My Friend Wyatt Earp


By W.R. (Bat) Masterson in 1907

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

Thirty-Five years ago [1872] that immense stretch of territory extending from the Missouri River west to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Brazos River in Texas north to the Red Cloud Agency in Dakota, knew no braver or more desperate man than Wyatt Earp, the subject of this narrative.

Wyatt Earp is one of the few men I personally knew in the West in the early days, whom I regarded as absolutely destitute of physical fear. I have often remarked, and I am not alone in my conclusions, that what goes for courage in a man is generally the fear of what others will think of him — in other words, personal bravery is largely made up of self-respect, egotism, and an apprehension of the opinion of others.

Wyatt Earp’s daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger is wholly characteristic; personal fear doesn’t enter into the equation, and when everything is said and done, I believe he values his own opinion of himself more than that of others, and it is his own good report that he seeks to preserve. I may here cite an incident in his career that seems to me will go far toward establishing the correctness of the estimate I have made of him.

Claimed the Cards were Crooked

He was once engaged in running a faro game in Gunnison, Colorado, in the early days of that camp; and one day while away from the gambling house, another gambler by the name of Ike Morris, who had something of a local reputation as a bad man with a gun, and who was also running a faro game in another house in the camp, went into Wyatt’s game and put down a roll of bills on one of the cards and told the dealer to turn.

Faro in Tonapah, Nevada in 1905

Playing Faro

The dealer did as he was told, and after making a turn or two, won the bet and reached out on the layout and picked up the roll of bills and deposited them in the money-drawer. Morris instantly made a kick and claimed that the cards were crooked, and demanded the return of his money. The dealer said that he could not give back the money, as he was only working for wages, but advised him to wait until Mr.Earp returned, and then explain matters to him, and as he was the proprietor of the game he would perhaps straighten the matter up. In a little while, Wyatt returned, and Morris was on hand to tell him about the squabble with the dealer, and incidentally ask for the return of the money he had bet and lost.

Wyatt told him to wait a minute and he would speak to the dealer about it; if things were as he represented he would see what could be done about it. Wyatt stepped over to the dealer and asked him about the trouble with Morris. The dealer explained the matter and assured Wyatt that there was nothing wrong with the cards and that Morris had lost his money fairly and squarely. By this time the house was pretty well filled up, as it got noised about that Morris and Earp were likely to have trouble. A crowd had gathered in anticipation of seeing a little fun. Wyatt went over to where Morris was standing and stated that the dealer had admitted cheating him out of his money and that he felt very much like returning it on that account; but said Wyatt — “You are looked upon in this part of the country as a bad man, and if I was to give you back your money you would say as soon as I left town, that you made me do it, and for that reason I will keep the money.” Morris said no more about the matter, and after inviting Wyatt to have a cigar, returned to his own house, and in a day or so left the camp.

Lost his Reputation in the Camp

Faro Players

Cyrus Noble Whiskey Ad showing Faro Players

There was really no reason why he should have gone away, for so far as Wyatt was concerned the incident was closed; but he perhaps felt that he had lost whatever prestige his reputation as a bad man had given him in the camp, and concluded it would be best for him to move out before some other person of lesser note than Wyatt Earp took a fall out of him. This he knew would be almost sure to happen if he remained. He did not need to be told that if he remained in town after the Earp incident got noised about, every Tom, Dick and Harry in camp would be anxious to take a kick at him, and that was perhaps the reason for his sudden departure for other fields where the fact of his punctured reputation was not so generally known.

The course pursued by Earp on this occasion was undoubtedly the proper one-in fact the only one-able to preserve his reputation and self-respect. It would not have been necessary for him to have killed Morris in order to have sustained his reputation, and very likely that was the very last thing he had in mind at the time, for he was not one of those human tigers who delighted in shedding blood just for the fun of the thing. He never, at any time in his career, resorted to the pistol excepting in cases where such a course was absolutely necessary. Wyatt could scrap with his fists and had often taken all the fight out of bad men, as they were called, with no other weapons than those provided by Nature.

Wichita, Kansas, 1874

Wichita, Kansas, 1874

There were few men in the West who could whip Earp in a rough-and-tumble fight 30 years ago, and I suspect that he could give a tough youngster a hard tussle right now, even if he is 61 years of age.   In all probability had Morris been known as a peaceable citizen, he would have had his money returned when he asked for it, as Wyatt never cared much for money; but being known as a man with a reputation as a gunfighter, his only chance to get his money back lay in his ability to “do” Earp, and that was a job he did not care to tackle.

I have known Wyatt Earp since early in the seventies, and have seen him tried out under circumstances which made the test of manhood supreme. He landed in Wichita, Kansas in 1872, being then about 26 years old, and weighing in the neighborhood of one hundred and sixty pounds, all of it muscle. He stood six feet in height, with light blue eyes, and a complexion bordering on the blonde. He was born at Monmouth, Illinois, of a clean strain of American breeding, and served in an Iowa regiment the last three years of the Civil War, although he was only a boy at the time. He always arrayed himself on the side of law and order, and on a great many occasions, at the risk of his life, rendered valuable service in upholding the majesty of the law in those communities in which he lived. In the spring of 1876, he was appointed Assistant City Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas, which was then the largest shipping point in the North for the immense herds of Texas cattle that were annually driven from Texas to the northern markets. Wyatt’s reputation for courage and coolness was well known to many of the citizens of Dodge City — in fact, it was his reputation that secured for him the appointment of Assistant City Marshal.

Dodge City, Kansas about 1875

Dodge City, Kansas about 1875

He was not very long on the force before one of the aldermen of the city, presuming somewhat on the authority his position gave him over a police officer, ordered Wyatt one night to perform some official act that did not look exactly right to him, and Wyatt refused point-blank to obey the order. The alderman, regarded as something of a scrapper himself, walked up to Wyatt and attempted to tear his official shield from his vest front where it was pinned. When that alderman woke up he was a greatly changed man. Wyatt knocked him down as soon as he laid his hands on him, and then reached down and picked him up with one hand and slammed a few hooks and upper-cuts into his face, dragged his limp form over to the city calaboose, and chucked it in one of the cells, just the same as he would any other disturber of the peace. The alderman’s friends tried to get him out on bail during the night, but Wyatt gave it out that it was the calaboose for the alderman until the police court opened up for business at nine o’clock the following morning, and it was. Wyatt was never bothered any more while he lived in Dodge City by aldermen.

While he invariably went armed, he seldom had occasion to do any shooting in Dodge City, and only once do I now recall when he shot to kill, and that was at a drunken cowboy, who rode up to a Variety Theatre where Eddie Foy, the now-famous comedian, was playing an engagement. The cowboy rode right by Wyatt, who was standing outside the main entrance to the show shop, but evidently he did not notice him else he would not in all probability have acted as he did.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *