Friday, November 25, 2016

Bat Masterson -- Let's Answer Your Questions -- Part One

For a long time now, readers have written to ask why I haven't written about Bat Masterson.

My answer to this question is that there's so much information to get through regarding Bat Masterson that it's almost impossible to write a short article about him and do him justice.

Since many of you have written to ask questions about Bat Masterson, let's go ahead and address some of your questions starting with the easiest first.

Where was Bat really born?

A reader asked me this because she had been told that Bat was born in Illinois like Wyatt Earp. Well, Bat was actually born in Henryville, Quebec, Canada. Yes, he was Canadian. But there are sources which tell us that he was born in Iroquois County, Illinois, and that he was an American. That is false, he was born in Canada.

His father was Thomas Masterson who was born in Canada of Irish descent, and his mother was Catherine McGurk Masterson. She is said to have been born in Ireland. And yes, in a family of seven children, Bat was the second child of five brothers and two sisters.

When was Bat Masterson born?

There is a disagreement over the day and year of his birth. There seems to be an agreement that he was born in November, but not the day or the year. Yes, that seems to be up for grabs. There are a number of sources that list his birth date as November 26th, 1853. But there are also sources that put his date of birth on November 24th, 1855 and even 1856.


Just to show you how some people can't agree on this small issue, the folks who run a website that finds graves list his birth date as "Nov. 26, 1853." But, they provide a picture of his headstone that clearly says "1854 - 1921".  So for me, I believe Bat was born on November 26th, 1854.

Did Bat Masterson ever work as a lawman under Wyatt Earp?

Another error when reading about Bat Masterson is thinking that he worked for Wyatt Earp in Dodge City. Some sources say he did, but these are the same sources that push the lie that Wyatt Earp was City Marshal of Dodge just because Earp said so during his testimony after the gunfight near the OK Corral. Fact is Wyatt Earp was the Assistant City Marshal at one point, but never the City Marshal of Dodge.

Earp said that he was Dodge City's City Marshal a number of times. He also said and that Bat and his brothers Ed and James all worked for him at one point. Well, that was never the case. And actually none of the Masterson brothers ever worked under Wyatt Earp. They did work with Wyatt Earp as a fellow officer on the Dodge City force, but not under him.

Did Bat Masterson order a pistol from Colt written on a piece of hotel stationary?

Well, yes. Maintained in the Colt Manufacturing Company archives is a letter from Bat Masterson ordering a new revolver. Yes, it was written on July 30th, 1885, on the stationery of the Opera House Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas.

His impromptu letter to Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company reads:

"Please send me one of your nickel-plated short .45 Calibre revolvers, it is for my own use, and for that reason I would like to have a little Extra pains taken with it. I am willing to pay Extra for Extra work. Make it very easy on trigger and have the front sight a little higher and thicker than the ordinary pistol of this kind, put on a gutta percha handle and send it as soon as possible. Have the barrel about the same length as the Ejector rod is. Truly Yours, W.B. Masterson."

Bat Masterson had the 1885 .45 caliber Colt Single-Action Army (SAA) revolver custom-made with a specially-made hammer that was exceptionally fast on release. The front sight was also a little taller and thicker than on the ordinary model. The "gutta percha" handles preferred by Masterson consisted of a tough plastic substance from the latex of several Malaysian trees which resembles rubber. This was his personal preference.

And by the way, since Colt maintains even the smallest of records such as this, don't you think they would have archived and maintained the supposed order for a number of so-called "Buntline Specials"? And since they don't, don't you think that that's just more evidence that the Buntline never existed. I do.

Did Bat Masterson sell Colt's from pawnshops as his own?

A reader wrote to say that he had heard a friend say that Masterson used to buy Colt Peacemakers from pawn shops and sell them to unsuspected "suckers" as the one's used in his gunfights. Did it really take place?

Well, that story has to do with his living in New York City. He immediately found himself a "celebrity" of sorts. That is after being arrested when he first got there.

When he arrived in New York City in 1902, he was 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. It was after the charges were dropped that he decided to stay on in New York for a while simply because he liked all the attention.


Soon after arriving, his bowler and 1890s sack suit fashion disappeared. And yes, so was the case with his mustache and his pistol. Even his cane was hardly seen, with the exception of when an old injury flared up. Yes, for all practical intense and purposes, Bat Masterson became the quintessential New Yorker. And as seen above, he dressed like everyone else there looking just like an Eastern "dude".

He gambled of course, but also worked as a referee and than at the race track. And yes, later he became a sport's reporter writing for The New York Morning Telegraph. Besides sporting events, it's said he was known in gambling circles, in high society, and at Broadway theaters and restaurants. That and his "legend" as an Old West gunfighter made him quite the New York celebrity.

As with celebrities today, he would be mobbed by admiring tourists who read about the hundreds of men he outdrew and the scores of Indians that he killed all in one afternoon. And yes, according to reports, periodically there was someone who would come to him wanting to buy one of his revolvers as a "souvenir."

The story goes that he would oblige them by going to a pawnshop and buying a cheap Peacemaker. When he found out that people were disappointed that his pistol didn't have "notches" cut into its grip for all the men that he killed, it's said that he would cut a few notches in the grips before selling the gun as a souvenir. And yes, reports say that he was known to have done that at least a half a dozen times or more.

If, just if, you think that he was the only one to cash in on what Dime-Novelists wrote, please remember that Jessie James mother sold rocks from Jessie James' grave. Yes, to visitors looking for souvenirs. And yes, James' mother would replenish his grave almost everyday with a new buck of rocks from the river.

And since we're talking about people making money off of a reputation, infamous or not, remember that after Wyatt's death, Josie Earp was said to have sold a number of guns she said all belonged to him. I read one account that said she sold more than a dozen pistols that she supposedly said "Wyatt carried on a daily basis." I think she and others who profited from their notoriety probably laughed all the way to the bank.

Did Bat Masterson do celebrity endorsements in New York?

One of the more interesting questions that I've been asked about Bat Masterson has to do with his being a "celebrity" in New York. Actually a few of my readers have asked if "celebrities" in the 1800s and early 1900s did endorsements like celebrities do today? And frankly, the short answer to that is -- yes they did.

Believe it or not, from cigarettes to soap to guns, there were actually many "celebrities" back then who did in fact lend their names to do product endorsements. Yes, they got paid to be in an ad.


Above is the ad that Bat Materson did for Savage Arms around 1908. As for Bat Masterson, as you can see, he lent his name to the above advertisement for Savage Arms. And with this we can see that he was in at least one advertisement that we know of.

So yes, he did hire out and lent his name to do advertising like many celebrities today. And frankly, I'm sure he got paid well to do it. But friends, Masterson was probably approached to lend his name to endorse Savage Arms in the same way that the great Buffalo Bill Cody and American detective William J. Burns were. Both of them also lent their names to Savage Arms ads prior to World War I.

Now as for the Number One question being asked, let's talk about Bat's name and how he got it.

As for his name, there's a belief as to why he was called "Bat" that is just wrong. And actually, the real reason is maybe too simple for people to accept. Some refuse to see facts as they are because the story doesn't match the myth.

Yes, there are a number of folks out there who are trying to pass off the story of his use of his cane to club lawbreakers as the reason for his famous nickname. Yes, we can find a number of sources that all say basically the same thing as what this one source wrote:

"In his first gunfight, which took place in Sweetwater, Texas, he killed his opponent but sustained a pelvis injury which necessitated utilizing a cane for the rest of his life, gaining him the moniker 'Bat' as he often used it on future antagonists."

Was he called "Bat" because of the Sweetwater Shootout?

The gunfight being referred to is the famous "Sweetwater Shootout" in Sweetwater, Texas. It took place on the night of January 24th, 1876, in the Lady Gay Saloon in Sweetwater, Texas. The town which is now known as the town of Mobeetie. And yes, it was over a dance hall gal by the name of Mollie Brennan.

For more on that gunfight, please go to: Bat Masterson -- The Sweetwater Shootout

There are folks who say it was as a result of the wound he sustained that night. Yes, some folks believe that that's where his nickname "Bat" came from. And while it is true that Bat Masterson's wound was very sever and needed the assistance of a cane while recuperating and even later, some spread the myth that he used used his cane as a club to "bat" outlaws and other lawbreakers over the head.

Of course the problem with the notion that that is why Bat Masterson was called "Bat," is that he was called by the nickname Bat long before he ever arrived in Sweetwater or ever met Corporal King and Mollie Brennan. So no, he did not use his cane as a club to tame the West.

He was called "Bat" for a very good reason, but that ain't it!

The truth is that he was the second oldest among his 3 brothers and two. His formal name, his baptized name, his given name, was Bartholomew. Now, imagine if you would, all of his much younger brothers and sisters trying to say "Bartholomew." Yep, it's just not going to happen. Subsequently, his siblings called him "Bat."

While I know that doesn't sound as cool as the whole getting shot in the groin and using your cane to bat badmen over the head story, that's where it comes from.

Bartholomew Masterson grew up as "Bat" to his brothers and sisters, and apparently he hated the name his parents gave him. He hated being called "Bartholomiew" so much that he actually changed his name later and started calling himself William Barclay Masterson.

Friends, my older brother, my brother who recently passed away, hated his first name. He hated his first name growing up. And later when he was in the Navy, he simply started going by his middle name "Ray".

But frankly, that didn't matter to me and my younger brothers and sisters. We never called our older brother anything other than what we were brought up calling him. Since his first name was Herman, we called him "Herm." That's just the way it is with siblings.

For Bat Masterson, he was in the exact same situation as my older brother. His siblings calling him "Bat" which was short for Bartholomiew, and would never stop doing that. Yes, no matter how many times he changed his name. As I said, that's just how siblings are.

So yes, that's part of why I believe that Bat was called "Bat". It was because of his brothers calling him "Bat." Bat even said so himself in a round about way.

He was reportedly asked once about his name and stated that he didn't start using Bat on a regular basis, with everyone other than his family until he started hunting buffalo with his brothers. They called him Bat and people picked it up from them. And frankly, that makes sense because we know that his siblings called him "Bat" short for Bartholomew.

We know that they always called their brother "Bat" even after he later swapped Bartholomew for William. Since he came West with his brothers Ed and James, who always called him "Bat," most folks around them simply picked it up from them.

Just as the way life is today, we hear someone calling someone by a name and we assume that's his or her name. After people on the frontier kept hearing his brothers refer to him as "Bat," they figured that that was his name and they called him the same.

We should also remember that people during the time had nicknames and even aliases of one sort or another for all sorts of reasons. Along with people having nicknames and aliases, in the Old West, a person's business was their own. It was considered impolite to even ask a person where they were from, nevertheless why their name was what it was.

William Brocius was called Curly Bill, and not too many know why he was called "Curly." Some say it was his curly hair, others say he was a "curly wolf" which was slang at the time meaning a "tough character." John Wilson Vermillion was known as "Texas Jack," and people called him "Texas Jack" even though he was from Virginia.

Richard Barter was known as Rattlesnake Dick, and it's said most didn't even know his last name. William Blake was known as "Tulsa Jack" yet he was from Kansas. Roy Daugherty was known as "Arkansas Tom Jones" yet he was from Missouri. Of course the ultimate in aliases was that which Charles Boles took for himself. He took his handle Black Bart out of a comic strip in a Sacramento, California, newspaper. 

So all in all, the basic rule of thumb was that if one was OK with being called "Rattlesnake Dick," "Texas Jack," "Tulsa Jack," "Curly Bill," "Arkansas Tom," or even "Bat Masterson," then that was totally acceptable to folks. No reason was needed nor necessary. And frankly, people knew better than to ask because it wasn't any of their business.

As with most of us, we all know people who are called something other than their formal name. Whether it's referring to someone as Bob instead of Robert, or Bill instead of William, it's very common to use an informal way of addressing people. Now, if you think that people would wonder why call him "Bat" if they knew his name as William, most folks called him "Bat" simply because they saw that it was acceptable to him.

It is sort of like a lot of us who have had nicknames for either our names or something we may have done, sometimes they just stick -- and others just pick it up from our friends and families.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa






1 comment:

Thank you for your comment.