Sherman McMasters – Outlaw or Lawman?

Texas Ranger Badge

Sherman W. McMasters was an outlaw, Texas Ranger, and lawman best-known for his participation in the Earp Vendetta Ride. Born in 1853 in Illinois, McMasters headed west, where he gained a reputation as a gunfighter. He was in Dodge City, Kansas, at the same time as were Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, where he made friends with the pair. There, he also reportedly killed a man in self-defense after a gambling dispute in a saloon.

By September 1878, McMasters was working with the Texas Rangers in El Paso County, a position he held until the following spring. In the Lone Star State, he met Curly Bill Brocius and helped him escape from jail by some accounts.

In 1879, he hooked up with other illustrious characters of the Dodge City Gang in Las Vegas, New Mexico. He was known to have associated with the likes of such characters as Hoodoo Brown, who ran the gang for a time, was firmly in control of a criminal cartel that participated in several stagecoach and train robberies, organized cattle rustling, and was said to have been responsible for multiple murders and lynchings.

Later, McMasters drifted to Tombstone, Arizona, where he was friendly with not only the likes of Curly Bill Brocius, Johnny Barnes, and Pony Deal, who supported the outlaw Clanton faction; but was also friendly with the Earp brothers, who were at apparent odds with the Clantons.

During this time, McMasters was a suspect in stealing Army mules in July 1880, and the following year, the theft of two valuable horses from the Contention Mine and a Globe, Arizona stagecoach robbery. However, by 1882, Wyatt Earp allegedly employed him to help track down “Curly Bill” Brocious and Pony Deal follow a January 1882 robbery of the Bisbee, Arizona stagecoach. Whether McMasters was truly an outlaw or was working undercover to break up the Cowboy faction remains a mystery.

McMasters was in the saloon where Morgan Earp was assassinated in March 1882. After Morgan’s death and an attempt on Virgil Earp’s life, McMasters was clearly in allegiance with the Earps and soon joined Wyatt and Warren Earp when they began their Vendetta Ride. He took part in the murder of Frank Stillwell in Tucson, Arizona, and of Florentino Cruz, also called Indian Charlie, two days later. However, he was not present at Earp’s alleged confrontation with Curly Bill Brocius. Following the two-week revenge ride of the Earps, McMasters left Arizona with Wyatt and disappeared from history.

Later, Will McLaury, in a letter written to his father, stated that McMasters had been killed in a shootout with the Cowboy faction in 1884. However, Wyatt would say that McMasters died in the Philippines in 1898 while serving as a soldier in the Spanish American War, though there are no documents to support this. The most likely account was by McMasters’ siblings, who indicated that he died in Colorado in 1892.

 

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated September 2022.

Earp Vendetta Ride

Earp Vendetta Ride

Also See:

Earp Vendetta Ride

Complete List of Old West Gunfighters

Dodge City – A Wicked Little Town

Wyatt Earp – Frontier Lawman

My Friend Wyatt Earp by Bat Masterson