Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Killing of Ed Masterson, 1878

Ed Masterson was born on September 22nd, 1852 and was killed on April 9th, 1878. He was a lawman and the oldest brother of Bat and James Masterson.

As a lawman, Ed Masterson was actually shot twice. First time is was as a deputy and then as the City Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas. 

The first time he was shot was in November of 1877 when he was shot in the chest by Bob Shaw in the Lone Star Dance Hall. 

Imagine that for a moment, he was shot in the chest and survived -- and that was in 1877. Now if you think that in itself is amazing, that shot paralyzed his right arm.

In the 1994 film, "Wyatt Earp", Wyatt Earp who was played by Kevin Costner claimed the Ed Masterson "lacked the temperament to be a lawman." Well, while some Hollywood writer might think so, they should have noted that Masterson did not lack self-confidence or quick thinking.

For example, after being shot by Bob Shaw, and having his arm paralyzed, Ed Masterson had enough savvy to know that he needed to do something quickly or die. So yes, he immediately switched his gun to his left hand and shot Shaw in the arm and leg. 

After his recovery, he replaced Larry Deger as the Dodge City Marshal. While many are under the impression that he replaced Wyatt Earp, as portraying in that movie "Wyatt Earp," that is false and he actually replaced Larry Deger. 

In March of 1878, as City Marshal, Ed Masterson made public his plan to rid Dodge City of vagrancy and street violence. His plan included disarming everyone carrying a gun inside the city limits. And yes, he decided that he would implement his new rule immediately. Of course within a few weeks of implementing his gun control law, Ed Masterson was shot trying to enforce it. 

On April 9th, 1878, while attempting to disarm Jack Wagner who was said to be drunk at the time, Dodge City Marshal Ed Masterson was shot in the abdomen. 

The shooting took place at approximately 10:30 pm, when Ed Masterson confronted Jack Wagner who was wearing a sidearm in town. Some say the young cowboy, Wagner, did not know about the new rule against wearing firearms, but that didn't stop Masterson from disarming Wagner and giving his gun to his friends.

Masterson thinking that the incident was over, turned to walk away when Wagner drew a second pistol that was hidden and ran after Masterson. When Ed Masterson turned and went to grab Wagner, Masterson was shot in the abdomen.

Yes, like the Luke Short versus Charlie Storms, the barrel of Wagner's pistol was so close that it set Ed Masterson's shirt on fire. Masterson returned fire striking Wagner. Then Wagner's boss Alf Walker got involved, Masterson shot him through the left lung and broke his right arm.

It is said that Ed Masterson walked across the street and collapsed. He died less than a half an hour later. Jack Wagner later died also, but Alf Walker survived. 

Ed Masterson was only 25 years old. 

Of course the rest of the story is that Bat Masterson supposedly responded and "shot at" both Wagner and his boss Alf Walker who was holding a gun. I've also read where some claim that Bat Masterson actually shot Wagner and Walker. But frankly, more than not, evidence shows Ed shot both.

Below are two newspaper accounts of the killing of City Marshal Ed Masterson, the older brother of Bat Masterson. I hope you find these as interesting as I do.

Ford County Globe

April 10th, 1878 edition:

"At ten o'clock last night. City Marshal Edward Masterson, discovered that a cowboy who was working for Obum of Kansas City, named Jack Wagner, was carrying a six-shooter contrary to the City Ordinance. Wagner was at the time under the influence of liquor, but quietly gave up the pistol. The Marshal gave it to some of Wagner's friends for safe keeping and stepped out into the street. No sooner had he done so than Wagner ran out after him pulling another pistol, which the Marshal had not observed. The Marshal saw him coming and turned upon Wagner and grabbed hold of him.

Wagner shot Marshal Masterson at once through the abdomen, being so close to him that the discharge set the Marshal's clothes on fire. Marshal Masterson then shot Wagner.

About this time a man named Walker got mixed up in the fight. He, it appears, was boss herder for Obum, and Wagner was working under him. He also got shot once through the left lung, and his right arm was twice broken.

Marshal Masterson walked across the street to George M. Hoover's saloon, where after telling that he was shot, he sank to the floor. He was immediately removed to his room, where in half an hour he expired.

Walker and Wagner were nearly all night insensible, and none thought that either of them could live through the night. However, morning has come and neither are dead; both are in a very precarious condition and their chances for recovery very small.

The city is in mourning; every door is draped with crape; business is entirely suspended till after the funeral of Marshal Masterson, which will take place at two o'clock p. m., and will be attended by everybody in the city.

Marshal Masterson will be buried in the Military Cemetery, at Fort Dodge."

Dodge City Times

April 13th, 1878 edition:

"Died. In this city, on Tuesday, April 9th, in the 26th year of his age, Edward J. Masterson, City Marshal.

The subject of this sketch was born in Henryville, Canada East, on September 22d, 1852, and removed to Wichita, Kansas with his parents in 1869, where he continued to reside until attaining his majority when he left his home and became one of the first inhabitants of this city.

In June 5, 1877 he accepted the appointment of Assistant Marshal, and in the December, 1877, having displayed marked adaptability for the position, he was promoted to the Marshalship, in the discharge of the duties of which he continued until his unfortunate death.

Possessed of a geniality of temperament, a kindness of heart and a richness of personal bravery, he had many warm friends and admirers.

As an officer he followed the dictation of duty, striving at all times for its honest and complete discharge and gaming for himself the dignity and respect that of necessity followed from his determined intrepidity.

He died in the service he performed so well, and has added one other to the list of those who, living, were so many representatives, each of his day and generation, but who dead, belong to all time, and whose voices ring down the ages in solemn protest against the reign of violence and blood."


  1. I enjoyed your post about Ed. It is a shame that movie writers can't get the history right or more to the point, don't care to. I did not know that Ed was only 26years old when he died. Amazing how much life people could squeeze into so few years. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks John. It is always great to hear that someone likes my work. I truly appreciate you visiting my site. Much thanks. Tom Correa

  2. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with extra information? It is extremely helpful for me. Chandigarh Ration Card Application

  3. I wish Ed Masterson lived during the 20th century but I'm glad his younger brother Bat lived during the 1920s at least

  4. Alfred Walker was from Texas. His descendants live there still.

  5. Thanks for the comments and the articles, It sounds to me like the movie got it pretty close, including about the shirt catching on fire. I very much enjoyed the movie, I thought they did an admirable job of trying to tell it straight up. thanks again, very interesting.


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