Bartholemew William Barclay “Bat” Masterson (1853 – 1921) spent the first half of his life in what we know today as the Wild West. Among his contemporaries, he was famous as a buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, scout for the U.S. Army, and a renowned lawman in Dodge City Kansas where he and Wyatt Earp worked together as deputy sheriffs of Ford County, KS. Masterson was then elected sheriff and Wyatt eventually moved to a mining boomtown in Southeastern Arizona where he was a full-time gambler and sometime lawman.
In the mid-1880s, Masterson was in his mid-30’s and moved on to Denver to establish himself as a “sporting man”, aka a gambler. He became an authority on prizefighting and personally knew every heavyweight champion from John L. Sullivan to Jack Demsey.
In 1902, Masterson moved to New York City and spent the rest of his life as a reporter and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. He not only covered sports but also wrote op/ed columns about crime, politics, war, and just about anything else that caught his attention.
During this time, he became a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt. By the time of his death at the age of 62, he was a well-known celebrity. Had he lived in the television age, he would have been a regular guest on the late-night talk shows.
In 1908, Bat Masterson wrote a series of short stories about his Old West adventures that were published in a short-lived magazine called, “Human Life”. Masterson regaled his readers with stories about his days on the frontier and the lawmen and gunfighters he knew personally.
In one article, Masterson writes his assessment of Doc Holliday.
“Holliday had a mean disposition and an ungovernable temper, and under the influence of liquor was a most dangerous man. In this respect he was very much like the big Missourian who had put in the day at the crossroad groggery and, after getting pretty well filled up with bug juice of the moonshine brand, concluded that it was about time for him to say something that would make an impression on his hearers; so he straightened up, threw out his chest and declared in a loud tone of voice, that he was a bad man when he was drinking and managed to keep pretty full all the time. So it was with Holliday.”
“Physically, Doc Holliday was a weakling who could not have whipped a healthy fifteen-year-old boy in a go-as-you-please fistfight, and no one knew this better than himself, and the knowledge of this fact was perhaps why he was so ready to resort to a weapon of some kind whenever he got himself into difficulty. He was hot-headed and impetuous and very much given to both drinking and quarreling, and, among men who did not fear him, was very much disliked.”
“He possessed none of the qualities of leadership such as those that distinguished such men as H. P. Myton, Wyatt Earp, Billy Tilghman, and other famous western characters. Holliday seemed to be absolutely unable to keep out of trouble for any great length of time. He would no sooner be out of one scrape before he was in another, and the strange part of it is he was more often in the right than in the wrong, which has rarely ever been the case with a man who is continually getting himself into trouble.”
Masterson On Wyatt Earp
“Some years ago, that immense stretch of territory extending from the Missouri River west to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Brazos River in Texas north to the Red Cloud Agency in Dakota, knew no braver nor more desperate man than Wyatt Earp, the subject of this narrative.”
(Here Masterson describes Wyatt as a “desperate man”. For whatever reason, the author does not mean what you might think he means. Today, we define “desperate” as:
feeling, showing, or involving a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.
From the context, it is clear Masterson greatly admired and respected Wyatt.)
“Wyatt Earp is one of the few men I personally knew in the West in the early days, whom I regarded as absolutely destitute of physical fear. I have often remarked, and I am not alone in my conclusion, that what goes for courage in a man is generally the fear of what others will think of him—in other words, personal bravery is largely made up of self-respect, egotism, and an apprehension of the opinion of others.”
“Wyatt Earp’s daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger is wholly characteristic; personal fear doesn’t enter into the equation, and when everything is said and done, I believe he values his own opinion of himself more than that of others.”
Wyatt … “was not one of those human tigers who delighted in shedding blood just for the fun of the thing. He never, at any time in his career, resorted to the pistol excepting in cases where such a course was absolutely necessary. Wyatt could scrap with his fist, and had often taken all the fight out of bad men, as they were called, with no other weapons than those provided by Nature.” (Actually, Wyatt was well known to “buffalo” a bad man, knocking him over the head with his revolver.)
“There were few men in the West who could whip Wyatt in a rough and tumble fight 30 years ago, and I suspect he could give a tough youngster a hard tussle right now, even if he is sixty one years of age.”
“He always arrayed himself on the side of law and order, and on a great many occasions, at the risk of his life, rendered valuable service in upholding the majesty of the law in those communities in which he lived. In the spring of 1876, he was appointed Assistant City Marshall of Dodge City, Kansas, which was then the largest shipping point in the North for the immense herds of Texas cattle that were annually driven from Texas to the northern markets. Wyatt’s reputation for courage and coolness was well known to many of the citizens of Dodge City—in fact, it was his reputation that secured for him the appointment of Assistant City Marshall.”
“While he invariably went armed, he seldom had occasion to do any shooting in Dodge City, and only once do I recall when he shot to kill …” (a drunken cowboy shooting up the town). Masterson goes on to relate the story that clearly paints the cowboy as armed and extremely dangerous.)
“The cowboy succeeded in firing three shots before Wyatt got his pistol in action. Wyatt missed at the first shot, which was probably due to the fact that the horse the cowboy was riding kept continually plunging around, which made it rather a hard matter to get a bead on him. His second shot, however, did the work, and the cowboy rolled off his horse and was dead by the time the crowd reached him.”
“I have known him since the early ’70s and have always found him a quiet, unassuming man, not given to brag or bluster, but at all times and under all circumstances a loyal friend and an equally dangerous enemy.”