William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (November 26, 1853 – October 25, 1921) was a figure of the American Old West known as a buffalo hunter, and Army scout, gambler, Dodge City lawman, and sports editor and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph.
Bat Masterson was born on November 26, 1853, at Henryville, Canada East, in the Eastern Townships of what is Quebec today, and baptized as Bartholomew Masterson. He later used the name “William Barclay Masterson”.
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. 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 his brothers Edward John “Ed” Masterson and James Patrick “Jim” Masterson left their family’s farm to become buffalo hunters. During July, 1872 Ed and Bat Masterson were hired by a subcontractor, named Raymond Ritter, to grade a five-mile section of track for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.
Ritter skipped out without paying the Masterson brothers all of the wages they were entitled to. It took Bat nearly a year, but he finally collected his overdue wages from Ritter – at gunpoint.
On April 15, 1873 Bat learned that Ritter was due to arrive in Dodge City, aboard a Santa Fe train, and that Ritter was carrying a large roll of cash. When Ritter’s train pulled in, Bat entered the car alone and confronted him.
Bat then marched Ritter out onto the rear platform of the train, where he forced him to hand over the $300 that was owed to him, his brother Ed, and a friend named Theodore Raymond. A loud cheer then went up from a large crowd who had witnessed the event.
Bat was once again engaged in buffalo hunting on June 27, 1874 when he became an involuntary participant in one of the Wild West’s most celebrated Indian fights – the five-day siege at a collection of ramshackle buildings in Texas known as “Adobe Walls.” The 200 Indians were led by famed Comanche Quanah Parker (1846-1911).
The Indians suffered the most losses during the battle. The actual number of Indians killed is not known,and the number reported ranges from a low of 30 to a high of 70. The Adobe Walls defenders lost only three men – one of whom shot himself by accident. After being fought to a standstill, Quanah Parker and his followers rode off.
His first gunfight took place on January 24, 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 soldier Corporal Melvin A. King (whose real name was Anthony Cook), allegedly because of a girl named Mollie Brennan. Molly was accidentally hit by one of King’s bullets and was killed, and King died of his wounds.
Masterson was shot in the pelvis but recovered. There is no truth in the story that he needed to carry a cane for the rest of his life.
Bat soon made a complete recovery and settled in Dodge City. On June 6, 1877, Bat tried to prevent the arrest of a certain Robert Gilmore – who was known to the locals as “Bobby Gill.” In order to do this, Bat somehow managed to wrap his arms about the girth of 315 lb. City Marshal Lawrence Edward “Larry” Deger (1845-1924), thereby permitting “Bobby Gill” to escape.
Bat was grabbed by friends of Deger, and pistol-whipped by the balloon-shaped lawman. The following day, Bat was fined $25 for disturbing the peace. “Bobby Gill,” the cause of Bat’s fine, was assesed only $5.
During July 1877, Bat was hired to serve as “Under-Sheriff” to Sheriff Charles E. Bassett (1847-1896). Sheriff Bassett was prohibited by the Kansas State Constitution from seeking a third consecutive term. With the job up for grabs, Bat Masterson wasted no time throwing his derby in the ring.
The sheriff’s race became particularly interesting when Bat’s opponent turned out to be none other than Larry Deger. On November 6, 1877, Bat was elected county sheriff of Ford County, Kansas by the narrow margin of only three votes. Within a month of Bat’s election, Ed Masterson replaced Larry Deger as city marshal of Dodge. Together, the brothers Masterson now controlled the city and county police forces.
Sheriff Masterson got his term off to a roaring start on February 1, 1878 by capturing Dave Rudabaugh and Ed West who were wanted for an attempted train robbery.
The tandem law-enforcement effort by Bat and Ed Masterson came to an abrupt end when 25 year-old City Marshal Edward J. Masterson was shot and killed 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.
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 locating of two court cases in which Bat testified under oath that he had shot both men adds credence to the idea that Bat avenged his brother.
More violence followed on October 4, 1878 when a variety actress named Dora Hand ( known professionally as “Fannie Keenan” was shot and killed by James Kenedy, the son of the wealthy Texas cattleman Miflin Kenedy (1818-1895). Sheriff Masterson’s posse, which included Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman, captured James Kenedy the following day.
Bat briefly moved to New York City in 1895 to serve as a bodyguard for a millionaire named George Gould. Bat wrote his Denver pals glowing accounts of fishing trips “with the Goulds on their yacht,” and announced his intention to remain in New York City indefinitely. On June 6, 1895 a Denver paper quoted a friend of Masterson’s who observed that “Bat has at last fallen into a dead easy game.”
But it didn’t last. By March 17, 1897 Bat was back in the West at Carson City, Nevada, where he was placed in charge of a squad of ringside police at the Fitzsimmons-Corbett title fight. Bat backed Corbett, and personally assured “Gentleman Jim” that he would beat Fitzsimmons “easily.” As always, Bat put his money where his mouth was. As always, Bat’s fighter lost.
Bat was back in Denver on April 6, 1897, serving as a deputy sheriff of Arapahoe County, when he got into an election day dispute with a man named Tim Connors. Masterson drew his pistol and Connors attempted to seize it. During the scuffle, the gun went off and a man named C.C. Louderbaugh was shot in the left wrist.
On April 9, 1899 Bat became a partner in a boxing club called the “Colorado Athletic Association.” Within only a few days, Bat was frozen out of the organization by his partners. Masterson retaliated, on April 18, by founding a rival boxing club – the “Olympic” – with himself as President. Masterson received favorable media coverage from a Denver newspaper called George’s Weekly, where Bat was employed as sports editor.
On the 1900 Federal Census record for Arapahoe County in Denver, he listed 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 listed his occupation as Athletic Club Keeper.
During September, 1900 Bat sold his interest in the Olympic Athletic Club and made another visit to New York City. Bat had decided to settle in New York City, but had a sudden change of heart and returned to Denver – with humiliating results.
There are two versions given for what caused Bat Masterson’s final departure from Denver. Bat’s story was that an irate woman belted him with an umbrella on May 2, 1902, when she took exception to an “undesirable” like Bat trying to cast his ballot at a local election.
This story is somewhat move believable than the more popular yarn that Bat had become a dangerous drunk who was run out of Denver for being a public nuisance. Whatever really happened, Bat left Denver and never returned.
Bat Masterson died at age 67 on October 25, 1921, at his desk from a massive heart attack after writing what became his final column for the New York Morning Telegraph.
Five hundred persons attended Bat Masterson’s funeral service at Frank E. Campbell’s Funeral Church at Broadway and Sixty-sixth Street. Bat’s honorary pall bearers included Damon Runyon (1884-1946), Tex Rickard and William E. Lewis.
Runyon was a close friend of Bat’s and offered this memorable eulogy: “He was a 100 percent, 22-karat real man. Bat was a good hater and a wonderful friend. He was always stretching out his hand to some down-and-outer.
He had a great sense of humor and a marvelous fund of reminiscence, and was one of the most entertaining companions we have ever known. There are only too few men in the world like Bat Masterson and his death is a genuine loss.”
Masterson was buried at 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”.