Thursday, September 24, 2009
Perfecting the art of getting out of Dodge
"Every dog, we are told, has his day, unless there are more dogs than days."
__ Bat Masterson
Sometimes, a change in scenery is good for you soul, or can save your hide, or it is simply necessary to help clear the air around you. No one understood that better than the legendary gunfighter and Colorado lawman Bat Masterson.
Masterson was a true practitioner of the art (both literally and figuratively) of picking the precise moment to “get out of Dodge.”
As a young man, Masterson worked as an army scout in conflicts with Kiowa and Comanche tribes. His first gunfight occurred in a bar in Sweetwater, Texas.
Melvin A. King, an army corporal, who became jealous and combative upon finding Molly Brennan in the company of one Bat Masterson at the Lady Gay Saloon, began firing upon them.
According to some accounts, Miss Brennan jumped in front of Masterson in hopes of heading off the violence and preventing King from shooting him, but both were hit anyway. As Masterson fell, he shot King, who had paused to cock his pistol. Both King and Molly died of their wounds, and it left Masterson using his cane for the rest of his life.
After serving as a deputy for the city (and later in the famous Dodge City Peace Commission) alongside Wyatt Earp in wild and wooly Dodge City, Kansas, Masterson eventually became Ford County Sheriff. His brother Ed, became City Marshall of Dodge City. Ed was killed in fight with two drunken cowboys outside a saloon in Dodge City in 1878.
Bat Masterson became a deputy U.S. Marshall in 1879 while continuing to serve as county sheriff, but by 1880, after losing a re-election bid for Ford County Sheriff and still despondent from the slaying of his brother, he found it was time to get out of Dodge'.
For the next few years he passed most of his time playing or dealing cards, drinking and chasing women in places like Leadville, Trinidad and Tombstone, Ariz., with his longtime friends, the Earp brothers.
In 1882, he was hired by the city of Trinidad to clean up the town as town marshal and was by most accounts, successful. In the meantime, the Earps, along with 'Doc' John Holiday had managed to get into their legendary trouble at the OK Coral in Tombstone. Finding it necessary to get of town themselves, they ended up in Trinidad. Being an officer of the law at the time of the incident, Wyatt Earp was somewhat protected from legal troubles in Arizona, but Doc Holiday was in danger of being extradited for his role in the shootout. Masterson, according to some reports, was able to help out by having him arrested in Trinidad on trumped-up charges and making sure that trial delays and hearing postponements gummed up Holiday’s extradition back to Arizona. Holiday was however arrested in Denver, but Colorado refused to extradite and he lived out the remaining five years of his life here in Colorado.
Masterson returned to Dodge City several times over the next few years but, but in each case, he seemed to run into some form of trouble there. Visiting in 1881, he stepped off a train and into a gunfight with two men who were badgering his younger brother Jim. The fight was stopped by shotgun-brandishing authorities, and one of the wounded men was taken to the Doctor. Masterson, for his part in the affair, paid a small fine and left on the evening train.
He showed up again in Dodge City in 1883 for the “Dodge City War” that wasn’t. The scrap developed between the town’s saloon keepers and the city authorities but it turned out to be a bunch of hub-bub over nothing. In 1886, he was back in town again and ended up smacking Nellie Spencer’s husband with a pistol and ran off with Nellie.
That relationship, however, was short-lived and by 1891 he owned and managed the Palace Variety Theater in Denver and married actress Emma Walters. He began writing sports columns for George’s Weekly, a sporting newspaper in Denver. He also spent some time managing a gambling hall in Creede (where he reportedly got liquored up on occasion and would walk down the street late at night shooting out business lights and then come back in the morning an pay for the damage).
Denver, started wearing on him as well.
“When a boxing promotion partnership with Otto Floto, sports editor of the Denver Post, ended rancorously, Masterson took up the pen to retaliate against vituperation Floto hurled at him in his columns. The word battle led to a street brawl in July 1900. Bat belabored Floto with his cane and sent him running. Many Denverites viewed the feud as a comic affair, but it grew more serious when Floto and his Post employers imported notorious gunman ‘Whispering Jim’ Smith to deal with Masterson. The two gunfighters never met, but in May 1902 Bat, disgusted with Denver, left town,” wrote R.K DeArment in the June, 2001 edition of “Wild West.”
Masterson spent the rest of his days in New York City, much of the time working as Sports Editor at the New York Morning Telegraph and died at his typewriter in 1921, having just finished his final column.