Bat Masterson – King of the Gunplayers

Bat Masterson

Bat Masterson in the later years of his life.

 By Alfred Henry Lewis in 1907

William Barclay Masterson was [born on November 26, 1853, in Henryville, Quebec, Canada]. His father was a farmer and came originally from St. Lawrence County, New York. His mother and father still live and count themselves among the Sedgwick County pioneers of Kansas, with a sunflower residence that reaches rearward half a century.

First, a Kansas farm boy, Mr. Masterson, was early abroad upon the plains. What is farmland now was savage wilderness then, and those who invaded it did so with a knowledge that their hands must keep their heads. For twenty years, beginning when he was thirteen, Mr. Masterson lived by his powers of offense and defense and was in more or less daily peril of death from Indians or from outlaw spirits common enough, these latter, in the West of that hour.

Has Wasted Least Lead of any Man

Bat Masterson

Bat Masterson

Just as some folk are born poets, so others are born shots, and Mr. Masterson, from the first, evinced a genius for firearms. He proved himself infallible with either rifle or pistol, and of all who ever plied trigger, he has wasted the least lead.

It was as a hunter, he won his name of “Bat,” which descended to him as it were from Baptiste Brown, or “Old Bat,” whose fame as a mighty Nimrod was flung all across, from the Missouri River to the Spanish Peaks, and filled with admiration, that generation of plainsmen which immediately preceded Mr. Masterson upon the Western stage.

For his deadly accuracy with the rifle, Mr. Masterson was early employed to “do the killing” ‘for great hunting outfits, which in the ’70s ransacked the country between the Arkansas and Canadian [Rivers] for buffalos, in the name of robes and leather. Mr. Masterson would “kill”‘ for a dozen men to skin and cure; and the majestic character of that commerce, wherein he bore his powder-burning part, may be guessed at from the fact that in such years as 1872, more than three hundred thousand buffalo hides, to say naught of one-fourth as many robes, were shipped eastward from the single town of Dodge City.

Crossing and re-crossing the buffalo ranges, Mr. Masterson came naturally by a close knowledge of the country, and, in a region not overstocked of water, could locate every spring and stream, as surely as astronomers locate stars. Thus it befell that General Miles was quick to enlist him as a scout, in his campaigns against the Cheyenne in ’74. In truth,  there were more than the Cheyenne engaged in that trouble, for those copper-colored Richards drew with them to the field the flower of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Arapaho tribes.

It is to be thought that Mr. Masterson himself was, in half fashion, the partial first victim of that war. The cunning Indians were apparently steeping themselves in peace, with never a notion of warpaths and paleface scalps. They were none the less sedulously, and not always quietly, about the collection of what rifles and pistols and cartridges they could lay red hands upon. Mr. Masterson was one day skinning a buffalo he had killed when a quintette of Cheyenne bucks rode amiably up. They belonged with old Bear Shield’s band, whose home-camp was on the Medicine Lodge [River.] Mr. Masterson thought little or nothing of the five Cheyenne. They were everyday sights in his life, and the last thing he looked for was trouble. He kept on with his skinning, merely ejaculating “How!” to clear himself of any imputation of impoliteness.

Mr. Masterson’s rifle was lying on the grass — a 50-caliber Sharp’s buffalo gun, for which he had paid eighty dollars. One of the Cheyenne carelessly picked up the rifle as though to examine it. As he did so, another reached across — Mr. Masterson was bending over the dead buffalo bull, skinning knife in hand — and whipped the six-shooter from the Masterson belt.

Mr. Masterson straightened up at these maneuvers and was just in time to receive a confusing blow over the head from his rifle. The 8-square barrel cut a handsome gash and covered his face with blood. As the Cheyenne struck the blow, he broke into excellent agency English, through which flowed a dominating element of profanity, and commanded Mr. Masterson to “dig out.”

Since the Cheyenne had the muzzle of the rifle not two feet from his stomach, and those four fellow Cheyenne displayed an eagerness to bear a helping hand, Mr. Masterson decided to “dig out.” That is to say, with blood covering his face, he backed away from the rifle-pointing profane Cheyenne towards a ravine that yawned conveniently in his rear. Arriving at the brink, Mr. Masterson, with hasty strategy, fell into that saving canyon and was out of range in a moment.

Kathy Weiser-Alexander talking about Masterson

Kathy Weiser-Alexander talking about Masterson on the American Heroes Channel.

Running along the bottom of the ravine for half a mile, Mr. Masterson reached his buffalo camp. After a consultation with his two campmates, the whole party packed their burros and pointed their noses for Dodge, sixty miles to the north. Mr. Masterson, sore of head from the blow and sore of heart from the loss of his new rifle, was all for following the five Cheyenne and giving them battle. But his comrades, whose unvisited heads were still intact and whose hearts had been wrung by no rifle losses, overruled him.

They said, “Let’s pull our freight,” and they pulled it.

Mr. Masterson, however, was not to be consoled. That night – Christmas night it was – he rode back and ran off forty of old Bear Shield’s ponies. These brought him twelve hundred dollars in Dodge and repaired what monetary losses he had suffered, to say the least. The wounds to his head, and to his honor, permitted his boyish vanity, which those five Cheyenne had inflicted, he cured later at the battle of the Adobe Walls.

It was in the last days of June that the fight at the Adobe Walls occurred. The Adobe Walls consisted of two buildings, one a great outfitting store belonging to Mr. Wright, present head of the Kansas State Historical Society, and the other, Mr. Hanrahan’s saloon. The latter gentleman is now, I think, a member of the Idaho legislature; but, at the time whereof I write, he cheerfully conducted a bar and restaurant, for the comfort of what buffalo hunters worked along the Canadian [River,] two hundred miles south of the last sign of civilization.

Bat Masterson T-Shirt

Bat Masterson T-Shirt

There were fourteen buffalo hunters at the Adobe Walls that night in June. Nine — among them Mr. Masterson — slept in Mr. Hanrahan’s saloon, and five in Mr. Wright’s store. Not one anticipated attack.

Luckily, about three o’clock in the morning, the roof — a dirt roof — of Mr. Hanrahan’s saloon fell in. The sleeping buffalo hunters were forced to turn out. This was all that saved them; otherwise, the prophecy of the Comanche medicine man would have been fulfilled, and the buffalo hunters knocked on the head as they slumbered.

Morning came streaking the east and found the buffalo hunters still engaged in aiding Mr. Hanrahan about the restoration of his roof. It was at this moment of morning that full five hundred Indians, the picked warriors of the Kiowa, Comanche, Arapahos, and Cheyenne, swung out from the shadow of a fringe of cottonwoods that ranked the Canadian River.

In a moment, every buffalo-hunting man jack of them, abandoning roof for rifle, clawed up his gun and took to a window. Mr. Masterson’s window mate was Mr. Dixon, who has since — for the sentiment of the thing, perhaps — homesteaded the one hundred and sixty acres which include the Adobe Walls, and makes the same his residence.

The Famous Adobe Walls Battle

Adobe Walls today, photo by Toni Derrick, courtesy Panhandle Nation

Adobe Walls today, photo by Toni Derrick, courtesy Panhandle Nation

The firing instantly began, and the charging Indians had the tremendous worst of it. The Indian is in several respects defective. He is a bad shot; he won’t dismount and fight on foot, and he is so much the Parthian that it’s against his religion to fight in the night. Mr. Masterson and his fellow buffalo killers were, in these three particulars, the precise opposite of their enemies.

They were dead shots; they preferred to fight on foot; and, as for night and day, when it came to bloodshed, the two were synonymous. Daylight or dark, they transacted their wars the moment the foe was found, holding — as held a famous jurist concerning the law — fighting to be a so sacred matter that “for it all places are palaces, all seasons summer.”

Wherefore, when those hopeful five hundred savages charged, the fourteen hunters tore into them blithely with their big buffalo guns and began emptying redskin saddles at a most disheartening rate. The Indians charged fiercely three times, and the unerring Mr. Masterson and his friends corded up over twenty of them. The siege, before all was over, lasted two weeks; but the fighting, so far as the Indians were concerned after those first three furious charges — which broke the aboriginal teeth — was but half-hearted and desultory.

To tell the whole of the battle at the ‘Dobe Walls would go beyond the limits of an article such as this. The excited comments of a tame crow which, while the fight raged, flew chatteringly to and fro from Hanrahan’s to Wright’s and back again; would of themselves make a story; while how Mr. Masterson crossed to Wright’s store in quest of cartridges for a pet rifle he possessed, and was deeply bombarded in transit by a wounded Kiowa hiding in a clump of weeds; how a boy in Wright’s died from a bullet in his lungs; how Old Man Richards walked through a hail of lead to a pump ten rods away in the open, and, while a dog was killed at his feet, and his hat shot from his gray head, and bullets plowed and spattered the pump platform and ground about him, drew a bucket of cool water for the dying boy; how a wild tenderfoot, one Thompson — killed afterward by Billy the Kid — persisted, in the teeth of command and the very face of slaughter, in rushing forth to rob dead Indians of their war bonnets and guns; how the lookout on Hanrahan’s roof blew out his own brains instead of an Indian’s; how Mr. Masterson, in the plenitude of his young conceit, leaped from a window and scalped a Comanche — he owned an unusually alluring top-knot, black and glossy-under the very noses of his scandalized tribesmen; how each night the beleaguered ones, to save their own noses, must bury the dead Indians and ponies; how throughout the long two weeks, when not at the windows fighting, the said beleaguered ones beguiled the tedium of their lives by profound games of draw poker; how the Comanche medicine man was luckily killed by Mr. Masterson on the first charge; how that same faultless rifle shot afterward brought down a negro bugler, who had deserted the standards of Uncle Sam for those of the Cheyenne, and was then sounding charge and rally as war music cheering to the aboriginal heart; and how finally, after two weeks, the cavalry came down from Dodge and raised the siege, must one and all, as battle elements, wait for their relation upon occasion more comprehensive than this. Suffice it that the Indians were beaten, with a whole battle-loss — by their own story told later at the agencies — of over eighty killed, to the meager count of one slain by savage lead on the side of the buffalo hunters.

His First Gun Trouble

Once, so runs the tale, a gentleman of extensive pistol practice was testifying as a witness. “How many men have you killed?” asked the cross-examining lawyer:

The witness seemed for the moment posed, almost puzzled. At last, as one seeking exact light, he enquired:

“You don’t mean Mexicans and Indians?”

The cross-examining lawyer explained that he intended only white men, Mexicans, and Indians to be excluded. The witness then took up the count.

Mobeetie, Texas, early 1900s

Mobeetie, Texas, early 1900s

Excluding Mexicans and Indians, Mr. Masterson’s first gun trouble was at Mobeetie in the Texas Panhandle, the theatre thereof being a dance hall called the Lady Gay. Sergeant King, a soldier and a gambler, found fault with Mr. Masterson, and lay in prudent wait to take his life at a side door of the Lady Gay.

The evening was dark. A girl named Anna Brennan came up. The lurking King, giving some excuse, asked her to rap at the door, conjecturing that Mr. Masterson, who was just inside, would open it. The King conjecture was justified; Mr. Masterson did open it, and asked the girl what was wanted. At the sound of his voice, King stepped forward and, placing the muzzle of his pistol against the Masterson groin, fired. King fired a second shot, and accidentally killed the girl. Coincident with that second shot, however, Mr. Masterson’s pistol exploded, and King fell shot through the heart. The girl, King, and Mr. Masterson went down in a bleeding heap; the two first were buried, while to the amazement of the surgeons at Fort Elliot, Mr. Masterson was back in the saddle by the end of eight weeks. So much for the recuperative powers of one who had lived healthfully and close to the ground.

Mr. Masterson’s hat measures seven and three-eighths. Wise, cool, wary, he is the born captain of men. Generous to a final dollar, the poor and needy make for him like night birds for a lighthouse. To a courage that is proof, he adds a genius for justice, and carries honesty to the pitch of romanticism. To these virtues of mind and heart, add the thews (muscular power or strength) of a grizzly bear, and you will have a picture of Mr. Masterson. Such he is; such he was when, at the age of twenty-two, the public elected him sheriff for Ford County, whereof the seat of justice was the stormy little city of Dodge.

Smothering Ebullient Cowboys

Cowboy on Horse

Cowboy on Horse

As sheriff, Mr. Masterson’s duties carried him over sixteen unorganized counties besides the county of Ford. His more immediate responsibility, however, was the good order of Dodge, and to prevent ebullient cowboys, when the Autumn herds came up, from “standing” that baby hamlet “on its head.” It took judgment and nerve and forbearance and military skill, but Masterson accomplished the miracle and did it, too, at a minimum of bloodshed. In the words of a satisfied citizen and taxpayer:

“He never downed a man who didn’t need it and kept Dodge as steady as a church.”

Scores of lurid spirits, whose lives were forfeit by every Western rule, have been spared to live a quieter life by the forbearing Masterson. Mr. Sutton, a lawyer and a present resident of Dodge, was recently in the papers with a story in illustrative point. Three cowboys moved of whisky and a taste for violence, dashed down the single street of Dodge City, their six-shooters blazing like roman candles. Most peace officers would have harvested these boys; Masterson was more leniently inclined since thus far, the young merrymakers had not succeeded in hitting anybody. Sure of its aim, Masterson’s pistol barked three times. Two of the ponies fell, and Masterson dragged their riders — sprawled all abroad in the dust of the street — off to the calaboose.

The third pony lasted until he reached the south side of the Arkansas [River] and then dropped dead.

Thereupon, its rider stripped off saddle and bridle, “stuck up” the incoming buckboard, and compelled the driver to turn nose-about and land him at the nearest ranch more than forty miles away.

There was a lady aboard the buckboard who sang in the theatres. She was coming north from Mobeetie to fill a Dodge engagement. As shortening those tiresome forty miles, the dismounted cowboy — pistol in hand, eye on the buckboard driver, who might at any moment rebel — told the cantatrice that he thought she ought to sing. With that, she thought so too; and so, for forty miles, she warbled “Silver Threads Among the Gold” and kindred melodies of concert hall vogue at the time. This boy got clear away while the ravens and the coyotes, at their feast over his dead pony, gloried in the deadly accuracy of the Masterson guns.

Dodge City, Kansas 1876

Dodge City, Kansas 1876

As demonstrating his huge strength, Masterson once seized a recalcitrant cowpuncher who, seated in his saddle, was making ready to “shake up the village.” The cowboy was himself as strong as whalebone, and gripped his pony with legs of iron. Throwing his soul into the business, Masterson gave that adhesive cowboy such a wrench — the boy meanwhile clinging to his mount like grim death — that both pony and boy were thrown heavily to the ground.

It was not always convenient, nor even feasible, to spare the blood of the wrongdoer. The following might furnish an example in line. Mr. Kennedy rode up to the Alhambra, kept by Mr. Kelly, the then Mayor, and took a shot at that publican and magistrate with his Ballard. Mr. Kennedy missed Mr. Kelly and killed a lady who had come to the Alhambra to have a part in the nightly ball. Mr. Kennedy — it was eight o’clock in the evening — on the heels of the homicide, dug spurs into his pony’s flanks and flew southward through the darkness. He was heading for the Canadian [River] two hundred miles away.

Masterson saddled the fleetest horse, and started ‘cross country for the ford where the flying Mr. Kennedy must cross the Medicine Lodge [River.] There were three or four trails, and direct pursuit in the dark was out of the question. Masterson reached the ford in the gray of the morning, bettering Mr. Kennedy’s time by an hour. He hobbled his horse, and threw himself in behind a convenient knoll, to wait the coming of the murderous flying one. At last, the latter drew near, eye scanning the ribbon of trail to the rear, pony worn and panting. No wonder, this last; seventy miles, at a swinging hand gallop, is no mere canter.

“Hold up your hands!” cried Mr. Masterson.

Mr. Kennedy almost leaped from the saddle with the surprise of it; he wasn’t looking for an enemy in front. The next moment, however, he pulled himself together, and drove a bullet at Mr. Masterson from the Ballard. Mr. Masterson was quite as brisk. The retort of his big buffalo gun made one report with the Ballard; Mr. Kennedy’s shot went wide, while the 50-caliber bullet from the buffalo gun tore its fearful way into his side. As he fell, an accidental yank on the Spanish bits brought the tired, broken pony with him.

Mr. Kennedy rolled a dying eye upon Masterson.

“You blankety-blank-blank!” said Mr. Kennedy; “you’d ought to have made a better shot than that!”

“Well, you blankety-blank murderer!” Masterson, “I did the best I could.”

Masterson’s brother Ed was made Marshal of Dodge, somewhat against the wish of Masterson. The latter feared that the “bad men,” who came and went in Dodge, would “out manage” his brother, whose suspicions were too easily set at rest.

The Killing of Mr. Masterson’s Brother

Ed Masterson

Ed Masterson

It fell out as Mr. Masterson had feared. Mr. Wagner, drunk and warlike, sought to enter Mr. Peacock’s dance hall, questing trouble. Marshal Ed Masterson, instead of pulling his own gun, as prudence would have dictated, and stopping the violent Mr. Wagner with the cold muzzle thereof, seized that truculent person by the shoulders. Instantly, Mr. Wagner’s six-shooter was brought to the fore. With that, Marshal Ed Masterson shifted his left hand to Mr. Wagner’s wrist, and for the moment put that drunkard’s weapon out of commission. There the two stood, the situation dead-locked.

From across the street, Mr. Masterson saw events and started to his brother’s aid. He was still sixty feet away when Mr. Walker, who, like Mr. Wagner was a person of cows, ran from the dance hall, and snapped his six-shooter in Marshal Ed Masterson’s face.

The cartridge failed to explode. Mr. Walker was never given the chance of trying a second; for Mr. Masterson put three bullets from his Colt’s 45 through him before he could hit the ground. As the dead Mr. Walker went down, Mr. Wagner, still in a grapple with Marshal Ed Masterson, got his gun to bear, and shot Marshal Ed Masterson in the body.

The latter fell wounded to the death, coat afire from the other’s powder. Mr. Wagner fell across him, a bullet from Mr. Masterson’s pistol through his brain.

And after this fashion did Mr. Masterson maintain law and order in Dodge. Many were his battles, many the wounds he wrought; and it was said that the local doctor traced half his practice to the untiring efforts of Mr. Masterson in behalf of communal peace.

Once upon a time in Dodge a general war was missed by the narrowest margin. Those dead worthies, Messrs. King, Kennedy, Wagner and Walker had come one and all from Texas in their day, and Lone Star feeling, always clannish, seldom nicely critical, resented their taking off. It is not too much to say that ten thousand dollars might have been borrowed on Mr. Masterson’s scalp in a dozen Texas towns. Scores of stark souls came north with the herds, avowing no other intention than to wipe out the hated Mr. Masterson.

Among these was Mr. Driscoll — big, violent, formidable. Mr. Driscoll was not in Dodge ten minutes before Mr. Masterson introduced himself.

“I’ll give you half an hour,” said Mr. Masterson, “to put yourself the other side of the Arkansas; and if you ever jingle a spur in Dodge again I’ll shoot you in two.”

Mr. Driscoll crossed the “Arkansas;” and later — his laurels somewhat tarnished, and not caring to return to Texas under such diminished circumstances — he journeyed down to Springer, [New Mexico] and went to work for Senator Dorsey’s “Triangle-dot.” Mr. Burlison was Sheriff of Colfax County, New Mexico, where the Dorsey ranches were, and Mr. Masterson wrote his brother officer a letter.

“Dear Burlison,” said Mr. Masterson, “this man Driscoll, who has migrated to your neck of woods, will bear watching. He’s a four-flush and a bully. If he tries to start anything down your way, go right at him and he’ll quit.” Mr. Driscoll “started” something. Mr. Burlison went “right at him,” and Mr. Driscoll “quit.” Also when he “quit” he was dead.

Mr. [Clay] Allison was a Texan by adoption, and a friend of Mr. Driscoll. Likewise, he was lame with a club-foot, limped when off his horse, and used a Winchester for a crutch. He had slain many men, and took a quiet pride in the fact that, in the teeth of local ordinances to the contrary, he never took his guns off when he visited any town.

“Kill Every Man with a Big Hat”

Clay Allison

Clay Allison

Mr. Allison was in Dodge when Mr. Masterson introduced himself to the offensive Mr. Driscoll. Being coldly advised, however, by Mr. Masterson, Mr. Allison was not wearing his hardware. In the day that followed the banishment of Mr. Driscoll, the whisper went Dogian rounds that the Texas cow people, then and there in large numbers, were making war medicine, and would presently “turn loose” under the leadership of Mr. Allison. With that, the careful Mr. Masterson made preparations; and such berserks as Mr. Earp, Mr. Brown, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Holliday, Mr. Bassett, Mr. Short, and others whose names were high and famous in the annals of that hour, began cleaning responsive shotguns to be in readiness for the Masterson call to arms. The word was, if war broke out, to “kill every man with a big cow hat on.” The Dodgians, be it known, wore hats of moderate and exemplary rim.

Mr. Masterson believed that if carnage descended it would come in the night. Which perhaps was the reason why Mr. Allison chose the afternoon. Of a sudden, the latter gentleman rode into the middle of that single thoroughfare — so often a battlefield — armed to the teeth. Halting his horse in front of Mr. Webster’s Alamo, Mr. Allison spake loud and fiercely, but he was heedful to leave Winchester and pistols in their scabbards, and, while his oratory was terrible, his hands continued as harmlessly empty as a child’s.

Mr. Masterson, at the time, was sitting in his office. With the earliest note of war from Mr. Allison, he snatched up a shotgun and “covered” that Texas chieftain. Since Mr. Masterson was to the rear of Mr. Allison, the latter enthusiast did not notice his “covered” condition.

Having Mr. Allison “covered,” Mr. Masterson turned to Judge Colborn, now of Salt Lake City, then District Attorney of Dodge.

Bat Masterson T-Shirt

Bat Masterson T-Shirt

“Skip out the back door, Judge,” observed Mr. Masterson, “and tell Wyatt and the rest that I’ve got Allison dead to rights. Tell them not to close in on him; if he reaches for a gun, I’ll hive him. When they hear me shoot, let them get busy right and left; tell them to bump off every Texan they find in the town.”

The warning word went down the line, and Mr. Allison was left unmolested in his eloquence. But that very fact made him uneasy. He was not without a working knowledge of homicide as a science; and the sight of the several heads of Messrs. Earp, Holliday,  Bassett, Short, and a score besides, protruded in an expectant fringe from doors and windows all along the street, as though a common idea obtained that something interesting was about to happen, chilled him and bid him pause. Mr. Allison looked excessively bothered. Finally, he shut down his oratory in mid-flow, got off his horse, limped dubiously into Mr. Webster’s Alamo saloon, and took a thoughtful drink. Mr. Masterson put away the shotgun and joined him. Observing Mr. Masterson enter, Mr. Allison pretended great joy.

“Where were you, Bat?” he asked. “I’ve been looking all over town for you.”

“I’ve been see-sawing on you with a shotgun for ten minutes,” returned Mr. Masterson grimly, “What’s the matter, Clay?”

Mr. Allison appeared a bit confused, but explained that he had been aroused by the insults of a red-headed hardware clerk who didn’t know who he, Mr. Allison, was. Being calmer now, he would again disarm in deference to the prevailing local taste as to shooting irons.

Thus the business passed without actual hostilities. and Mr. Allison confessed later that his reason for “simmering” was he had had a “premonition.”

It’s just possible he did. In any event, and whatever the cause, his change of offensive front that afternoon saved many a life. Also, it saved Dodge from what would else have proved the ruddiest chapter in all her crimson history.

“Had It In” for “Bat”

Bat Masterson

Bat Masterson

When the new liquor law took effect in Kansas in ’81, Mr. Masterson laid down his office. He was not sumptuary and, while he never drank liquor, refused to be drawn into deadly collision with gentlemen whose only offense had been a too vehement thirst.

Besides, he urged, considering the many strenuous years he had gone through, he felt he had earned a rest.

There was at least one gentleman in Dodge who didn’t share this vacation view. The hour was evening, and Mr. Masterson, no longer sheriff, was sitting in the rear room of Mr. Kelly’s Alhambra, in talk with Judge Colburn. Mr. Bell appeared abruptly in the door, a six-shooter in his right hand, another in his belt. Mr. Bell is the sober, quiet sheriff now of that same county of Ford; but in these, his younger years, he was a sturdy customer, and had “shot up” several of his acquaintances. Per incident, he “had it in” for Mr. Masterson.

“I think,” remarked Mr. Bell, as he stood thus triumphantly in the door, “I think there’s a horned toad here I want to kill.”

Like a flash, the sensitive Mr. Masterson — who, had he been either slow or dull would never have lived till now — was on his feet, the muzzle that never missed pointing squarely between the eyes of Mr. Bell. Naturally. the latter warrior froze up; he stood as though planet-struck.

There was a darkling pause; then Mr. Masterson, gun still unwaveringly upon Mr. Bell, began slowly to advance. Mr. Bell never moved. Coming within reach, Mr. Masterson suddenly let down the hammer of his pistol and smote Mr. Bell such a jealous blow upon the head that he went to the floor, and from the floor to his bed for two weeks.

Years later, I asked Mr. Masterson why he withheld his fire. “I didn’t think I had to shoot,” he said. I once saw Bell jump over a bar-counter to get at a man, when he might just as well have gone round, and it struck me all at once that he was much too dramatic. If it had been Wyatt Earp now, or Doc Holliday, or Luke Short, or Ben Thompson, I’d have begun to bombard him out of hand. But I didn’t think such extreme measures were demanded in the case of Bell;” and here Mr. Masterson smiled peacefully at the retrospect. “My size-up of Bell may have been wrong,” he concluded, “and if it was I hope he’ll pardon me. He ought to; for, between us, it was all that saved him from death that day.”

Some of his Other Adventures

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

This chronicle of Mr. Masterson might be extended to one hundred thousand words, and only the half be glanced at, not told. I might relate how he rescued from a mob the State’s Attorney General, and the Chief of the Prohibition Leagues of Kansas, when those reforming functionaries led a temperance crusade against Dodge. Or how, when Mr. Webster of the Alamo and incidentally Mayor of Dodge, exiled Mr. Short of the Long Branch — the rival shop — Mr. Masterson, then a citizen of Leadville, Colorado returned to Dodge at the militant head of such choice fighting men as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Henry Brown, Shotgun Collins, and Shoot-your-eye-out Jack, to say naught of the redoubtable Mr. Short himself, and restored that persecuted one to all his property right, as well as what elevated station, as owner of the Long Branch, he should occupy in the social life of the place.

Or how — this was a case of mistaken identity — Mr. Masterson smote the Pueblo railway policeman so grievously upon his skull with a six-shooter, that the latter officer, who had wrongfully assailed Mr. Masterson with a bludgeon, must be furloughed to a hospital for a month. Or how Mr. Masterson took a man from a mob of lynchers at Buena Vista, and carried him before a magistrate; and how, when the magistrate, in sympathetic league with the lynchers, would have committed the man to the local jail, where the mob could get at him, he, Mr. Masterson, tore up the commitment papers in the face of the court, and carried the man off to the Denver jail, where subsequently he was sufficiently yet lawfully hanged.

Or, how Mr. Masterson protected Mr. Holliday from the requisition of Arizona’s Governor for killing Mr. Stillwell in Tucson, by the simple stratagem of having that consumptive gun player put under arrest on a charge of highway robbery — a fiction — in Colorado. Or how, when Mr. O’Neal, with a six-shooter in each overcoat pocket, and a hand on each six-shooter, sent forward a drunken ruffian to attack Mr. Masterson, with full and fell intent on Mr. O’Neal’s part of “bumping off’ Mr. Masterson when once entangled with the drunken one he, Mr. Masterson, knocked the drunken one senseless with his left fist, while with his right hand he abruptly acquired the drop on the designing Mr. O’Neal. With that never-erring six-shooter upon him, Mr. O’Neal’s empty hands came out of his pockets and went into the air, like winking.

“Don’t kill me!” he faltered.

Mr. Masterson’s finger was itching upon the trigger. In an instant, he shifted. Letting down the hammer, he repeated the maneuver which had worked so well in the days of Mr. Bell. Later, the wounded Mr. O’Neal, head in bandages, sent from his bed a message of peace, asking Mr. Masterson to see him, and allow him to “explain.”

“Well,” said Mr. Masterson to the messenger. “I’ll come. But tell O’Neal to be careful and keep his hands outside the blankets while he’s doing his ‘explaining'”

Or, I might set forth how a dear but intoxicated friend, forgetting for the moment — an election moment wherein the “dear friend” resented the indomitable republicanism of Mr. Masterson — those close social ties which subsisted between them, pulled his pistol, intending the destruction of Mr. Masterson; and how Mr. Masterson shot the weapon from his dear friend’s hand, and let him live to apologize for his murderous rudeness. That apologetic one is sober now, and a Denver detective of much good repute.

Or, I could tell how Mr. Gallagher of Denver imported a desperate character, one Smith. for the wiping out of Mr. Masterson; and how Mr. Masterson, when he heard, sent a 100-dollar bill to Mr. Gallagher, with word that the money was his if he would but walk down the street “as far as Murphy’s,” with his importation. Also, how Mr. Gallagher refused the money, and how Mr. Smith made haste to explain that his purpose in coming to Denver was wholly innocuous.

Or, how — if these be not enough — Mr. Masterson journeyed, in the name of friendship, to far-off Ogallala, and surreptitiously bore away Mr. Thompson — then under arrest, but stiff and sore from buckshot wounds, and held captive in a hotel instead of the jail, because of them. Mr. Masterson, having advantage of a drunken sentinel, rolled the injured Mr. Thompson in a blanket, and packed him to the station on his shoulder, Mr. Thompson aiding his rescue by conveniently fainting away. It was two o’clock of a dark morning, every Ogallalan was at a dance in the far end of camp, and no one beheld the feat. Which was just as well, since there were more buckshot in Ogallala than had been stopped by Mr. Thompson. Mr. Masterson carried Mr. Thompson aboard train as far as North Platt; and there the excellent “Buffalo Bill” Cody presented the fugitives with his wife’s phaeton, and a horse of a temper like Satan’s and a hideous hammer head, with which double donation they made their safe way cross-country three hundred miles to Dodge.

Now Out of the Zone of Fire

Luke Short

Luke Short

Or, I might give the story of how, when Mr. Short killed Mr. Courtright in Fort Worth, Mr. Masterson took his six-shooters and begged the privilege of sitting in Short’s cell all night, fearing mob violence. Friendship such as Jonathan’s would have hesitated at so desperate a step! It turned out well, however, for the would-be lynchers, told by the Sheriff that Mr. Masterson and Short were together in the jail, and each with a brace of guns, virtuously resolved that the law should take its course, and went heedfully home to bed.

These and many more have been the adventures of Mr. Masterson, who, coming up through all this perilous trail of smoke and blood, is now peacefully amassing ten thousand dollars a year, as a crack writer on a New York City paper and a contributor to Human Life. I asked him if he never yearned for the West. He shook his head.

“I’m out of that zone of fire;” said he, “and I never want to go back. I hope never to see those dreary plains again.” But the plains come to Mr. Masterson on Broadway, or rather the men of the plains. One day he introduced me to a wiry, eagle-eyed gentleman, dressed as though just out of a bandbox.

Mr. Tilghman,” said the introductory Mr. Masterson.

Mr. Tilghman, it appeared, was East as the democratic representative of Oklahoma, to notify Mr. Parker that he had been nominated for the Presidency.

“Do you remember;’ Mr. Masterson asked — “do you remember my telling how, one Christmas eve, I ran off forty of old Bear Shield’s ponies? And how I saw a party riding about among the herd that I took to be an Indian herder? It was Billy here; he got away with something like fifty good head himself that night.:

Tilghman — now a sheriff in Oklahoma — beamed at the rich suggestion of those afore time ponies, and then he and Mr. Masterson fell to remembering how Mr. Masterson had one day given Mr. Tilghman warning at Leota to “look out for Ed Prather;” and how the next afternoon Tilghman “looked out'” so earnestly that Mr. Prather departed headlong into the misty beyond.

“Billy kept the tail of his eye on him,” explained Mr. Masterson; “and when Ed reached for his gun, he beat him to it.”

One last adventure, and I am through.Mr. Masterson had not seen Dodge for a handful of years. He was in Deming when a telegram was put into his hands. It related to his younger brother, who was still in Dodge. It ran:

“Come at once. Updegraffe and Peacock are going to kill Jim.”

Mr. Masterson was thirty hours reaching Dodge. Unable to sleep, his fancy roved feverishly ahead and drew dark pictures of the probable. Mr. Updegraffe was as game a man as ever buckled a belt, and Mr. Peacock would fight a little. By the time Mr. Masterson reached Albuquerque, he knew that Jim was dead; and when he had got as far as Las Vegas, [New Mexico], he felt sure that the funeral was over. In this frame, he stepped off the cars at Dodge the next day. There they were, Mr. Updegraffe and Mr. Peacock, waiting for him in the little public square.

Mr. Masterson cut short the suspense.

You murderers,” he cried to the waiting Updegraffe and Peacock, “might better begin to fight right now!”

“For Shooting Inside of City Limits”

Mr. Updegraffe’s bullet buried itself in the side of a Pullman. Masterson’s bullet drove a 5-inch splinter of rib through Mr. Updegraffe’s lungs, Mr. Peacock took refuge behind the calaboose, from which he fired wild and high, breaking four-story windows in a far-away block. Mr. Masterson shot twice at Mr. Peacock, and missed him by a breath. The scars of those two bullets still show on the side of Dodge’s calaboose. Mr. Masterson, aiming to dislodge him, charged the entrenched Mr. Peacock. When he arrived at the corner of the calaboose, Mr. Peacock had vanished. Masterson caught a disappointing glimpse of him. as he disappeared into Mr. Gallon’s hotel.

At this pinch. Mr. Webster — Mayor, proprietor of the Alamo and no friend of Masterson — came panting up, a 10-gauge shotgun in his shaking hands. Masterson who never forgot his strategy, went instantly and close to Mr. Webster. Mr. Webster was visibly shaken, and as white as paper. Masterson surveyed him — eye keen as that of a lynx, six shooter in ready hand.

“What’s the matter with you, Web?” asked Masterson.

“It’s just this. Bat,” stammered Mr. Webster. “I’m Mayor of this outfit; and this shooting’s got to stop.”

“Well,” returned Masterson, as steady as a tree, “I think it has stopped. unless you choose to start it again.”

“I’ll not start it,” ejaculated the fervent Mr. Webster.

“Then let me take the 10-gauge,” said Masterson, soothingly, at the same time claiming that weapon. “It doesn’t look well for the Mayor of Dodge to be running about the streets with a shotgun in his hands.”

Then the unexpected happened. Jim Masterson, not at all dead and buried, but clothed and in his right mind, came running up. Masterson stared as though he beheld a ghost.

“Where have you been?” he gasped.

“Over in the Wright House, asleep.” returned Jim, “until your cannonading woke me up.”

There had been trouble with Messrs. Updegraffe and Peacock on one end of it and Jim on the other. Some shooting had taken place, but no one scored. While the brothers stood talking, Mr. Peacock as closing the incident, sent forth an ambassador who paid Jim six hundred dollars — the casus belli (justification.)

“Get your blankets,” Masterson said to Jim. “Out of town you go by the next train! I’ve had to come twelve hundred miles on your account, to kill one of my friends, and now I won’t even let you stay in the state. Get your blankets; you and I take the next train west!”

“But, Bat,” expostulated Mr. Webster tremulously, “I’ve got to have you arrested.”

“Be careful, Web!” warned Masterson. “I won’t submit to an arrest. Your people here took to shooting at me the moment I got off the cars; I only defended myself. I give you warning that anyone who attempts to arrest me will have to arrest me in the smoke.”

“Not for downing Updegraffe,” protested Mr. Webster hastily; “that, as you say, was self-defense. But, Bat, we’ve passed some ordinances since you were here — ordinances against shootin’ inside the town.” This last tentatively.

Masterson smiled: “To ease your official mind. Web,” he said at last, “so it’s nothing more than a money fine, and you don’t over-size my pile, I’ll stand it.”

Thereupon. Mr. Webster, Mayor, cheered up mightily and fined Mr. Masterson five dollars for “Shooting inside the city limits;” which sum Masterson tossed to Mr. Webster, who as Mayor. gratefully collected it off the grass.

Alfred H. Lewis

Alfred H. Lewis

Alfred Henry Lewis, 1907 – Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.

About the Author and Notes: Alfred Henry Lewis was a journalist and novelist who, by the late 1800s, had established a  reputation as one of the foremost political writers of the country. In the first decade of the 20th century, he started a short-lived Boston magazine called Human Life and hired Bat Masterson to write a series of articles on his gunfighter friends. However, Bat was not an autobiographer, and Lewis wrote this article on Masterson in 1907.

Though widely acclaimed during his time, we found this article somewhat difficult to read as it included a number of words not (or no longer) used in everyday language, plus assumed that the reader would know such things as “on the Medicine Lodge” refers to the Medicine Lodge River, and other such assumptions. Additionally, the article included a number of misspellings and grammatical errors. Therefore, the story on these pages is not verbatim, as it has been edited for corrections, clarification, and ease of the modern reader.

Also See:

Bat Masterson – Loyal In Lawlessness

List of Old West Gunfighters

Dodge City – A Wicked Little Town

Dodge City Historical Text

Hell-Raising Dodge

Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman

Luke Short – A Dandy Gunfighter