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Mysterious Dave Mather - Lawman or Outlaw?

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Mysterious Dave MatherDavid Allen Mather, better known as Mysterious Dave was born August 10, 1851, to Ulysses and Lycia Mather. Dave had come from a family of seafaring lawmen in Massachusetts and his ancestors had been rugged English sailormen of the Seven Seas. 

 

Mather was proud of his English heritage and it was common to see him dressed in royal blue and red, even when he got older. Some of his immediate family members were also lawmen in Massachusetts, from whom Mather acquired the desire to become a lawman himself.

 

A smallish man with square but frail shoulders, dark eyes and a mustache, Mather was a man of few words, which gained him the nickname of " Mysterious Dave.”

 

Though Mather had aspirations to be a lawman, he, like so many other officers of the Old West, rode both sides of the fence, sometimes on the side of the law, and just as often, riding with outlaws.

 

By the time that Mather was 16, both of his parents were dead so he and his brother, Josiah, headed west. Around 1873, Mather became involved in cattle rustling in Sharp County, Arkansas. A year later, in 1874, Mather had made his first appearance in Dodge City, where he would return frequently both as a lawman and an outlaw.

 

About this same time, Mather was often seen about the saloons of Denver, Colorado, always with twin Colts bulging under his coat. He was known to keenly watch the players at the faro, blackjack and poker tables, but he never gambled himself.

 

By 1878, Mather had found his way to Mobeetie, Texas, and into the company of Wyatt Earp, where, one suspicious account related, the two ran a con game peddling "gold” bricks to the naïve citizens of Mobeetie.

 

In 1879, Mather hooked up with outlaw Dutch Henry Born, who was the leader of a horse-stealing ring operating in a vast area from Kansas, to eastern Colorado and New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. Mather was arrested with Henry Born, but was later released. He was soon picked up for complicity in a train robbery near Las Vegas, New Mexico, but was acquitted.  Afterwards, Mather was appointed as a Deputy Las Vegas Marshal, becoming part of the notorious Dodge City Gang that was terrorizing the city of Las Vegas New Mexico.

 

On January 22, 1880, T.J. House, James West, John Dorsey, and William Randall were parading about town sneering, laughing, and looking for trouble. When they entered the Close & Patterson Variety Hall, Marshal Joe Carson asked them to check their guns but they refused. A wild gunfight ensued and Carson was killed immediately, while Deputy "Mysterious" Dave Mather killed Randall and dropped West. John Dorsey, though wounded, and T.J. House managed to escape.

 

On February 5, the whereabouts of Dorsey and House was learned; they were at the home of Juan Antonio Dominguez in Buena Vista, thirty miles north of Las Vegas. A posse comprised of J.J. Webb, Dave Rudabaugh, and five other men, surrounded the home and called for the men to surrender. Dorsey and House complied after assurance of protection from the citizens of Las Vegas was given. However, this assurance would mean very little, as within hours of the men being placed in the Old Town Jail, vigilantes relieved the jailers of the prisoners. Taking them to the windmill on the Plaza to hang, Mrs. Carson opened fire on the men, depriving the lynchers their opportunity.

 

After Marshal Joe Carson’s death, Mather was appointed as the Las Vegas Marshal. However, Mather soon moved on again after being accused of "promiscuous shooting” in his capacity as marshal. Next he was known to have served for a short time as Assistant Marshal in El Paso, Texas. However, after an altercation in a brothel in which Mather was slightly wounded, he returned to Dodge City where he was hired as Assistant City Marshal.

 

 

By the time Mather returned to Dodge City, the existence of gambling drinking, prostitution, and dance halls, often in open violation of the law, had heated up as a major town issue. The "Dodge City War" in the spring of 1883 was followed by pressure from the Santa Fe Railroad to clean up "their" town. The reform-minded and status quo factions were still feuding when David Mather accepted the position of Dodge City Assistant Marshal. Before long, Mather also became the co-owner of the Opera House Saloon on Front Street.

Because of its prominent downtown location, the city council objected to Mather's decision to turn the Opera House Saloon into a dance hall and soon passed an ordinance banning all dance houses. However, the council took no action whatsoever against another dance hall owned by Thomas Nixon, allegedly because of its remote location. For several months, Nixon and Mather battled to put each other out of business. In 1884, the city government replaced Mysterious Dave with Nixon as the Assistant Marshal, and the feud that had been brewing for several months came to a head. On the evening of July 18, 1884, Nixon drew a gun and fired at Mather, but only sprayed him with a few splinters. Three days later, Mather approached Nixon from behind and fired four bullets into his back, killing him instantly. Later, Mather was heard to say, "I ought to have killed him six months ago."

Although Mather was acquitted of Nixon's murder, he killed another man the following year and was run out of town by Marshal Bill Tilghman. After serving as city marshal in a couple small towns in Kansas and Nebraska, Mysterious Dave moved on San Francisco, where he took a ship to Vancouver.

He soon enlisted in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, proving his prowess by showing what he could do with a pair of six guns and a horse. He was still seen in the royal blue and red as late as 1920.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October, 2012.

 

Dodge City Kansas 1874

Dodge City in 1874, courtesy Ford County Historical Society

 

Also See:

Dodge City - A Wicked Little Town

The Notorious Dodge City Gang

Thomas Nixon - Buffalo Hunter & Lawman

Las Vegas (NM) - As Wicked as Dodge City

Old West Lawmen and Gunfighters Photo Print Gallery

 

 

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