Bat Masterson

Bat Masterson
Bat Masterson
Born November 26, 1853(1853-11-26)
Henryville, Montérégie, Canada East (Quebec)
Died October 25, 1921(1921-10-25) (aged 67)
New York City, New York, USA
Occupation Gambler
U.S. Army Scout
buffalo hunter
lawman (Sheriff and U.S. Marshal)
Years active 1876 – approx 1891
Relatives James Masterson (brother)
Ed Masterson (brother)

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,[1] at Henryville, Canada East and baptised as Bartholomew Masterson, he later used the name "William Barclay Masterson".[2]

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.[3] 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

Deputies Bat Masterson (standing) and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, 1876. The scroll on Earp's chest is a cloth pin-on badge

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 man in a fight, allegedly because of a girl. The other man 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.

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

Fighting in Colorado on the Santa Fe side of its war against the Rio Grande 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.[4] Ed was shot by cowboy Jack Wagner, not realizing 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 location of two court cases in which Bat testified under oath that he had shot both means that most now accept that Bat avenged his brother.[5][6]

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 early 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.[7]:41 He wanted his help running the faro tables in the Oriental Saloon. Bat remained until April, 1881, when Bat received an unsigned telegram that compelled him to immediately return to Dodge City.[8]:206


Jim Masterson was sheriff in Dodge and was partners with A. J. Peacock in the 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 jumped on the next stage out of Tombstone and arrived in Dodge City on April 16.[5] Jumping 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 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.[5]:206

Bat was known as an excellent shot. If he fired first and without warning, as Updegraff and Peacock claimed, it was unlikely he would have missed. Updegraff and Peacock did not explain why they were headed towards the train depot, guns under their coat. The citizens were outraged, warrants were issued, but Bat and Jim were permitted to leave Dodge.[5]:210

Dodge City War

The "Dodge City Peace Commission" June 1883. From left to right, standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

Masterson spent a year as marshal of Trinidad, Colorado as well as serving as Sheriff of South Pueblo, Colorado.[9][10] 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.[11] In 1888 he managed and then purchased the Palace Variety Theater.[12] It was there that Bat met and married actress, Emma Walters, on November 21, 1891. While in Denver, he met and maintained a long term friendship with the infamous confidence man, Soapy Smith and members of the Soap Gang.[13] In 1889 the two friends were involved together in the famous Denver registration and election fraud scandal.[14] 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 birth place as Missouri in 1854. His wife is listed as Emma Masterson married for 10 years and he list his occupation as Athletic Club Keeper. [15] 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 concludes[citation needed] that, 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.[16] Masterson left the West and went to New York City by 1902, where he was arrested for illegal gambling.[17]

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.[18]

Newspaper man

Bat Masterson worked as a sports writer and editor; and a columnist. His career as a writer started around 1883 and ended at 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) circa 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.

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 (circa 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." 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.[19]


The grave of Bat Masterson

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."[20][21]


  • "Every dog, we are told, has his day, unless there are more dogs than days."
  • "New York is the biggest boomtown there is. They will buy any damned thing here."
  • "When a man is at the racetrack he roars longer and louder over the twenty-five cents he loses through the hole in the bottom of his pocket than he does over the $25 he loses through the hole in the top of his pocket."
  • "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." (These were also Masterson's last recorded words, which were in the bit of column found on the typewriter Masterson was using before he died while typing).[citation needed]

Popular media


Masterson is mentioned in various games utilizing the names of "authentic" historic characters.

Literature and publications

(Alphabetical, by author)

  • In the non-fiction autobiography, You Can't Win (1926), written by train-riding hobo and small time thief Jack Black about his own life in the early nineteen hundreds, he claims that he and another thief named The Sanctimonious Kid intend to stick up a poker game in Denver, CO, but reconsider when they see Bat Masterson playing in the game. When Jack, who didn't know Bat Masterson, asks "Sanc" why they didn't go through with the plan, "Sanc" states that Bat Masterson is the fastest human being alive with a gun and would've shot them dead before they could raise their pieces.
  • Bat Masterson, along with many other historical figures of the time, is a character in the novel The Buntline Special(2010) by Mike Resnick.
  • Dell Comics also published a short-lived comic book based on the series. The first issue was published as Four Color Comics #1013, followed by Bat Masterson #2–9 (1960–62). All the issues had photographic covers. The stories were scripted by Gaylord DuBois
  • The main characters in Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars (1979), written by Daniel Pinkwater, attend Bat Masterson Junior High
  • The character Obadiah "The Sky" Masterson, from Damon Runyon's short story "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and the musical Guys and Dolls, was based on Bat Masterson.
  • The novel 1999 Masterson, by Richard S. Wheeler, describes a fictional trip from New York to California, wherein Bat meets film actor William S. Hart and visits Wyatt Earp. The trip takes place in late 1919, just before the imposition of national prohibition of alcohol. Among other amusing observations he makes is the statement that Las Vegas is just an unimportant whistle stop town--"always was, always will be."


  • Bat Masterson Band is a Chicago-based rock and roll band named in honor of Bat Masterson

Onscreen, in film

(Ordered chronologically)

  • Masterson himself can reportedly be seen wearing a bowler hat in the 1897 documentary film, The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight
  • Albert Dekker portrayed Masterson in the 1943 film, The Woman of the Town, based on the murder of Dora Hand (portrayed by Claire Trevor). Barry Sullivan played Miss Hand's killer, named "King" Kennedy in the film rather than Jim Kennedy. The film suggested that there was a romantic relationship between Masterson and Dora Hand. The film's musical score was nominated for an Oscar.
  • Randolph Scott played Masterson in the 1947 film Trail Street
  • Joel McCrea played Masterson in the 1959 film The Gunfight at Dodge City which depicted the famed westerner during his term of office as Ford County Sheriff
  • Bat Masterson was portrayed in the 1994 movie Wyatt Earp (by Tom Sizemore), as well as in a number of other movies featuring characters ostensibly based upon historic figures

Onscreen, in television

(Alphabetical by series or show title)

  • Bat Masterson was a U.S. television series loosely based on the historical character. William Barclay "Bat" Masterson was portrayed by actor Gene Barry, who also played a lead role in later television shows The Name of the Game and Burke's Law, among others. Bat Masterson appeared 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. The half-hour series, filmed in black and white, featured fairly literate scripts for a television western of the period. Hundreds of thousands of plastic derby hats and canes were sold as children's toys during the show's run. The series was partially sponsored by Sealtest.
  • In one episode of Beakman's World, Beakman portrayed himself in a short film as Bat Masterson when teaching about how actors do not injure themselves when doing things that are meant to cause injury.
  • An Early Edition episode was devoted to Bat Masterson.
  • Animation giants William Hanna and Joseph Barbera satirized Masterson in a 1964 Punkin' Puss and Mushmouse cartoon, "Bat Mouseterson", in which Mushmouse's city-dwelling, cane-wielding cousin comes to hill country for a visit and teaches Mushmouse the gentleman's way of warding off the always-feuding Punkin' Puss.


  1. ^ Whilst other dates are cited in some sources, his baptism is recorded in the Quebec Archives in a record dated 27 November 1853, and making it clear he was born the previous day. (See DeArment, Robert K., Bat Masterson, The Man and the Legend, University of Oklahoma Press, 1979, pp.9–10.)
  2. ^ Bartholomaeus Masterson in the 1870 US Census in St. Clair County, Illinois
  3. ^ Bat later claimed on U.S. census that he was born in Illinois or Missouri, but that was probably because he had never bothered to become naturalised yet had voted and held public office.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d DeArment, Robert K.. Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 442. ISBN 978-0-8061-2221-2. 
  6. ^ DeArment, Robert K. (2005) Broadway Bat: Gunfighter in Gotham (Talei Publishers)
  7. ^ Woog, Adam (February 28, 2010). Wyatt Earp. Chelsea House Publications. p. 110. ISBN 1604135972. 
  8. ^ "Biographical Notes Bat Masterson". Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ DeArment, Robert K. (1982) "Knights of the Green Cloth: The Saga of the Frontier Gamblers" Norman: U OK Press. p. 173.
  12. ^ Secrest, Clark. (2002) "Hell’s Belles: Prostitution, Vice, and Crime In Early Denver" Boulder: UP CO. pp. 143-145.
  13. ^ Smith, Jeff (2009). Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, Klondike Research. p. 84. ISBN 0-9819743-0-9
  14. ^ Rocky Mountain News 03/20/1890 & 03/15/1890, p. 6.
  15. ^ 1900 United States Federal Census Record, Arapahoe, Denver, Precinct #3
  16. ^ Cockrell subsequently apologised to Bat, who insisted he was not even in Gunnison at the time. See DeArment, Robert K., Broadway Bat: Gunfighter in Gotham (Talei Publishers, 2005)
  17. ^ "Masterson Laments Loss of Pistol. Was Confiscated, but He Hopes to Get It Back at Auction Sale.". New York Times. June 8, 1902, Sunday. ""Bat" William B. Masterson, in his own parlance, is "sore." His forty-five calibre pistol which he has carried since the strenuous days of his young manhood has been confiscated." 
  18. ^ "'Bat' Masterson – Here's How!". Washington Post. February 8, 1905. "There is certain to be a vast amount of insufferable rot written about William Barclay Masterson, who answers to the name of "Bat", who has just been appointed a deputy United States marshal in and for the city of New York, with the approval and apparently at the suggestion of President Roosevelt. The New York papers are already at it, picturing Masterson as the pattern from which the stage desperadoes have fashioned their costumes, bearded like a pard, carrying hardware enough to stock an arsenal, and perforating his talk with curdling oaths." 
  19. ^ Uncle John's Absolutely Absorbing Bathroom Reader. Bathroom Reader's Institute. 1999. p. 275. ISBN 1-879682-73-7. 
  20. ^ "Bat Masterson Dies at Editor's Desk. Sporting Writer and Last of Oldtime Western Gun Fighters Was 67. Beat in Long Siege. Deputy U.S. Marshal for Southern District of New York Under His Friend, Colonel Roosevelt.". New York Times. October 26, 1921, Wednesday. "William Barclay Masterson, better known as Bat Masterson, sporting writer, friend of Theodore Roosevelt and former sheriff of Dodge City, Kansas, died suddenly yesterday while writing an article at his desk in the office of the Morning Telegraph." 
  21. ^ "Bat Masterson". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-02-14. 

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