November 26, 1853 – Birth of “Bat” Masterson, Famous Gunfighter and Sheriff in Dodge City, Kansas

Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson was born on November 26, 1853 in Quebec. As a young man he moved to the Western frontier and eventually earned fame as a gunfighter and sheriff in Dodge City, Kansas, during which time he was involved in several notable shootouts.

Masterson’s life has been portrayed in countless works of fiction and non-fiction in film, television, literature, and other popular media.

Front cover of Bat Masterson number 3 (Dell Comics, June, 1960), featuring a publicity still of Gene Barry.

A gold strike boom caused Masterson, and countless others, to head to the Black Hills. It was there he met Wyatt Earp, who convinced Masterson to move to Dodge City, where his brothers Jim and Ed were already serving in law enforcement.

Masterson started as a sheriff’s deputy with Earp, but quickly moved into the role of Sheriff of Ford County after winning an election by 3 votes.

Deputies Bat Masterson (standing) and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, 1876.

Masterson famously captured some notorious train robbers, and became known for running the bad guys “outta Dodge.”

In the mid-1880s, Masterson moved to Denver, Colorado, and established himself as a “sporting man” or gambler. He became a leading authority on prizefighting, attending almost every important match and title fight in the United States from the 1880s until his death in 1921.

Bat Masterson circa 1911 in New York City

Masterson moved with his wife to “Longacre Square” (today “Times Square”) in New York City in 1902 and spent the rest of his life there as a reporter and columnist for the “The New York Morning Telegraph.” His column covered boxing and other sports, and he also frequently gave his opinions on crime, war, politics, and other topics as well.

In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Masterson as Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of New York, one of the “White House Gunfighters” – as the press dubbed them – who received federal appointments from Roosevelt.

Masterson continued to write his columns throughout the rest of his life, three times per week. He died at his desk in1921.

About 500 people attended Masterson’s service at Frank E. Campbell’s Funeral Church at Broadway and 66th Street. Masterson’s honorary pallbearers included Damon Runyon, Tex Rickard, and William Lewis. Wikipedia reports that Runyon was a close friend of Masterson’s and offered this memorable eulogy:

He was a 100 percent, 22-karat real man. Bat was a good hater and a wonderful friend. He was always stretching out his hand to some down-and-outer. He had a great sense of humor and a marvelous fund of reminiscence, and was one of the most entertaining companions we have ever known. There are only too few men in the world like Bat Masterson and his death is a genuine loss.”

Sky Masterson, the main character of Runyon’s “Guys and Dolls,” was based on Bat Masterson.

Marlon Brandon as “Sky Masterson” in “Guys and Dolls”

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