Little Bits of History

Gettin’ Outta Dodge

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 16, 2015
Bat Masterson in 1879

Bat Masterson in 1879

April 16, 1881: Bat Masterson arrives in Dodge City, Kansas. William Barclay “Bat” Masterson was born in 1853 in Quebec. He was a prominent figure in the Old Wild West of American folklore. He had two brothers, James and Ed; both were lawmen. The family moved to Wichita, Kansas in the 1850s. Eventually there were five brothers and two sisters born to the Irish immigrants. Ed, Bat, and Jim left the family farm to become buffalo hunters. Bat, out on his own, fought in the Battle of the Adobe Walls in Texas and then spent time working as a scout for the US Army. In 1876, Bat participated in his first gunfight – over a girl. The soldier who attacked him and the girl in question were both killed while Bat recovered from a gunshot wound to the pelvis.

In 1877, Bat joined his brothers in Dodge City who were both working with the US Marshals. The confrontational Bat was soon in trouble with the law, but after his release from jail, he served as a deputy with Wyatt Earp and Bat was soon elected county sheriff for Ford County, Kansas. He was cleaning up the area and gaining the confidence of the citizenry. Although still sheriff, he took part in a conflict in Colorado regarding railroads. Ed, the eldest brother, was killed in the line of duty in 1878. He was 25 years old at the time. The assailants were not aware that Bat had returned and he managed to kill the man who shot his brother.

Bat left town and made his living as a gambler and moved around the Wild West. Wyatt Earp invited Bat to Tombstone, Arizona so that he might manage a gambling concession in a saloon. While there, he received an urgent, unsigned telegram stating that two men were trying to kill his younger brother, Jim. He returned to Dodge City on this day. Updergraff and Peacock were Jim’s partners, running a saloon. Peacock was a dishonest drunk and Jim demanded Updergraff, his brother-in-law, fire him. Threats were made and the telegram sent. Bat got off the train and recognized the two men who were supposed to be threatening his brother. Shots were fired; Updergraff was wounded (but eventually recovered). Bat was arrested and later found out his brother had not been in danger. Since citizens had randomly participated in the shoot-out, no one knew who had wounded Updergraff. Bat was fined $8.00 and released. He and Jim left Dodge City. It was Bat’s last gunfight.

Jim died in 1895 at the age of 39. Bat lived much longer, dying in 1921 at the age of 67. He had lived through a raucous, lawless time in the Wild West. His latest biographer concludes that aside from sanctioned fighting (wars/raids), he used his gun against other people only six times, far less than some of the other gunslingers of his day. His fame is attributed to a joke played on a gullible journalist in August 1881. A wide-eyed naïve journalist asked a Colorado resident about tales of the lawless west and his host pointed to a nearby young man (Bat Masterson) and said he had killed 26 men and then gave details. Masterson’s fame was based on lies.


We are rough men and used to rough ways. – Bob Younger to a newspaper reporter following the 1876 Northfield, Minnesota raid

For my handling of the situation at Tombstone, I have no regrets. Were it to be done again, I would do it exactly as I did it at the time. – Wyatt Earp

Never run a bluff with a six-gun. – Bat Masterson

Also on this day: Little Sure Shot – In 1922, a little old lady performs a remarkable marksmanship feat.
Goya Sunk – In 1945, the Russians sunk the German refugee ship.
High Flyer – In 1912. Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.
Taking Marbles; Leaving – In 1858, the Wernerian Natural History Society ceased to exist.
Great Neighbors – In 1818, the Rush-Bagot Treaty was ratified in the US.

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