Eventually Trying His Hand As A Newspaperman
Not many Old West gunfighters were born in Quebec. Not many Old West gunfighters eventually died slumped over a typewriter in Manhattan rather than, say, a card table at a saloon in Deadwood or Tombstone. The only man on both of these short lists is William Barclay "Bat" Masterson. Befitting such a contrast, many of the tales that made Bat Masterson a legend of the Old West were exaggerated or simply fiction, while the true story of his life contains many more surprises than many a novelist or scriptwriter could ever imagine.
In 1853, William Bartholomew Masterson (he later changed his middle name) was born in Henryville, Quebec of Irish descent. The future western legend was brought to the US by his family in 1861. By 1871, the Mastersons had moved to Kansas, and young William and his brother Ed left the family farm to take up buffalo hunting. Their brother James joined them later.
At this time, enormous herds of American bison (erroneously known as "buffalo") roamed the Great Plains. There was considerable money to be had in shooting them for their hides, as well as meat to sell to railroad construction crews. Buffalo hunting taught Bat a great deal about living on the frontier, and also earned him a place in Western history.
Bat's buffalo hunting party was on the plains of the northern Texas Panhandle in June 1874. The hunters camped at Adobe Walls, a trading post that had recently opened near the ruins of an older post that had been blown up with gunpowder and abandoned back in the 1840s. Unknown to the hunters, a Comanche war party of several hundred warriors, under the leadership of the famous chief Quanah Parker, was heading for them.
When the attack came, the trading post, with its two-foot-thick walls of adobe bricks, was a fine fortress to withstand a siege. Inside the walls were 29 people, including one woman who was married to the trading post's cook. Although vastly outnumbered, the buffalo hunters had a considerable advantage because of their .50 caliber Sharps rifles, which had a much longer range than the weapons carried by the Comanche. Hundreds of bullets flew through the windows and doors, but only four of the defenders were killed before the Comanche broke off the siege.
After a period of scouting for the Army, Masterson's fame as a gunfighter began in Sweetwater. Texas on 24 January 1876. An army corporal named Melvin King became jealous of Masterson after a dancehall girl named Mollie Brennan dropped King in favor of him. (By one of Old West history's odd coincidences, King and Masterson were both born in Quebec.) Drunk and enraged. King found the pair in a saloon and opened fire, fatally hitting Mollie Brennan as well as wounding Masterson. Bat fired back, killing King. Masterson recovered from his wound, but had to walk with a cane for a time.
Ed Masterson had gone into law enforcement, becoming an assistant town marshal in Dodge City. Kansas in 1876. Soon, he was promoted to town marshal. His brother, Bat, moved to the town and became a police officer. Bat Masterson found himself keeping order during some of the rowdiest years of that famous cattle town. Before his 24th birthdav. voters of Dodge City and the surrounding areas elected him sheriff of Ford County.
One of the legends of Bat Masterson's life was that he shot it out with a gang of outlaws to avenge the murder of his brother. The real story was much different. On 9 April 1878. Ed Masterson stepped into the Lady Gay Saloon. At the bar was a boisterous and drunken cowboy named Jack Wagner, who was carrying a pistol in violation of town ordinances. (Visitors to Dodge City were required to turn their weapons into the marshal's office until they left town. Masterson took the cowboy's gun, but entrusted it to Alt" Walker, who was Wagner's boss.
Outside the saloon, Marshal Masterson saw that Wagner was again carrying his pistol. Once again, the lawman moved to confiscate the revolver, but the cowboy shoved his gun into the lawman's side and pulled the trigger. Walker also pulled a gun and started shooting. Fatally wounded, Masterson fired several shots that struck both of the cowboy assailants. Ed Masterson died an hour later, and Wagner died the next day.
In the aftermath of the murder, Bat Masterson stayed on as sheriff. The town hired as a new assistant marshal another soon-to-be-famous Old West character: Wyatt Earp. As sheriff, Bat Masterson's duties often took him out of town. Sometimes he pursued outlaws; other times, he escorted prisoners to the state penitentiary or brought suspects back from out-of-town jails for trial. He was lauded by the local press for bringing in a notorious horse thief named Dutch Henry. Masterson already knew the German-born outlaw, whose real name was Henry Born, because they had both been among the hunters trapped during the Battle of Adobe Walls. Born had stolen a pair of mules near Dodge City, but escaped from jail and spent a couple of years at large. Ranging from Kansas to New Mexico, Born stole an impressive number of horses and was said to be the head of a large gang.
Learning that Dutch Henry was in jail in Colorado, Masterson went to bring him back to stand trial in Dodge City. Bat went to considerable trouble arguing in a Colorado court to get custody of the prisoner, and bringing the notorious outlaw in for trial, only to see a Kansas court acquit the prisoner.
Another "high-profile case" was that of Dave Rudabaugh. Leading a gang of half a dozen desperadoes, he bungled two train robberies in one day. First, they staked out a water tank at Kinsley, east of Dodge City, on 27 January 1878. This robbery failed because the train they had their eye on didn't stop for water. Next, they rode to the depot at Kinsley to hold up an-other train. This time, the station agent escaped from the gang and warned the engineer, who sped his train away from the depot. Bat Masterson led a posse that caught Rudabaugh and another outlaw during a blizzard. Two more of the robbers fell into the hands of the law when they sneaked into Dodge City to break the other two out. In the end, Rudabaugh turned states' evidence on his accomplices and was released.
After their release, these outlaws brought in by Masterson took very different paths. Rudabaugh compiled a long list of crimes before being killed in Mexico. Dutch Henry became a changed man after later finishing a prison sentence for horse theft. Turning to prospecting and homesteading, Dutch Henry was never again in trouble with the law. For many years, he even refused to keep a gun in his home.
Bat Masterson ran for reelection as sheriff in 1879. He had, by then, secured an appointment as a deputv US marshal as well. So, he was not limited to staying within county lines, if he was chasing a fugitive who was wanted for a federal crime. "Haters of horse thieves everywhere," said the Dodge City Times, "will rejoice over Bat's triumphant election." Although he had been an effective sheriff, Masterson was enmeshed in town politics by his association with a local faction known as "the Dodge City Gang". The "gang" was led by the mayor, James "Dog" Kelley, a saloon owner. Kelley's allies included gamblers and saloon keepers, a group that included the Masterson brothers and Wyatt Earp.
The 1879 elections threw the "gang" out of office, including Sheriff Bat Masterson. Oddly enough, after the election, the victorious mayoral candidate of the rival faction appointed Bat's brother, Jim, as town marshal.
While he was out of office, an enumerator for the 1880 Census listed Bat Masterson as a "laborer" in Dodge City. Sharing his 'household was one Annie Ladue; her relationship was listed on the census as "concubine".
Masterson was soon looking for greener pastures. After working in Tombstone, Arizona with his friend Wyatt Earp, he found Colorado to his liking. Denver offered the delights of a large, growing city with plenty of saloons and gambling halls. But, Dodge City drew him back on occasion. In 1881, Bat Masterson returned to town in response to an anonymous telegram. The message said that political enemies were going to kill his brother Jim.
Just after Bat Masterson returned to Dodge City, he got into a wild shootout with two other men, A.J. Peacock and Al Updegraff. Unlike the decisive and deadly gunfights in Western movies, this was a noisy but nearly harmless shootout. Despite numerous shots, only Updegraff was wounded and no one was killed. Masterson was fined eight dollars for this breach of the peace.
Factional squabbles continued in Dodge City. A gambler friend of the Mastersons, Luke Short became a partner in a saloon in town. After a political rival won election as mayor, Short complained and for expressing his opinion, was run out of town with several associates. Short raised a considerable ruckus after leaving. Eastern newspapers picked up the story and ran with it, exaggerating the disorder and danger of wild Dodge City.
When Short returned to town, he had some intimidating friends, including Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. By this time, both men were nationally famous from newspaper stories of their adventures. Many, if not most, of the stories were exaggerated, if not entirely made up. Just the same, few of Short's friends wanted anv trouble with them. The quarreling saloon owners and political bosses-hammered out a compromise and peace reigned. Short and his gun-fighter friends later posed for a picture, and the group was wryly known as "the Dodge City Peace Commission".
Like the "Peace Commission" incident, most of Masterson's adventures ended with no serious gunplay. In later years, reporters liked to write about the 25 notches on his gun, which supposedly stood for 25 men that he killed in gun-fights. The number of men actually killed by Bat Masterson is a matter of conjecture and controversy. As a lawman, he usually brought in prisoners unharmed. His reputation as a dangerous gunfighter might well have persuaded many a trouble-maker to "come along quietly" instead of risking becoming the 26th notch on a pistol. Possibly, Corporal King was the only man who fell dead by the hand of Bat Masterson.
Having tried farming, buffalo hunting, scouting for the army, and law enforcement, Bat Master-son really found gambling and the high life more to his liking. By the late 1880s, Masterson was based in Denver and made a new name for himself as a boxing manager and promoter. There was so much betting on sports events that the transition from gambler to sports was perhaps not a surprising jump. In 1890, he gained a fair amount of publicity when he was the timekeeper for a championship fight between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain, and his notoriety as a gunfighter. He was relaxed and talkative with reporters, always good for spinning some readable tales.
In the late 1880s, Masterson met a singer and dancer named Emma Moulton. She was a "club swinger"; that is, her specialty was a vaudeville juggling act using Indian clubs. Their wedding was delayed for a few years, as she was still trapped in an unhappy mar-riage with Edward Moulton, an athlete and trainer. A divorce came through in 1893; at the time, her husband was the coach of the University of Michigan football team. Moulton later trained several Olympic medal winners. The date of their marriage is uncertain, but Bat and Emma Masterson remained together until the end of the former gun-fighter's life.
In later years, Emma Masterson suffered from poor health, and struck reporters as a quiet and pleasant lady who lived in the shadow of her larger-than-life husband. But, she had some ad-ventures of her own. One hap-pened in 1891, when she and Bat Masterson were in New Orleans. A championship fight was arranged between Bob Fitzsimmons and Jack "Nonpareil" Dempsey (not the same man who was famous as a boxer in the 1920s). Boxing was illegal in many jurisdictions, and women were prohibited from attending the bouts. The New Orleans police arrested Emma Moulton just before the opening bell. Newspapers described her as a "handsome short-haired woman" who was caught taking a seat in the audience, wearing J^ men's clothing. She kept Masterson's ^ name out of the papers by giving the police her maiden name, Emma Walter. Identifying herself as a "variety actress from Denver", she was soon bailed out of jail by one of Masterson's friends.
Jim Masterson, who became a deputy US marshal in Oklahoma, died of tuberculosis in 1895. A mix-up caused by their surnames resulted in numerous papers across the US printing reports that the famous Bat Masterson was dead, rather than his brother.
A big change in Masterson's destiny came in 1902. Many of his old acquaintances from the Great Plains or Dodge City were dead, and others struggled to adjust to life in a rapidly changing West. Bat Masterson, who had traveled widely around the country and was as much at home with journalists as with marshals or Indian scouts, moved east to New York City.
Early in 1881, news that his younger brother, Jim, was in trouble back in Dodge City reached Masterson in Tombstone, Arizona. Jim’s dispute with a business partner and an employee, A.J. Peacock and Al Updegraff respectively, had led to an exchange of gunfire. Though no one had yet been hurt, Jim feared for his life. Masterson immediately took a train to Dodge City.
When his train pulled into Dodge City on this morning in 1881, Masterson wasted no time. He quickly spotted Peacock and Updegraff and aggressively shouldered his way through the crowded street to confront them. “I have come over a thousand miles to settle this,” Masterson reportedly shouted. “I know you are heeled [armed]-now fight!” All three men immediately drew their guns. Masterson took cover behind the railway bed, while Peacock and Updegraff darted around the corner of the city jail. Several other men joined in the gunplay. One bullet meant for Masterson ricocheted and wounded a bystander. Updegraff took a bullet in his right lung.
The mayor and sheriff arrived with shotguns to stop the battle when a brief lull settled over the scene. Updegraff and the wounded bystander were taken to the doctor and both eventually recovered. In fact, no one was mortally injured in the melee, and since the shootout had been fought fairly by the Dodge City standards of the day, no serious charges were imposed against Masterson. He paid an $8 fine and took the train out of Dodge City that evening.
Masterson never again fought a gun battle in his life, but the story of the Dodge City shootout and his other exploits ensured Masterson’s lasting fame as an icon of the Old West. He spent the next four decades of his life working as sheriff, operating saloons, and eventually trying his hand as a newspaperman in New York City.
Life in New York began with a rough start. Newspapers reported his hotel room was robbed, and he was also arrested and accused of cheating by an unhappy loser at a faro game. After this dubious beginning, Bat Masterson settled into his new world quite well. There, he found himself a celebrity. Seen as a real-life Western hero who stepped from the pages of a dime novel, he mixed comfortably with the stage folk, millionaires, bohemians, literati, and shady characters of Broadway.
Not long after his arrival, Masterson got a job as a reporter for the New York Morning Telegraph, a lively and breezy newspaper specializing in sports, the theatre, sensational crimes and scandals, and celebrity gossip.
At the Morning Telegraph, Masterson wrote a regular column called "Bat Masterson's Views on Timely Topics". His specialties were boxing and horse racing. Eventually, he became one of the editors of the paper.
President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Masterson as a deputy US marshal for the Southern District of New York in 1905. This post was much less dangerous than his old job in Dodge City. It was largely a political and administrative position, and an annual salary of $2,000 came with it.
From rubbing shoulders with the Wild West's famous gunfighters, Masterson's last years were spent with a very different kind of luminary. One of his friends was the silent film Western star William S. Hart. In the offices of the Morning Telegraph, Masterson worked with a considerable number of future celebrities. Heywood Broun, who went on to a distinguished career as a journalist, was also one of the wits of the Algonquin Round Table. Future Hollywood gossip maven Louella Parsons wrote for the paper. Reporter Stuart Lake later found fame writing about another Old West figure, Bat's old friend Wyatt Earp. Before his years as a famous actor, John Barrymore was a cartoonist for the Morning Telegram.
While working on a new column in his office, Masterson suffered a fatal heart attack on 25 October 1921. His coworkers found him slumped over his typewriter. Among the honorary pallbearers at his funeral was the writer Damon Runyon. Masterson was buried far from "Boot Hill", in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, the burial place of such luminaries as Joseph Pulitzer, Duke Ellington, and Irving Berlin.
Emma Masterson died in 1932, but the legend of her husband lived on. Several movies featured entertaining although inaccurate versions of his adventures. Actor Gene Barry starred in the NBC television series "Bat Masterson", which ran from 1958-1961. The real Masterson was known as a sharp dresser, and Barry played up the idea of a dapper gunfighter who instead of a Stetson hat sported a fashionable derby hat and a cane.
Something of William B. Masterson's view of the world was shown in his final newspaper column. Taken from his typewriter after he died, the piece included the following: "There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter, things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I'll swear I can't see it that way."
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