Bat Masterson was one of the most renowned “Lawmen of the Old West” but was not the cold-blooded killer that so many false legends and counterfeit reports claimed.
Bat Masterson (later known as William Barclay Masterson) was born November 26th, 1853 in Quebec, Canada. His parents, Thomas Masterson and Irish mother Catherine moved the family of five boys, and two girls from Canada to “The United States”, seeking to improve their lives. The Masterson family moved from place to place before finally putting down roots in Wichita, Kansas in 1870 where they homesteaded and worked the family farm.
Bat’s Early Years
When Bat was approximately seventeen years old he and several of his brothers left the family farm seeking adventure. They became buffalo hunters and Bat learned to become a crack long-distant shot by hunting Bison.
While working at hunting and skinning buffalo on the western frontier in Arkansas Bat met “Wyatt Earp” who was also following the buffalo herds and learning his hunting and shooting skills as a young man looking to expand his horizons.
The Battle of Adobe Walls
In 1874 when Bat was only twenty-one years old, he was at Adobe Walls near the Texas Panhandle, which was a small makeshift community established solely for the benefit of the buffalo hunters in the area when an enraged group of native American’s planned attacks on all the white’s in the area.
The roving band of Indians, believed to be between 700-1000 strong assaulted the twenty-nine defenders which were made up primarily of buffalo hunters including young Bat and Kit Carson.
The hunters were all expert marksman armed with the famous and revolutionary “Sharps” rifle that had remarkably long range and extreme accuracy.
The thick walls provided excellent cover and the hunters repelled repeated assaults and dealt death upon the native warriors by making killing shots up to one mile away. The Indian fighters were forced to abandon the fight because of elevated casualties.
Scout and Lawman in Dodge City
After Adobe Walls Bat became a scout for the military and helped to defeat the Indian threat and forever break their ability to threaten the United States Government. The survivors were sent to live on reservations across the country.
In 1876 Bat was involved in his only fatal gunfight in Sweetwater, Texas. He was the victim of jealous rage involving a saloon girl, when an enraged Melvin King fired and wounded Bat and also killed the lady in question Molly Brennan before Bat could lethally discharge his own pistol.
His fortunes took a different turn then and he followed his brothers Ed and James back to Kansas where they were working as lawmen. Ed was the Marshal of Dodge City and Bat later became sheriff of Ford County, where he was once again reunited with friend and Federal Marshal “Wyatt Earp.”
Throughout the year as Sheriff of Ford County in 1877, Bat worked alongside Wyatt bringing frontier justice to the territory which was immense in size and filled with train robbers, cattle rustlers and ruffians of every description.
In 1878 Bat’s brother Ed was killed when involved in a shootout with two drunken cowpokes. Bat was heartbroken but would remain working as a lawman for many years and serve as a deputy to Wyatt Earp in Dodge City Kansas as well as Tombstone Arizona.
Bat would earn legendary status as a pistol blazing lawman, but the real truth about Masterson was that he preferred his wits instead of hot lead to unarm and apprehend criminals, although like many icons of that era he exaggerated his exploits with fancy tales to amuse the public.
Famous Friends and Change of Careers
Although a fast draw and crack shot, Bat Masterson was not the prolific killer that legends proclaimed him to be, not like his good friends Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, or poker pal Doc Holliday, but a man that believed the brain was key to success.
In the late 1870’s to early 1890’s Bat would work periodically as a peace keeper in gambling halls but began developing new interests like horse racing, boxing and sports-writing for various newspapers including the George’s Weekly based in Denver. Bat became more engrossed in promoting the popularity of the sport of boxing and was involved with the promoters of several championship fights and even served as a referee.
In 1902 Masterson moved to the east coast and accepted a position as a U.S. Marshall in New York that was offered to him by his good friend, President Teddy Roosevelt. He held this position until 1909 when fired by President Taft.
Bat’s good name and reputation were attacked and he was involved in a nasty slander lawsuit for a few years which he won eventually. After that he dabbled in politics and became closer friends with Roosevelt. When Teddy Roosevelt died in 1919 he was disheartened and saddened.
He spent his remaining years writing, hanging out in gyms and promoting boxing. Bat died on October 25th 1921 of a heart attack at the age of 68, slumped over a typewriter instead of shot down like his old friend Wild Bill Hickok, and so many others who lived during the times of gunfights and lawlessness. Bat Masterson was not a saint, nor was he a notorious man-killer, but he still holds an important place among the legendary figures of the American frontier.