M is for Masterson – William Barclay Masterson or Bartholomew Masterson, what was the name given him at birth? No one really knows, but he has come down through time simply known as Bat. If ever the Wild West had a renaissance man it was Bat Masterson. (young Masterson – left)
He moved to the Southwest Plains with brothers Ed and Jim in the early 1870s to make his fortune hunting. His first famous fight, in 1874, was beside 27 other buffalo hunters facing as many as 700 Texas Indians at the Battle of Adobe Walls. Two years later he had his first shootout in Sweetwater, Texas. He killed a young corporal over the attentions of a lady, Mollie Brennan, but to no good end, since the poor girl was killed herself in the crossfire. Heading north to Kansas he served as deputy and was elected sheriff in Dodge City alongside Wyatt Earp. He received high praise for his work. All told he engaged in about six gunfights over the years and ranged as far as Colorado and Arizona as a gun hand and gambler.
But wait there’s more. On June 9, 1883 he published a letter to the editor in the Daily Kansas State Journal announcing his return to Dodge and regaling the public with the adventures of his and other gunfighters during what he dubbed the Dodge City Saloon wars. The next year he published a broadside featuring his take on Dodge City politics. By the 1890s he wrote a weekly sports column and eventually became sports editor for the New York Morning Telegraph. He also penned a thrice weekly column on New York’s theater, politics, social events and restaurants. He (Masterson in NYC late in life – right) testified before Congress in support of one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Federal appointees, promoted and refereed boxing matches, and served as US Marshal for the Southern District of NY.
But Bat was no angel. He sold his one and only famed revolver – The Gun that Tamed the West—at least six times to different buyers. He was friend to con men and not averse to stretching the truth if it served him. This may explain the confusion about his birth name. He never married his common law wife Emma though he claimed to have, and he lied in a Federal census about (one of Bat’s one and only guns above)his birthplace, swearing he’d been born in Missouri. But elected to public office and holding appointment as Federal Marshal, it may be understandable why he didn’t confess to being a Subject of the Queen. Yes, Masterson was born in Canada, before that country achieved independence from Britain. Maybe that was just a bridge too far for a real American hero of the West.
Buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, sheriff, gambler, journalist, sportsman, politician, US Marshal and huckster; maybe, on second thought, the moniker, American hero of the West, fits just perfectly. He was after all like his epitaph reads: “Loved By Everyone”— well, excepting maybe those who bought his gun.
Tell me what you think – leave a comment.