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{{Infobox Person
name = Bat Masterson
image = BatMasterson.jpg
imagesize = 210px
caption = Masterson in 1908
birth_date =
birth_place = Henryville, Montérégiemarker, Quebecmarker
death_date =
death_place = New York Citymarker, New Yorkmarker, USAmarker
occupation = Gambler

Army Scout
Buffalo Hunter
Lawman {Sheriff and US Marshal}

years_active = 1876 - approx 1891
notable_opponents =
spouse =
children =
relations = James Masterson (brother)

Ed Masterson (brother)


William Barclay "Bat" Masterson (November 26, 1853 ‚Äď October 25, 1921) was a figure of the American Old West known as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Army scout, avid fisherman, gambler, frontier lawman, U.S. Marshal, and sports editor and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. He was the brother of lawmen James Masterson and Ed Masterson.

Name and birth

He was born on November 26, 1853, at Henryville in Quebecmarker and baptised as Bartholomew Masterson, but he later used the name "William Barclay Masterson".

His father, Thomas Masterson (or Mastersan), was born in Canadamarker of an Irish family; and his mother, Catherine McGurk (or McGureth), was born in Ireland. He was the second child in a family of five brothers and two sisters. They were raised on farms in Quebecmarker, New Yorkmarker, and Illinoismarker, until they finally settled near Wichita, Kansasmarker. In his late teens, he and two of his brothers, Ed Masterson and James Masterson, left their family's farm to become buffalo hunters. While traveling without his brothers, Bat took part in the Battle of Adobe Walls in Texasmarker, fighting against the Comanche Indians. He then spent some time as a U.S. Army scout in a campaign against the Kiowa and Comanche Indians.

Gunfighter and lawman

Deputies Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, 1876.
The scroll on Earp's chest is a cloth pin-on badge
His first gunfight took place in Sweetwater, Texas (later Mobeetiemarker), in 1876 when he was attacked by a man in a fight, allegedly because of a girl. The other man died of his wounds. Masterson was shot in the pelvis but recovered. The story that he needed to carry a cane for the rest of his life is a legend perpetuated by the TV series.

In 1877, he joined his brothers in Dodge City, Kansasmarker. Jim was the partner of Ed who was an assistant marshal. Soon after his arrival, Masterson came into conflict with the local marshal over the treatment of a man being arrested. He was jailed and fined, although his fine was later returned by the city council. He served as a sheriff's deputy alongside Wyatt Earp, and within a few months he was elected county sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. As sheriff, Bat won plaudits for capturing four members of the Mike Roark gang who had unsuccessfully held up a train at nearby Kinsley. He also led the posse that captured Jim Kennedy who had inadvertently killed an entertainer named Dora Hand in Dodge; with a shot through the shoulder Masterson eventually brought Kennedy down.

Fighting in Coloradomarker on the Santa Fe side of its war against the Rio Grande railroad, Masterson continued as Ford County sheriff until he was voted out of office in 1879. During this same period his brother Ed was Marshal of Dodge City and was killed in the line of duty April 9, 1878. Ed was shot by cowboy Jack Wagner, not realising that Bat was in the vicinity. As Ed stumbled away from the scene, Masterson responded from across the street with deadly force, firing on both Wagner and Wagner's boss, Alf Walker. Wagner died the next day but Walker was taken back to Texas and recovered. The local newspapers were ambiguous about who shot Wagner and Walker and this led some later historians to question whether Bat was involved. However, the recent location of two court cases in which Bat testified under oath that he had shot both means that most now accept that Bat avenged his brother.

For the next several years, he made a living as a gambler moving through several of the legendary towns of the Old West. He visited Wyatt Earp in Tombstonemarker, Arizona Territory, leaving shortly before the famous "Gunfight at the O.K.marker Corralmarker". He spent a year as marshal of Trinidad, Coloradomarker.

In 1883, he participated in a bloodless conflict and gunfighter gathering later called the Dodge City War. By 1889, he was living in Denver, Coloradomarker, where he was involved with Soapy Smith in the infamous election ballot stuffing scandal. He purchased the Palace Variety Theater and married actress Emma Walters, on November 21, 1891. In 1892, he managed the Denver Exchange Club in Creede, Colorado, and continued to travel around the boomtowns of the West, gambling and promoting prize fight. He began writing a weekly sports column for George's Weekly, a Denver newspaper, and opened the Olympic Athletic Club to promote the sport of boxing.

Fame and notoriety

Bat Masterson lived in the American West during a violent and frequently lawless period. His most recent biographer concludes that, Indian-fighting aside, he used a firearm against a fellow man on just six occasions, far less than some of his contemporaries such as Dallas Stoudenmire, "Wild Bill" Hickok, and Clay Allison. However, the fact that he was so widely known can be ascribed to a practical joke played on a gullible newspaper reporter in August 1881. Seeking copy in Gunnison, Colorado, the reporter asked Dr W.S. Cockrell about mankillers. Dr. Cockrell pointed to a young man nearby and said it was Bat and that he had killed 26 men. Cockrell then regaled the reporter with several lurid tales about Bat's exploits and the reporter wrote them up for the New York Sun. The story was then widely reprinted in papers all over the country and became the basis for many more exaggerated stories told about Bat over the years.Masterson left the West and went to New York Citymarker by 1902, where he was arrested for illegal gambling.

President Theodore Roosevelt, on the recommendation of mutual friend Alfred Henry Lewis, appointed Masterson to the position of deputy to U.S. Marshal for the southern district of New York, under William Henkel. Roosevelt had met Masterson on several occasions and had become friendly with him. Masterson split his time between his writing and keeping the peace in the grand jury room whenever the U. S. Attorney in New York held session. He performed this service for about $2,000 per year from early 1908 until 1912 when President William Howard Taft removed Masterson from the position during Taft's purge of Roosevelt supporters from government positions.

Newspaper man

Bat Masterson worked as a sports writer and editor; and a columnist. His career as a writer started around 1883 and ended at his death in New York Citymarker in 1921.

He wrote a letter published in the Daily Kansas State Journal, on June 9, 1883, that mentioned his arrival in Dodge City, the famous Long Branch saloon, and his famous cohorts who made the Long Branch their headquarters during the so-called "Dodge City Saloon War". It was during this time that Bat met newspaper men Alfred Henry and William Eugene Lewis. Both journalists were destined to play a role in Masterson's future as a scribe. Masterson published Vox Populi, a single edition newspaper focusing on local Dodge City politics in November 1884. Masterson penned a weekly sports column for George's Weekly sometime after his arrival in Denver, Coloradomarker, in the late 1890s.

Masterson continued his writing career in New York at the New York Morning Telegraph, (a sporting newspaper featuring race form and results whose reputation was part of what was known as 'a whore's breakfast,' which consisted of a cigarette and the Morning Telegraph) circa 1904. Hired by the younger Lewis brother, William Eugene Lewis, he reprised his role as sports writer, later becoming the paper's sports editor. The politics, sporting events, theaters, fine dining establishments, and varied night life of his adopted city became fodder for his thrice weekly column "Masterson's Views on Timely Topics" for more than 18 years. W. E. Lewis eventually became the general manager and president of the company and promoted his friend Masterson to vice president and company secretary.

While in New York City, Masterson met up again with the Lewis brothers. Alfred Henry Lewis eventually wrote several short stories and a novel "The Sunset Trail", about Masterson. Alfred Lewis encouraged Bat to write a series of sketches about his adventures which were published by Lewis in the magazine he edited, Human Life (circa 1907-1908). Masterson regaled his readers with stories about his days on the frontier and his gunfighter friends. He also explained to his audience what he felt were the best properties of a gunfighter.


The grave of Bat Masterson
Masterson died at age 67 on October 25, 1921, while living and working in New York City. He collapsed at his desk from a heart attack after penning his final column for the New York Morning Telegraph. His body was taken to Campbell's Funeral Parlor and later buried after a simple service in Woodlawn Cemeterymarker in Bronx, New Yorkmarker. His full name William Barclay Masterson appears above his epitaph on the large granite grave marker in Woodlawn. His epitaph states that he was "Loved by Everyone."


  • "Every dog, we are told, has his day, unless there are more dogs than days."

  • "New York is the biggest boobtown there is. They will buy any damned thing here."

  • "When a man is at the racetrack he roars longer and louder over the twenty-five cents he loses through the hole in the bottom of his pocket than he does over the $25 he loses through the hole in the top of his pocket."

  • "There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I'll swear I can't see it that way." (This last quotation was also Masterson's last recorded words; it was the bit of column found on the typewriter Masterson was using before he died while typing).

Popular media

  • Albert Dekker portrayed Masterson in the 1943 film, The Woman of the Town, based on the murder of Dora Hand, portrayed by Claire Trevor. Barry Sullivan played Miss Hand's killer, named "King" Kennedy in the film rather than Jim Kennedy. The film suggested that there was a romantic relationship between Masterson and Dora Hand. The film's musical score was nominated for an Oscar.

  • Bat Masterson was a U.S. television series loosely based on the historical character. William Barclay "Bat" Masterson was portrayed by actor Gene Barry, who also played a lead role in later television shows The Name of the Game and Burke's Law, among others. Bat Masterson appeared on NBC in 107 episodes from 1958 to 1961 and featured Masterson as a superbly dressed gambler in a black suit and derby more inclined to "bat" crooks over the head with his gold-knobbed cane than shoot them. The half-hour series, filmed in black and white, featured fairly literate scripts for a television western of the period. Hundreds of thousands of plastic derbies and canes were sold as children's toys during the series' run*

  • Joel McCrea played Masterson in the 1959 film The Gunfight at Dodge City which depicted the famed westerner during his term of office as Ford County Sheriff.

  • Bat Masterson was portrayed in the movie Wyatt Earp by Tom Sizemore, as well as a number of other movies featuring characters ostensibly based upon historic figures.

  • Masterson, by Richard Wheeler, describes a fictional trip from New York to Californiamarker, where Bat meets film actor William S. Hart and visits Wyatt Earp. The trip takes place in late 1919, just before the imposition of national prohibition of alcohol. Among other amusing observations he makes is the statement that Las Vegasmarker is just an unimportant whistle stop town--"always was, always will be."

  • As well as being mentioned in various games utilizing the names of "authentic" historic characters, a Non-Player Character character in EverQuest features the satirical name Bait Masterson.

  • The character Sky Masterson from the musical Guys and Dolls was based on Bat Masterson.

  • Animation giants William Hanna and Joseph Barbera satirized Masterson in a 1964 Punkin' Puss and Mushmouse cartoon, "Bat Mouseterson", in which Mushmouse's city-dwelling, cane-wielding cousin comes to hill country for a visit and teaches Mushmouse the gentleman's way of warding off the always-feuding Punkin' Puss.

  • In one episode of Beakman's World, Beakman portrayed himself in a short film as Bat Masterson when teaching about how actors don't injure themselves when doing things that are meant to cause injury.


  1. Whilst other dates are cited in some sources, his baptism is recorded in the Quebec Archives in a record dated 27 November, 1853, and making it clear he was born the previous day. (See DeArment, Robert K., Bat Masterson, The Man and the Legend, University of Oklahoma Press, 1979, pp.9-10.)
  2. Bartholomaeus Masterson in the 1870 US Census in St. Clair County, Illinois
  3. Bat later claimed on U.S. census that he was born in Illinois or Missouri, but that was probably because he had never bothered to become naturalised yet had voted and held public office.
  5. See DeArment, Robert K., Bat Masterson, The Man and the Legend (University of Oklahoma Press, 1979) and DeArment, Robert K., Broadway Bat: Gunfighter in Gotham (Talei Publishers, 2005).
  6. Cockrell subsequently apologised to Bat, who insisted he was not even in Gunnison at the time. See DeArment, Robert K., Broadway Bat: Gunfighter in Gotham (Talei Publishers, 2005)

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