Early in the morning of June 27, 1874, a combined force of some 700
Arapaho warriors, led by
Comanche Chief Quanah
Parker and Isa-tai, attacked the
The 28 men,
including Bat Masterson and Billy Dixon, took refuge in the two stores and the saloon. Despite being dramatically outnumbered, the hunters’ superior
weapons repelled the Indian assault. After four days of continuous battle, about
100 men arrived to reinforce the post and the
soon retreated. While estimates vary as to the
losses, as many as 70
were killed and many others, including Parker,
were wounded. The men at Adobe Walls
suffered four fatalities.
In response to the incident at Adobe Walls, Colonel Nelson A. Miles
was ordered to lead an expedition against the Indians of the
Texas Panhandle in what would become known as the
Red River War.
Masterson joined the expedition as a civilian scout and a teamster
working out of Fort Elliot in what was then called Sweetwater, Texas (now
Mobeetie). However, the next spring he was back to buffalo hunting
and spending time at his friend Charlie Rath's store, located about five
miles from the fort, which had become the "headquarters" for the buffalo
hunters. He was also a frequent visitor to the many saloons in the area. By
he was working as a faro dealer in Henry
On January 24th, he became embroiled in an argument with Sergeant Melvin A. King
over a card game and a dance hall beauty named Mollie Brennan. The
argument quickly led to a gunplay and King was left dead. However,
in the melee, King’s shot passed through Mollie Brennan’s body, killing
her, and then hit Masterson in the pelvis. The injury caused Bat to
walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
After he recovered,
Masterson returned to
where he became a lawman along with his friend Wyatt Earp
under Ford County Sheriff, Charles
Bassett. These were the years that Dodge City was known as a "wicked
Cattle drives had replaced the buffalo hunters
as longhorn cattle were driven up from Texas
along the western branch of the
Chisholm Trail to the railroad. For the next ten years, over 5 million head were driven on the trail into Dodge City.
In July, 1877, Bat was appointed under-sheriff of Ford County
Charlie Bassett. That very same month, his brother
Ed Masterson became an assistant marshal in
Just a few months later, in October, Bat announced
in the Dodge
City Times that he was a candidate for sheriff of
"At the earnest request of many citizens of Ford County, I have consented
to run for the office of sheriff, at the coming election in this county.
While earnestly soliciting the suffrages of the people, I have no pledges
to make, as pledges are usually considered, before election, to be mere
clap-trap. I desire to say to the voting public that I am no politician
and shall make no combinations that would be likely to, in anywise, hamper
me in the discharge of the duties of the office, and, should I be elected,
will put forth my best efforts to so discharge the duties of the office
that those voting for me shall have no occasion to regret having done so.
Respectfully, W. B. MASTERSON."
The newspaper backed him up by printing:
"Mr. W. B. Masterson is on the track for
sheriff. Bat is well known as a young man of nerve and coolness in cases
of danger. He has served on the police force of this city, and also as undersheriff, and knows just how to gather in the sinners. He is well
qualified to fill the office, and, if elected, will never shrink from
He was elected on November 6, 1877, with the newspaper
stating: "Bat Masterson, is said to be cool, decisive, and a bad man with
Bat officially took the office of sheriff in January, 1878 and wasted no
time in putting his talents to work. On January 27, 1878 Dave Rudabaugh
and four other men attempted to rob a train at Kinsley, Kansas Their
robbery attempt was ineffectual and the bandits fled. On February
Sheriff Bat Masterson led a posse, which included his
brother Ed Masterson, in pursuit of the would be robbers. They captured
two of them -- Dave Rudabaugh and Edgar West, and the other two men were
apprehended soon after. On April 9, 1878,
Ed Masterson, who had since become City Marshall, had
disarmed a drunken
by the name of Jack Wagner
who was in violation of the town's ordinance against carrying
After taking his gun, Ed starting walking away when Wagner produced
another pistol and shot him. Although mortally wounded,
Masterson was able to shoot back, hitting Wagner in the chest. Ed then
walked across the street to George M. Hoover's saloon, where he told the
tale, before sinking to the floor. He was taken to his room, where he died 30 minutes
later. Jack Wagner also died the next day. The Dodge City Council then
Charlie Bassett as city marshal and a few months
later, appointed Wyatt Earp as Bassett's assistant marshal.
On July 29, 1878 a cowboy named James "Spike" Kenedy attempted to shoot
Mayor James H. Kelley. He was stopped from doing so by Marshal Bassett,
was fined, and run out of town. However the young man refused and was soon
back in town and arrested again on a charge of being disorderly. After
paying his fine, Kenedy was told by Marshal Bassett to get out of Dodge
and stay out. But, Kenedy had not yet seen the end of the Dodge City
In September, Bat and other
area lawmen found themselves fighting a different enemy -- the
The Northern Cheyenne Indians had been banished to a reservation in
Oklahoma following the Battle of the Little Bighorn. However, they were
not happy there as the hunting was sparse and the conditions miserable. In
September 1878 about 350 Northern Cheyenne men, women, and children
escaped the reservation and began to make there way back north. Along the
way they fought skirmishes and raided throughout western Kansas.
As the Cheyenne continued their
trek northward the lawmen turned their attention back to Dodge
City. On the early morning of October 4th two shots rang out, bringing
officers running to determine the the reason. When
Assistant Marshal Wyatt Earp and policeman Jim Masterson responded to the
gunshots, they found that the bullets had been fired through the
front door of a small frame house usually occupied by Mayor James Kelley.
However, Kelley was out of town and the shots intended for him, actually
killed a guest in the house --
34-year-old woman named Dora Hand, who had been performing at
the Lady Gay Saloon. Though no one
actually saw who fired the shots, all were sure that it was
the work of the cowardly James "Spike" Kenedy. The Dodge City Times
noted: "the pistol shot was intended for the male occupant of
the bed ... who had been absent for several days. The bed however was
occupied by the female lodger at the time of the shooting."
That very day a posse was
rounded up which included
Marshal Charles E. Bassett, Assistant Marshal Wyatt Earp,
soon-to-be-lawman Bill Tilghman, Sheriff Bat Masterson and Deputy Sheriff
William Duffey. They caught up with Kenedy at about 4:00 p.m. and bullets
began to fly. Kenedy's horse was shot from beneath him and the cowboy took
a bullet that shattered his left arm. Kenedy was brought back to Dodge
City. Kenedy was the son of a wealthy Texas cattle baron named Mifflin
Kenedy, who soon rushed to Dodge City bringing with him a large amount of
When Kenedy went to trial, he
was acquitted for lack of evidence and released. The Ford County Globe
“Kenedy, the man who was arrested for the murder of Fannie
Keenan (Dora Hand), was examined last week before Judge [R.G.] Cook and
acquitted. His trial took place in the sheriff’s office, which was too
small to admit spectators. We do not know what the evidence was or upon
what grounds he was acquitted.”
Rumors abounded about a payoff and years later a historian would claim
that Mifflin Kenedy had paid as much as a $25,000 "fee" to town founder
Robert M. "Bob" Wright, a member at the time of the Kansas House of
Representatives, and potentially monies paid to Bat Masterson and other
Dodge City officials, to buy Spike's acquittal.
The next year would also be
eventful for Bat Masterson.
In January, 1879, Bat accepted an appointment as a deputy US
Marshall and successfully arrested "Dutch"
Henry Borne, one of the biggest horse thieves in the American West. On
February 17, 1879, he was delegated to bring the
Cheyenne prisoners who were imprisoned at
Leavenworth, Kansas, to stand trial in Dodge City
for depredations committed during the fall raid. The State of Kansas was
charging them with 40 murders in what would later be identified as the
last “Indian raid” in Kansas.
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was in a major
dispute with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad over the right of way
through the Royal Gorge in
Colorado, and Bat Masterson was tasked with
protecting the interests of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.
Some sources even allege that the Santa Fe Railroad used its political
influence to obtain a U.S. Marshal’s appointment for Masterson so he could
legally defend their property. While lawyers argued the dispute in the
court system, armed men hired by the Santa Fe Railroad took control of Rio
Grande stations from Denver to Canon City, Colorado. With Bat in charge,
he enlisted a number of well-known gunmen to assist him including Doc
Holliday, "Dirty" Dave Rudabaugh, "Mysterious" Dave Mather,
and about 70 others. Known as the "Royal Gorge War", there was a
great deal of legal maneuvering, and even threatened violence between
rival gangs of railroad workers.
Bat's men had great success through early June, 1879, but, on June 10th,
the courts ruled in favor of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. County
and city officers were tasked with driving out the Santa Fe Railroad's
gunmen. The Denver and Colorado Springs groups fell quickly. Bat's
headquarters in Pueblo, Colorado held out the longest, but, they too soon
Bat then returned to Dodge
City, where in November
he ran for re-election in
Ford County, Kansas; but lost to George Hinkle.
In January, 1880, he left the sheriff's office in Dodge City
and made his way to Colorado where he spent some time gold prospecting,
but, mostly gambling, dealing faro, and sports betting. He then spent some
time in Kansas City before making his way to
Arizona to work in the Oriental Saloon with Wyatt Earp in early 1881. In
April, 1881, he received word from a Dodge City friend that his brother
James had been injured in a quarrel with the
proprietor of the Lady Gay Dance Hall -- a
saloon operated by a man named
Peacock and his barkeeper named Updegraff. He took the first train for Dodge
got there at 11 a.m., and soon met Peacock and Updegraff, whom he
invited to come shooting. During the fracas, which was participated in by
friends on both sides, only one man was hurt, Mr. Updegraff, and he subsequently
recovered. After the battle was over the mayor arrived on the scene with his
Winchester rifle, and ordered Masterson to throw down his gun, which he did at
the solicitation of his friends. He and James were both arrested, fined $5 and costs
and asked to leave town. He was 27 years old and had just had his last gunfight.
Bat then made his way back to
Colorado where he lived primarily as a professional gambler. He also spent a year as marshal of Trinidad, Colorado, as well as
serving as Sheriff of South Pueblo, Colorado.
In 1883, he
returned to Dodge City where he participated in a bloodless conflict to
defend his friend Luke Short in what is known as the Dodge City Saloon
In 1888, Masterson was living in Denver, Colorado, where he dealt faro for
"Big Ed" Chase at the Arcade gambling house. The same year, he
was managing, and later purchased, the Palace Variety Theater. There, he met an actress and singer
named Emma Moulton, with whom he lived for several years and was reported
that they married in November, 1891 in Denver. The partnership was to
survive until Bat's death.
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.
Afterwards, he continued to travel in the boomtowns of the West, gambling
and promoting prize fights and began writing a weekly sports column for
George's Weekly, a Denver newspaper. He also opened the Olympic
Athletic Club in Denver to promote the sport of boxing.
In 1893 he went to New York City at the request of a former
superintendent of police, Thomas Byrnes. At that time, a prominent New Yorker
named George Gould had received
a number of threatening letters. Byrnes suggested to the multi-millionaire that he needed the
services of a bodyguard and suggested Bat Masterson. For eight months Bat shadowed Mr. Gould, and hob-nobbed
with the rich folks of New York until the letter writer was finally apprehended.
In 1902, Masterson moved to New York
and was almost immediately arrested
for conducting a crooked faro game and carrying a concealed weapon.
For the next 20 years, he lived and worked within walking distance of Longacre Square (now Times Square.) In about 1904, he became a sports writer for the
New York Morning
Telegraph. The next year, he was appointed as a U.S.
Marshal for the Southern District of New York, which would last until 1909.
During that same time, in 1907 and 1908 he wrote a series of articles for the
short-lived Boston magazine, Human Life, about his old friends and
In 1910, Bat Masterson returned to
Dodge City, Kansas one last time. He wrote in
the Morning Telegraph, on July 31:
"In coming down the Arkansas Valley from Pueblo to Dodge...I could not
help wondering at the marvelous change that had come over the country in
the last twenty years. As I looked from the car window after reaching the
Kansas line at Coolidge, I saw in all directions groves of trees, orchards
and fields bearing abundant crops of corn, wheat and alfalfa.... The idea
that the plains of Western Kansas could ever be made fertile was something
I had never dreamed of."
On October 25, 1921, Bat Masterson died of a heart attack while working at his newspaper
desk. At the age of 67, he collapsed at after penning his final column for
the New York Morning Telegraph. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery
in Bronx, New York.
Kathy Weiser/Legends of
America, updated March, 2017.
Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History,
Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912
Kansas State Historical Society