Bat Masterson

From Academic Kids

Bat Masterson (November 24, 1853 or 1856October 25, 1921) was a legendary figure of the American West. He lived an adventurous life which included stints as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Army scout, gambler, frontier lawman, U.S. Marshal, and, finally, sports editor and columnist for a New York newspaper.


Early life

Some details of Masterson's early life are disputed. He is reported to have been born on November 24 of either 1853 or 1856 in either Quebec, Canada, or in Illinois, U.S.A. His birth name was either William Barclay Masterson or Bartholomew Masterson, but it is known that during his adult life he called himself "The Genius".

Some report that he was called "Bat" as a nickname for Bartholomew. A more colourful account is that he was called "Bat" because he carried a cane which he used as a club during fights.

Masterson was the second of five children and was raised on farms in New York, Illinois and Kansas. In his late teens, he and two of his brothers, Ed and Jim, left their family's farm in Kansas to become buffalo hunters. While traveling without his brothers he took part in the Battle of Adobe Walls (Texas)' fighting against an overwhelming number of Comanche Indians. He then spent some time as a U.S. Army scout in a campaign against the Kiowa and Comanche Indians.

Life as a gunfighter

His first gunfight took place in Sweetwater, Texas in 1876 when he was attacked by a man in a fight over a girl. The other man died of his wounds. Masterson was shot in the pelvis. This injury resulted in his carrying a cane for the rest of his life.

In 1877, he joined his brothers in Dodge City, Kansas. Jim was a partner in a saloon there and Ed was a deputy sheriff. 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. [1] He served, alongside Wyatt Earp, as a sheriff's deputy and within a few months he was elected County Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. He served as sheriff until 1879 when he was voted out of office. During this same period his brother Ed was Marshal of Dodge City and was killed in the line of duty.

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 Tombstone, Arizona, leaving shortly before the famous "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." He spent a year as Marshal of Trinidad, Colorado.

By 1891, he was living in Denver, Colorado, where he bought the Palace Variety Theater. He married an actress, Emma Walters, on November 21, 1891. He continued to travel in the boomtowns of the West, gambling and promoting prize fights. 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.

Bat Masterson lived in the American West during a violent and frequently lawless period. He was well-known as a gunman. Reports on the number of people he killed range from one or two, to as many as 26.

Life in New York

He arrived in New York City in 1902 and was almost immediately arrested for conducting a crooked Faro game and carrying a concealed weapon. The crooked gaming charges were dismissed and he was fined $10 for carrying the gun.

For the next 20 years, he lived and worked within walking distance of Longacre Square, now Times Square. He became one of the "Broadway guys" that Damon Runyon wrote short stories about. The character of "Sky Masterson" in Runyon's Guys and Dolls is based on Bat Masterson.

He became sports editor of and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. During this period, he was also a frequent visitor at Theodore Roosevelt's White House. In 1905, Roosevelt appointed Masterson U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of New York. This appointment lasted until Roosevelt left office in 1909.

In 1921, Masterson died of a heart attack while working. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.


  • "Every dog, we are told, has his day, unless there are more dogs than days."
  • "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."
  • "New York is the biggest boobtown in the world. They'll buy any Goddamned thing here."

Television Series

Bat Masterson was a U.S. television series loosely based on the historical character. Bat Masterson was played by actor Gene Barry. It appeared on NBC from 1959 to 1961.

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