Bartholomew "Bat" Masterson
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

photograph ©Boot Hill Museum

Bartholomew Masterson was born on November 23/26, 1853 in Iroquois County, Illinois . He later would change his name to William Barclay Masterson. He was the son of a Kansas homesteader called Thomas Masterson and his wife Catherine. They lived on a succession of different farms in Canada and in the United States. They moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1871. His family consisted of a lawman clan that tamed Dodge City, Kansas:

  1. George Masterson
  2. Thomas Masterson was murdered.
  3. Edward J. Masterson was marshal of Dodge City.
  4. Bartholomew Masterson was called "Bat" for short and was the sheriff of Ford County, the county that included Dodge City as its county seat.
  5. James Masterson was a Dodge City marshal.

In 1872, when Bat was only nineteen (19) three of the eldest Masterson brothers left farm life to try buffalo hunting in southwestern Kansas. In Abode Walls, a panhandle town, Bat got the first taste of fighting Cheyenne and Apache warriors. He later rode as scout for Colonel Nelson Mills during an army campaign in the Texas panhandle. In this same year, Bat and his brother Ed undertook a grading contract for the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe Railroad. This job took them to Dodge City.

Bat and Ed's contractor was Raymond Ritter. Ritter skipped town still owing them $300.00. So then Bat and his brother went back to buffalo hunting. The profusion of buffalo hunters resulted in the buffalo herds almost being wiped out. This inspired the Plains Indians to turn against the hunters. Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne Warriors plotted to attack the hunters at dawn. However, the hunters used their "Big Fifty Sharps" buffalo guns as defense and many Indians were killed. The natives were eventually driven unto reservations and a new town named Sweetwater (later called Mobeetie) was founded.

On April 15, 1873, Raymond Ritter returned to Dodge City and Bat was there to meet him at gunpoint. Bat made Ritter hand over the $300.00 right then and there.

On July 27, 1874, a twenty-year-old (20) Bat was the youngest defender at the Battle of Adobe Walls.

On January 24, 1876, in Sweetwater, Texas, Bartholomew Masterson had his first gunfight. Bat also took a Sweetwater girl named Molly Brennan from her former lover, Sgt. Melvin King. King fired on Masterson one night when he saw them together in a saloon. Molly put herself between Bat and King's bullet and was killed instantly. The bullet continued into Bat's pelvis. The Sergeant saw Bat fall and aimed a second shot. However, before Melvin King could fire, Bat fired upon him and he died the following day in his Army camp. Masterson had several cowtown affairs with prostitutes.

Bat suffered a permanent limp from his wound, and took to carrying a cane out of necessity, and later for adornment and as his weapon. Many think that is how he got his nickname, since he used his cane as a weapon ("a bat").

In the spring of 1877, Bat Masterson settled down in Dodge City. He was now twenty-three (23) years old. Masterson had slate blue eyes and black hair. He was a dandy in his mode of dress. At age twenty-three (23) he wore a sombrero with a rattlesnake headband, a red silk neck scarf, a Mexican sash, silver-plated six shooters in silver studded holsters, and a pair of gold-mounted spurs.

Bat's brothers, Ed and Jim (the youngest Masterson), were already in Dodge. James Masterson co-owned a saloon-dancehall. Ed, his eldest brother, was assistant marshal of Dodge. Bat ran afoul of the law after drinking too much bad whiskey. He started a fight with Marshal Larry Deger, a whale of a man weighing three-hundred (300) pounds. Degar had to pistol whip Bat to subdue him, and put him in jail for abetting a criminal named Bobby Gill to escape from Deger. Ed Masterson, Bat's brother, then caught Bobby the next day, and put him into the same jail as Bat. The court charged Gill a five dollar fine (for resisting arrest and abetting a criminal), and gave him a railroad ticket out of town. Bat had to pay twenty-five (25). Bat never cared much for Marshal Larry Deger from that day on.

Dodge City Major James "Dog" Kelley kept a pack of greyhounds that once belonged to General George Armstrong Custer. Kelley also had a saloon. Deger made trouble for him by arresting his saloon bartender on what Kelley felt were trumped up charges, and James and Bat became friends allied by their hatred of Larry Deger. Major Kelley suspended Marshal Deger from office and asked Ed Masterson and policeman Joe Mason to arrest their boss. Degar was re-instated since the Mayor was suddenly not charged and neither was his bartender.

Bat was eventually appointed under sheriff of Ford County (at age 24). Bat then traded his Mexican gear for a tailor-made black suit and a bowler hat. Six train robberies came about in Edward County, which was located about thirty-five (35) miles from Dodge City. Bat and his posse caught two of the robbers and took them to Edward County, then went looking for the other four men. They rode into Indian Territory (about 80 miles away) but could not find the bandits. Two of the men came to Dodge and were spotted in the dance hall. They were then jailed. The fifth bandit was caught six (6) months later, but the sixth man was never caught. One of the bandits decided to turn state's evidence and was not convicted, because he helped the law to bring in the rest by telling where they might be found.

In 1878 there were many saloon fights, con men, and soldiers looking for trouble. It was a lot of work to keep the peace in Dodge City. This was until Bat's reputation as a gunfighter got out. Then malcontents steered around Dodge. His brother Ed was not a gunfighter, but he practiced by shooting cans off fences. However, Ed Masterson was fatally wounded on April 9, 1878, and was buried in a military cemetary at Fort Dodge . Jim Materson joined his brother as a policeman (at age 23). Jim later was made marshal and he ended up in a shooting match with a saloonkeeper.

Bat was town marshal in Trinidad, and a gambler on Leadville, Colorado. In Creede, Colorado he gambled and was their marshal in 1892.

After leaving his position as sheriff, in January 1880, Masterson drifted into Colorado and Nebraska. Early in 1881, Bat joined Wyatt Earp at the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona. Wyatt was credited with teaching Bat about gambling and drinking. And when Bat got older he managed a saloon in Denver, Colorado. In 1883, Bat returned to Dodge City to help his friend Luke Short, since the townsmen sought to close his saloon and gambling hall. Luke Short's friends Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petilon, M.F. McCain, and Neil Brown came to Luke's aid and the town leaders backed off on their prosposals.

In 1886, Bat had an affair with Nellie Spencer. Bat married Emma Waters, an actress, in 1891. They had no children. This was most likely a blessing since Bat did too much drinking and gambling. Eventually Masterson was a sports writer in New York City and worked for the New York Morning Telegraph. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him, as United State Marshal of the Oklahoma Territory, which Bat did from 1905-1906 and then resigned because the job interferred with his newspaper work. Masterson also was old enough to realize that his gunfighting days were over. Bat Masterson died of a heart attack on Ocotber 25, 1921, at age 68, in New York City.

*****

SOURCES:

Cruthfield, James A., Bill O'Neil, and Dale L. Walker. Legends of the Wild West. Lincolnwood, IL.: Publications International, Ltd., 1995.

Korn (Managing editor), Jerry, Ezra Cowen (asst.) et al. Gunfighters. New York: Time-Life Books, 1974.

Reedstrom, E. Lisle. Authentic Costumes & Characters of the Wild West. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1992.

Rosa, Joseph G. The Taming of the West: Age of the Gunfighter. New York: Smithmark, 1993.


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