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Bat Masterson Biography


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W. B. "Bat" Masterson (November 24, 1853 or 1856 – October 25, 1921) was a legendary figure of the American West. He lived an adventurous life which included stints as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Army scout, gambler, frontier lawman, U.S. Marshal, and, finally, sports editor and columnist for a New York newspaper. He was the brother to lawmen James Masterson and Ed Masterson.

Bat Masternson was born to Irish parents, Thomas Masterson & Cathrine McGurk, in Henryville, Quebec. The baptismal records of "Bat" & his siblings are in the local Catholic church. "Bat" later claimed on U.S. census that he was born in Illinois or Missouri, but that's probably to improve on his tough side image.

Some details of Masterson's early life are disputed. He is reported to have been born on November 24 of either 1853 or 1856 in either Quebec, Canada, or in Illinois, U.S.A. His birth name was either William Barclay Masterson or Bartholomew Masterson, but it is known that during his adult life he called himself "The Genius." The 1870 census of St Clair County, Illinois lists him as Bartholomaeus Masterson, age 17, born in Canada.

Some report that he was called "Bat" as a nickname for Bartholomew. A more colorful account is that he was called "Bat" because he carried a cane which he used as a club during fights. "Bat" was also a common nickname for boxers of the day --short for "Battling."

Masterson was the second of seven children of Thomas and Catharina Masterson, and was raised on farms in New York, Illinois, Kansas and Quebec. In his late teens, he and two of his brothers, Ed and Jim, left their family's farm in Kansas to become buffalo hunters. While traveling without his brothers he took part in the Battle of Adobe Walls (Texas) fighting against an overwhelming number of Comanche Indians. He then spent some time as a U.S. Army scout in a campaign against the Kiowa and Comanche Indians.

His first gunfight took place in Sweetwater, Texas (later Mobeetie), in 1876 when 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. This injury resulted in his carrying a cane for the rest of his life.

In 1877, he joined his brothers in Dodge City, Kansas. Jim was a partner in a saloon there and Ed was a deputy sheriff. 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, alongside Wyatt Earp, as a sheriff's deputy and within a few months he was elected County Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. 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 was killed in the line of duty April 9, 1878.

For the next several years, he made a living as a gambler moving through several of the legendary towns of the Old West. He visited Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona, leaving shortly before the famous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." He spent a year as Marshal of Trinidad, Colorado.

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.

In 1883 he participated in a bloodless conflict and gunfighter gathering later called the Dodge City War (see photo). By 1889, he was living in Denver, Colorado, where he was involved with Soapy Smith in the infamous election ballot stuffing scandal. He purchased the Palace Variety Theater and married an actress, Emma Walters, on November 21, 1891. In 1892 he managed the Denver Exchange Club in Creede, Colorado and continued to travel around the boomtowns 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.

Bat Masterson lived in the American West during a violent and frequently lawless period. He was well-known as a gunman, due mostly to self-promotion. He is confirmed to have killed only one man in a gunfight, not counting any he might have killed at the Battle of Adobe Walls or on the frontier. Despite Bat receiving more fame, his brother James was involved in more (three) gunfights than was Bat, but with little notoriety. His brother Ed, although depicted in films since as being somewhat out of his element in law enforcement, was in two shootouts during his service as a Dodge City lawman, killing both assailants, being shot and wounded himself in the first shootout, and killed in the second. Therefore, it was Bat's ability to self promote himself, more than any actual accomplishments, that likely led to his notoriety.

The authoritative Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters (Bill O'Neal, University of Oklahoma Press, 1979), lists Bat Masterson with one gunfight killing in three fights. When compared to many other well known gunmen of the Old West, to include Dallas Stoudenmire, "Wild Bill" Hickok, and Clay Allison, Masterson does not even compare.

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