Bat-Masterson

William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (November 26, 1853 – October 25, 1921) was a noted figure of the American Old West.

Known as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Marshal and Army scout, avid fisherman, gambler, frontier lawman, sports editor and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph, he was the brother of lawmen James Masterson and Ed Masterson.

The actor Gene Barry played Bat Masterson in a U.S. television series loosely based on the historical character. The show ran on NBC in 107 episodes from 1958 to 1961, and featured Masterson as a superbly dressed gambler, generally outfitted in a black suit and derby hat, who was more inclined to “bat” crooks over the head with his gold-knobbed cane than shoot them.

Here’s a taste of what the show was like (video comes courtesy of YouTube):

And here’s what history has to tell us about the man:

His Early Years

William Barclay Masterson was born on November 26, 1853, at Henryville, Canada East, in the Eastern Townships of what is today Quebec, and was baptized as Bartholomew Masterson. He adopted the forename William Barclay, in later life.

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.

William 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

His first gunfight took place in 1876 in Sweetwater, Texas (later Mobeetie in Wheeler County).

Bat was attacked by a soldier, Corporal Melvin A. King – allegedly because of a girl. The girl in question, 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 the late Gene Barry.

Lawman

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 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.

He also led the posse that captured Jim Kenedy – who had inadvertently killed an entertainer named Dora Hand in Dodge. Masterson brought Kenedy down with a shot through the shoulder.

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.

Tombstone

For the next several years, Bat 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 early 1881.

Earp owned a one-quarter interest in the gambling concession at the Oriental Saloon, in exchange for his services as a manager and enforcer. He wanted Bat’s help running the faro tables in the Oriental.

Bat remained until April 1881, when he received an unsigned telegram that compelled him to immediately return to Dodge City:

COME AT ONCE. UPDEGRAFF AND PEACOCK ARE GOING TO KILL JIM.

Battle of the Plaza

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, which Peacock refused to do. Their disagreement grew until threats flew, at which time Bat received the telegram.

Masterson got the next stagecoach out of Tombstone and arrived in Dodge City on April 16.

Jumping off the train before it stopped, Masterson saw Updegraff and Peacock. He accosted them.

Recognizing Bat, the two retreated behind the jail, and the three began exchanging gunfire.

Citizens ran for cover as bullets ripped through the Long Branch Saloon. Other individuals began firing in support of both sides until Updegraff was shot.

Mayor Ab Webster arrested Masterson, and only then did he learn that his brother Jim was fine.

Updegraff slowly recovered, and since it could not be determined who shot Updegraff, Masterson was fined $8.00 and released.

Updegraff and Peacock did not explain why they were headed towards the train depot, guns under their coats.

The citizens were outraged, warrants were issued, but Bat and Jim were permitted to leave Dodge.

Denver, Colorado

In 1888 Masterson was living in Denver, Colorado, where he dealt faro for “Big Ed” Chase at the Arcade gambling house.

That same year, 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, Bat also 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.

Travels, West

In 1892 Bat 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.

New York: A Call to Service

Masterson left the West and went to New York City by 1902, where he was arrested for illegal gambling

Some time later, 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’s career as a writer started around 1883, and ended at his death in New York City in 1921. He worked as a sports writer and editor; and a columnist.

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.

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.

The Latter Day Masterson

Alfred Henry Lewis eventually wrote several short stories and a novel, “The Sunset Trail”, about Masterson. He 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 six-gun -“the gun that tamed the West” – because he “needed the money.”

Actually, 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!

Bat Masterson’s Death

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 The 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.”

I hope you loved this one.

And that you’ll join me, for the next.

Till then.

Peace.

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