Monday, April 16

Going to Bat for Your Brother

Image - old-picture.com
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1881, a famous sportswriter named William Barclay Masterson was involved in a violent incident on the streets of Dodge City, Kansas.

It wasn't the first time that Bill had been caught up in a confrontation that resulted in gun play, but as it turns out, it was his last.

No, he didn't get killed, he wasn't a sportswriter at the time, and his name wasn't really William Barclay Masterson. In fact his actual birth name was Bartholomew Masterson, but folks back then and for that matter now, just called him "Bat." To say he had an interesting life, both before and after the gunfight in question, would be an understatement.

The gun battle that occurred on this day was the result of a misunderstanding of sorts. You see, Bat had already lost one of his brothers, Ed, who was killed in the line of duty as Marshal of Dodge City three years before. So when he got a telegram in Tombstone, Arizona, informing him that his other brother, Jim, was about to meet the same end back in Dodge, he hopped the first available train to get back there. It seems he was looking for a repeat performance of the vengeance he took on a certain Jack Wagner who killed the first brother. Bat shot him and one of his friends up pretty good and old Jack didn't get any older after that.

So when he hopped off the train in Dodge City without waiting for it to stop and accosted the two people who he thought were out to get his brother Jim, the situation deteriorated rapidly. The two figured out pretty quickly that he wasn't there for tea and pulled their pistols.

The battle was on, with several local miscreants joining in on both sides, possibly for sport. Bat took cover behind the railway bed while the two ran behind the jail. After everyone was done shooting at everyone else, and the Long Branch Saloon was perforated numerous times, the local mayor and sheriff showed up with shotguns and arrested Masterson.

Remarkably, no one was killed and only two were wounded, one on purpose and one bystander who was caught in the crossfire. Since no one could say with certainty who shot who in the melee, Bat drew only an $8 fine for his part. (The type of offense wasn't recorded, but it sure wasn't for loitering.) After paying his fine, he and his brother Jim, (who turned out to still be living) were allowed, perhaps encouraged, to "get outta Dodge." And they did.

Masterson went on to have quite a resume that included: buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, army scout, lawman, saloon keeper, gambler, boxing promoter, US Marshall, sportswriter, editor, and finally VP of the company he wrote for.

He was friends with a US President (Teddy Roosevelt) and an infamous confidence man named Soapy Smith. He used to buy pistols at pawnshops, put notches on the handles, and sell them at inflated prices to unwary collectors after telling them they were the ones he used while still a famous lawman.

He died of a heart attack in 1921, in New York City, while typing a sports column at his desk. It's not known if he had his boots on at the time.

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