Bat Masterson Part II

Bat Masterson Part II

Monday, 23 September 2013

More great tales from Johnny Hughes.

In 1880, Bat Masterson was called on for a rescue. Fellow gunman and gambler Ben Thompson asked Bat to travel 250 miles north to Ogallala, Nebraska, to attempt to rescue his brother Billy, who had shot the thumb and three fingers off a prominent citizen. Billy had been shot with a shotgun in the ass and was stove up. Ben was already in trouble in Ogallala, he explained, and could not go himself.

Bat arrived by train, and the sheriff was immediately suspicious that he would attempt to help Billy escape. Bat offered bribes for what he called “the thumbless one” but that didn’t work. On a Sunday night, the sheriff, a keen fiddler, was playing for a town dance and left one lone deputy to guard Billy in his hotel room. Bat got the bartender to drug the deputy’s drink and he passed out. He carried Billy to the train out of town as Billy could not sit on a horse.

America’s most famous showman, Buffalo Bill Cody, lived in North Platte, Nebraska, 50 miles away, and he had met Bat in Dodge. Cody was to become a good friend later to Ben Thompson and he agreed to protect Bat and Billy from any posse. He had a group of some 20 wealthy European dignitaries coming the next day for a tour of a ranch. He gave Bat a fine new wagon he had ordered specially built for his wife and a fine horse. The whole group took off the next day with expensive gourmet foods and a great deal of liquor. That night, at a big ranch, there was an elaborate dinner and Cody put on a show of horsemanship and shooting. Eventually, Bat and Billy Thompson rode into Dodge in a driving rain. Bat never liked Billy at all; he was just returning a favour to Ben, who had saved his life in Mobeetie.

After Dodge, Bat lived in Kansas City for a while, toured the boomtowns of Colorado, and developed his gambling skills and reputation as a high roller, especially at poker. As a young man, he tried the best of his day.

The New York Sun printed a story that would follow Bat Masterson for life. It said he killed 26 men by the time he was 27-years-old. Bat would always ward off questions about that with jokes, but he never really denied it. Doc Holliday did the same with his inflated record for killing people. A fierce reputation was good for a gambler at that time – it kept the bullies away and the cheats off. These gunfighters were the rock stars of their day, written up in newspapers, magazines and lurid dime novels. That reputation, and Bat's previous position as a gambling hall manager and expert faro dealer, meant he had jobs waiting in any boomtown, if he wanted them.

Wyatt Earp left Dodge for Tombstone, Arizona, a silver-strike boomtown. He convinced his brothers and Doc Holliday to move there also. The biggest, fanciest gambling joint was the Oriental Saloon. They gave Wyatt one-fourth of the gambling concession to keep out the rowdy element. Doc asked Bat, Luke Short, and Doc Holliday to come there and go to work as dealers, and they all did. Their collective celebrity kept the joint packed with high rollers.

Bat had a close friend, Charles Storms, who was a legend as a gambler and gunfighter. Storms got in a squabble with Luke Short over a faro game at the Oriental. Bat separated them and urged a drunken Storms to get some sleep. As Bat was talking to Luke, Storms returned, grabbed Luke’s arm and went for his long-barrelled six-gun. Luke was faster with the gun from his back pocket and he shot Storms dead. Luke had his tailor-made suits specially designed with a soft-leather lined back pocket, and longer vests to conceal his barking iron. He lubricated the pocket with talcum powder. He had reasoned long ago that a gambler needed a short-barrelled pistol, since disputes would be at close range and it comes out of a holster or pocket faster. Bat testified for Luke and Luke got off and returned to Dodge soon after this to manage, and later own, the Long Branch Saloon.

While in Tombstone, Bat got a cryptic, unsigned telegram saying two named men meant to kill his brother, Jim Masterson, a city policeman back in Dodge. It was Bat to the rescue by the very next train, as usual. When Bat got to Dodge, he got off the train early only to see the two men he was looking for. He spoke a few words and they all started shooting. All three took cover, and some friends entered the fray as backup for each side. Bullets were going into bars and buildings. One of the men Bat was seeking was severely wounded, but the shot did not come from Bat. When the smoke cleared, Bat was jailed, fined $8 and told to get out of Dodge and stay out of Dodge. Run Bat Masterson out of town for good? Fat chance.

Bat went on to Trinidad, Colorado, and opened a faro game and became city marshal. After the gun fight near the O.K. Corral and the nationally newsworthy Vendetta Ride, Wyatt and Warren Earp and Doc Holliday went to Trinidad. They were now wanted murderers back in Arizona. Wyatt set up the faro in nearby Gunnison, Colorado, and Doc drifted on to Denver, where he was arrested and faced extradition to Arizona. Wyatt Earp pleaded with Bat to do a rescue.

Bat wrote of Doc, “his whole heart and soul were wrapped up in Wyatt Earp”. Bat didn't like Billy Thompson, and he really didn’t like Doc, but he left immediately to captain a brilliant nationwide press campaign that resulted an audience with the governor who refused to extradite Doc. Bat had saved Doc’s life and Doc spent the rest of his life in the safety of Colorado.

Back in Dodge City, Luke Short owned the Long Branch Saloon. His competition, the mayor, had Luke's employees arrested. Then a lynch mob-like group escorted Luke and the gamblers they did not like to the train station and forced them to leave town. Luke wired Bat, Bat wired Wyatt, and what became known as the Dodge City War began.

Word spread that Luke Short, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp were leading a group of desperate men to Dodge. The townsfolk were in near panic. They appealed to the governor of Kansas for the militia to be sent. Luke and Bat went to see the governor to explain Luke’s position. This was the second state governor Bat had appealed to successfully for a friend. Doc wasn’t really coming because he was not about to leave Colorado. Wyatt arrived first with a few men.  He spoke to the city council group with demands that Bat and Luke be allowed in town, Luke’s property, including the Long Branch, be returned and he be left alone. They all quickly agreed. Later, Luke sold out when reform threatened gambling. Bat went with him to Fort Worth, Texas, where Luke bought the fanciest gambling joint, The White Elephant.

At a celebrity-filled poker game there, Wyatt, Bat, and Luke were playing with famed gunman Long Haired Jim Courtright. He was a hitman, trying to extort money from all the gambling house owners in a protection racket. Luke would not pay. Bat was standing there when Jim called Luke out of the White Elephant. Jim was slow with the long gun and Luke shot him to death. Fast draw shootouts were actually very rare in the Old West and Bat had seen Luke win two of them.

Luke was put in jail and a mob formed. Bat went to the jail and persuaded the sheriff to allow him and Luke to share a cell and each have two handguns. When the sheriff told the crowd the famous gunmen were armed, they went home. Luke got off, again, thanks to Bat’s testimony.

Johnny Hughes' latest book, 'Famous Gamblers, Poker History, and Texas Stories' is available from Amazon in hardback, paperback and Kindle editions.

Tags: Road Gambler, Johnny Hughes, Bat Masterson