Masterson, Bartholomew (1853–1921)

By: Gary L. Roberts

Type: Biography

Published: April 1, 1995

Updated: November 30, 2019

Bartholomew (Bat) Masterson, United States marshal, was born on November 26, 1853, on a farm near Henryville in Quebec, Canada, the second of seven children of Thomas and Catharine (McGurk) Masterson. In 1861 the family moved to New York State; over the next decade they gradually moved westward and finally settled in Sedgwick County, Kansas. As a young man Bartholomew adopted the name William Barclay (or W. B.) Masterson and used it as his official signature. Late in 1871 he left the family homestead for adventures on the buffalo range and worked in the company of such men as William (Billy) Dixon, Andy Johnson, Theodore and Henry Raymond, and Wyatt Earp. Masterson operated out of Dodge City as a hide hunter and was known among his fellow hunters as a skilled shot. In the spring of 1874 he accompanied the party of A. C. Myers and Fred Leonard to the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle and there helped construct the Adobe Walls trading post (see ADOBE WALLS, TEXAS). Masterson was in the Myers and Leonard store on the morning of June 27, when about 200 Indians charged the post. He ran to Jim Hanrahan's saloon and fought most of the battle from there. He was among the first party of hunters to leave the trading post for Dodge City in July 1874, and in August he signed on as a civilian scout with the United States Army under Col. Nelson A. Miles and served in the Red River War until his enlistment expired in October.

Beginning in November 1874 Masterson worked as a teamster hauling provisions to the campaigning troops from Camp Supply in Indian Territory. In the spring of 1875 he was in Texas hunting buffalo and selling hides to the Rath, Reynolds, and Company store in the new town of Sweetwater (later Mobeetie) near Fort Elliott. There he remained until a bloody confrontation changed the course of his life. On January 24, 1876, Masterson was badly wounded in a melee in which Cpl. Melvin A. King and Mollie Brennan were killed. That episode started Masterson's reputation as a hair-triggered gunfighter, although he may not have killed King. He never killed another man. After his recovery, Masterson served briefly as a policeman in Dodge City. In October 1877 he was elected sheriff of Ford County, and early in 1878 he tracked down and apprehended nearly all of the Rourke-Rudabaugh gang, who had attempted to rob trains and raid the depot at Kinsley, Kansas. In October 1878 Masterson led the posse that captured Jim Kennedy (Kenedy), who had killed a well-known stage star, Dora Hand. Early in January 1879 Masterson escorted Henry Born from Colorado to Dodge to be tried for horse stealing. Shortly afterward, Masterson was commissioned a deputy United States marshal. The next month he brought in seven Cheyenne prisoners to stand trial for depredations committed during Dull Knife's flight from Indian Territory the previous fall.

Despite his impressive record, Masterson's popularity in Dodge City had waned by the 1879 elections because of his exorbitant spending in the Cheyennes' inconclusive trial and his connection with the "Gang," the town administrators led by Mayor James H. (Dog) Kelley, who were opposed by the so-called reform element. Consequently, Masterson was defeated in the sheriff's race, after which he left for Leadville, Colorado, where he gambled for a time. In February 1881 he accompanied Wyatt Earp and Luke Short to Tombstone, Arizona, where he assisted Earp at the gaming tables of the Oriental Saloon. He served for a time as a deputy sheriff in Las Animas, Colorado, and in 1883 was instrumental in persuading the governor of Colorado to prevent the extradition of Doc Holliday to Arizona. Masterson made his first try at the newspaper business in 1885, but his paper, the Vox Populi, ceased publication after a single issue. In 1886, in a surprising move, he briefly became a prohibitionist and closed the Dodge City saloons after being appointed a special officer. His conversion was short-lived, however. By 1887 he was working with Luke Short at the White Elephant Saloon in Fort Worth, Texas. There he witnessed the fatal shooting of Timothy I. (Longhair Jim) Courtright by Short on February 8. Such excursions were merely visits, however, for after 1880 Masterson considered Denver, Colorado, his hometown.

He was said to have married Emma Walters, a singer and dancer, in 1889, although their union was not officially legalized until about 1891; no definite marriage date has ever been determined. No children were born to the couple. During the 1890s Masterson occasionally wore a badge and in 1892 served as marshal at Creede, Colorado. He spent most of his time, however, in the gambling house. He helped promote prizefighters John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett and attended the controversial boxing match between Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher staged by Judge Roy Bean near Langtry, Texas, in 1896. As his drinking habit worsened, Masterson fell in with some unsavory gamblers, and in 1902 he and his wife were compelled to leave Denver. Disillusioned with the turn of events in the West, Masterson moved to New York City, where troubles continued to plague him until President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned him a deputy United States marshal for the Southern District of New York. There Masterson met writer Alfred Henry Lewis, who helped launch his journalistic career. Lewis wrote numerous stories and a novel, The Sunset Trail (1905), about Masterson and persuaded him to write a series of sketches about his gunfighter friends for Human Life Magazine. In these articles Masterson reminisced about his frontier days and commented on the qualities of a good gunman. In time he became sports editor of the New York Morning Telegraph and was noted for his pungent columns. On October 25, 1921, he died of a heart attack while working at his desk. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York.

T. Lindsay Baker and Billy R. Harrison, Adobe Walls: The History and Archaeology of the 1874 Trading Post (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). Robert K. DeArment, Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1979). Olive K. Dixon, Life of "Billy" Dixon (1914; rev. ed., Dallas: P. L. Turner Company, 1927; facsimile of original ed., Austin: State House, 1987). Lowell H. Harrison, "The Two Battles of Adobe Walls," Texas Military History 5 (Spring 1965). Howard R. Lamar, ed., The Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West (New York: Crowell, 1977). Zoe A. Tilghman, Marshal of the Last Frontier: Life and Services of William Matthew Tilghman (Glendale, California: Clark, 1949).

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters
  • Peoples
  • English
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Gary L. Roberts, “Masterson, Bartholomew,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995
November 30, 2019