Friday, September 16, 2016

Bat Masterson's Sister Murdered -- Or Was She?

On September 10th, 1893, the Kansas City Times called the crime a "Murder Most Cruel" while The Daily Journal newspaper headline simply used the word "Strangled."

While both papers were talking about the gruesome murder of a woman who was strangled to death, it was the Kansas City Times that stated she was "a sister of Bat Masterson."

As for Mrs. Jane Wright, her son's account of her life was one that the public found interesting only that it lent insight into the Masterson family. And of course, Bat. 

In brief, the article read:

Mrs. Wright was born Jane Masterson in Toronto in about 1837, the eldest of five children, one of whom was Bat, who was said to be "an unruly boy" who ran away from home and got a severe whipping from his aunt.

Jane was married at 17 to a wealthy slave-owning planter from Louisiana and sent money to bring Bat and his siblings to Buffalo: "He drifted out west," said the son, "and we often heard of him since as an officer of the law and a referee at prize fights. We have written to him several times, but he never answered our letters."

Jane’s husband died of yellow fever in 1853 and, illiterate, she was cheated out of her inheritance. She migrated to Cincinnati, where she married again. After her second husband deserted her, she came with her son to Kansas City and opened an employment bureau. Business was apparently good – her office was said to always be crowded with job seekers – but it was a dodgy and even dangerous sort of business. Wright kept a revolver in her office, another at home, and kept her money on her person.

She didn’t trust banks, and for good reason: bank runs were occurring across the country in the depression of 1893. The Kansas City Safe Deposit Bank failed in March, ruining many of its depositors. In July, the National Bank of Kansas City suspended operations.

Speculation about the motive for her murder included not only robbery since her habit of carrying her money with her was known, but revenge: “Many Italians have recently been deceived and defrauded by employment agents in Kansas City.” -- The Kansas City Times.

Some believed it was a crime of revenge, while others thought robbery, and some even thought that she "may have deceived some woman, whose brother or relative sought revenge." Both Kansas City newspapers reported all of the speculations, including the that the robbers accused each other of being the one who actually strangled Mrs. Wright.

Bat Masterson was not the subject of the news article about a woman who was murdered, but her being his sister was an opportunity that newspapers at the time wouldn't pass up the chance to mention. Papers mentioning Bat Masterson, or any known gunman, were known to be great for business and were always used as an attempt to increase circulation. Because she was his sister, the Kansas City Times publicized the association between Bat Masterson and the murdered woman without shame.

As for Masterson being mentioned, the article was said to have focused more on him. For example, the paper stated, that "Masterson is one of the most noted men in the West, known as a desperate fighter and said to have a record of more men killed than any man on the frontier."

That same reporter noted that "Masterson is known throughout the country as one of the land-marks of Dodge City in its most palmy days." 

In a separate piece, that same reporter profiled Bat Masterson by writing:

"A man probably 38 years of age, although looking two or three years younger; about five feet, nine inches tall. He wore a black derby hat and a spring suit of clothes, light in color and beautifully made. He was not flashy in any respect and yet he looked like a gambler or sporting man. He is extremely polite in manner, talks well and easily and uses very good English. This is a man who is said to have killed as many men as any other of the noted border characters, and yet never a one by unfair advantage, and who now has a reputation on pugilism and a man who is willing to back his judgment as long as his money lasts."

The Twist In The Story -- The Murdered Woman Was Not Bat's Sister.

Weather or not Jane Wright was from Canada and a "Masterson" of some sort other than related to Bat Masterson's family is anyone's guess. We know from her son that she told him and friends that she was Bat Masterson’s sister. But, once Bat and his siblings were informed that there was a pretender out there, her claims were immediately disputed by Bat Masterson's family.

The Daily Journal was quick to take a jab at its rival, the Kansas City Times' report, by running an article stating that the Journal had received a telegram from Masterson's brother in Wichita denying that the murdered woman was their sister. His family consisted of 5 brothers and 2 sisters

The Kansas City Times also reported on the denial by the Masterson family in Wichita. They stated that they received a telegram from Bat Masterson disclaiming any knowledge of Mrs. Wright. The telegram also stated that the testimony of Charles Bassett is that he had never heard Masterson speak of having a sister in Kansas City. 

And while one would think that a simple newspaper correction would have taken care of the matter, it's said that the Kansas City Times was absolutely unwilling to concede its error -- especially to its arch-rival in the Kansas City newspaper wars.

The Kansas City Times instead ran an article that stated that "perhaps Jane Wright of Toronto, child bride, widow, abandoned wife, and hard-scrabble businesswoman in a society hostile to independent women, had a more practical reason for claiming an association with the famous gunslinger -- the same reason she kept a revolver in her office and another at her home." 

And that, that was under the Times' story with the subtitle "Everything lends to show Bat Masterson and Mme. Wright related," where it promptly repeated the claim by Mrs. Wright's son that his mother was the sister of Bat Masterson because she was from Canada. Imagine that.

Tom Correa


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