’s exploits and the reporter wrote them up for the New York Sun. The story was then widely reprinted in papers all over the country and became the basis for many more exaggerated stories told about Bat over the years. Masterson left the West and went to New York City by 1902, where he was arrested for illegal gambling.

President Theodore Roosevelt, on the recommendation of mutual friend Alfred Henry Lewis, appointed Masterson to the position of deputy to U.S. Marshal for the southern district of New York, under William Henkel. Roosevelt had met Masterson on several occasions and had become friendly with him. Masterson split his time between his writing and keeping the peace in the grand jury room whenever the U. S. Attorney in New York held session. He performed this service for about $2,000 per year from early 1908 until 1912 when President William Howard Taft removed Masterson from the position during Taft’s purge of Roosevelt supporters from government positions.

Newspaper man

Bat Masterson worked as a sports writer and editor, and a columnist. His career as a writer started around 1883 and ended upon his death in New York City in 1921.

He wrote a letter published in the Daily Kansas State Journal, on June 9, 1883, that mentioned his arrival in Dodge City, the famous Long Branch saloon, and his famous cohorts who made the Long Branch their headquarters during the so-called “Dodge City Saloon War.” It was during this time that Bat met newspapermen Alfred Henry and William Eugene Lewis. Both journalists were destined to play a role in Masterson’s future as a scribe. Masterson published Vox Populi, a single edition newspaper focusing on local Dodge City politics in November 1884. Masterson penned a weekly sports column for George’s Weekly sometime after his arrival in Denver, Colorado, in the late 1890s.

Masterson continued his writing career in New York at the New York Morning Telegraph, (a sporting newspaper featuring race form and results whose reputation was part of what was known as “a whore’s breakfast,” which consisted of a cigarette and the Morning Telegraph) c. 1904. Hired by the younger Lewis brother, William Eugene Lewis, he reprised his role as sports writer, later becoming the paper’s sports editor. The politics, sporting events, theaters, fine dining establishments, and varied night life of his adopted city became fodder for his thrice weekly column “Masterson’s Views on Timely Topics” for more than 18 years. W. E. Lewis eventually became the general manager and president of the company and promoted his friend Masterson to vice president and company secretary.

In 1906, an old friend named Ben Daniels was appointed Marshal of Arizona Territory by President Theodore Roosevelt over “ferocious local opposition.” After a delay of five months, Daniels finally won confirmation on April 25, 1906, with the help of Speaker of the House Joseph Gurney Cannon and testimony by Masterson and Senator Frederick Dodge.

While in New York City, Masterson met up again with the Lewis brothers. Alfred Henry Lewis eventually wrote several short stories and a novel The Sunset Trail, about Masterson. Alfred Lewis encouraged Bat to write a series of sketches about his adventures which were published by Lewis in the magazine he edited, Human Life (c. 1907–1908). Masterson regaled his readers with stories about his days on the frontier and his gunfighter friends. He also explained to his audience what he felt were the best properties of a gunfighter.

It was during this time that Masterson sold his famous sixgun—”the gun that tamed the West”—because he “needed the money.” It has been reported that Masterson bought old guns at pawnshops, carved notches into the handles and sold them at inflated prices. Each time he claimed the gun was the one he used during his career as a lawman.

Death and legacy

Bat Masterson died at age 67 on October 25, 1921, while living and working in New York City. He collapsed at his desk from a heart attack after penning what became his final column for the New York Morning Telegraph. His body was taken to Campbell’s Funeral Parlor and later buried after a simple service in Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York. His full name, William Barclay Masterson, appears above his epitaph on the large granite grave marker in Woodlawn. His epitaph states that he was “Loved by Everyone.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s