Bat Masterson Part III

Bat Masterson Part III

Monday, 28 October 2013

More road gambling tales from Johnny Hughes.

At the July 4th celebrations in 1885, Bat Masterson was voted as Dodge's most popular man and given a gold watch chain and a gold-tipped cane. One newspaper said he was one of the most famous men in the Old West. Wyatt Earp and Bat worked in Denver for boss gamblers, “Big” Ed Chase and “Square-Shooter” Johnny Hughes (no relation). Having a healthy bankroll, Bat bought the Palace Theater, a vaudeville house. His old friend, Eddie Foy, did many performances there which helped Bat book other big acts. Bat married a performer named Emma Walters, and they stayed married for life. She had been married to a foot racer, and they put on an act where she ran against her husband. She also did a dance routine.

Bat began to write a column on boxing for a newspaper and he went to every major prize fight after that for the rest of his life. In boxing, Bat served as time keeper, bodyguard, purse keeper, corner man, manager, promoter, and mostly as a gambler. In Denver, Bat owned a fight club. When Bat was for a fighter, he would have them heavily insult their opponent in the newspapers, as he did in letters, interviews, and columns. Newspapers reported he knew as much about boxing as anyone in the country.

Reform movements always sent the gamblers on to the next wide-open boomtown. Bat sold out in Denver and badmouthed the whole town in print, just as he had when he left Dodge. He moved to the silver-strike boomtown of Creede, Colorado, to manage its biggest gambling house, the Denver Exchange. Celebrity gamblers that came to Creede included Poker Alice, Calamity Jane,  Soapy Smith and Bob Ford, the man who shot Jesse James in the back for a reward. Ford was killed in Creede.

There was little trouble in Bat's gambling house in Creede – he was known for his charities and was a soft touch. One day, a civil war veteran, dying of consumption, came in to beg a meal. Bat took up a collection to send him by train back east where he came from. When a crazed itinerant preacher came in asking if he could give a sermon, Bat beat on the bar with his pistol and asked for silence. The games all stopped, and the preacher gave a sermon on the Prodigal Son. He ended by singing Rock of Ages, and the crowd joined him. Many had tears in their eyes. Bat suggested a collection, and the preacher suddenly had $350. After he had left for his tent on the edge of town, some of the gamblers said they didn't give enough. They wanted to double it. Bat didn't know how much it was, and sent a man to find out. He found the preacher asleep and stole his pants. The preacher came into the bar in his red, long handles saying he had been robbed. Bat gave him his pants which now contained $700. The happy preacher bought a round of drinks for the house.

Bat Masterson was a better, finer, smarter man than any of the other Old West gamblers that I write about. One night in Creede, with a packed joint, a drunk walked up to Bat and slugged him in the face. The whole place got suddenly still and totally silent. Bat paused and then roared with laughter, as did everyone in the whole casino. Wyatt Earp would have pistol whipped him brutally. Doc Holliday might have killed him. Bat sent him on home.

Many years earlier, Bat had met two writers who were brothers, Alfred Lewis and William Lewis. They would have a tremendous influence on his life. Bat moved on to New York to write a thrice-weekly column for William Lewis' Morning Telegraph, a post he would hold for 18 years. That is over 4,000,000 words. It was called "Masterson's Views on Timely Topics." Alfred was a magazine writer and novelist who wrote about a heroic, mythical Bat Masterson. Bat's column was about boxing, but also theatre, restaurants, politicians and anything he cared to comment on.

When Bat Masterson first arrived in New York in 1902, he was arrested for a crooked faro game. A Mormon elder from Utah, John N Snow, the son of the president of the Mormon Church, had taken a big loss and accused Bat and others of cheating. He was lying and did not show up to testify. Bat sued him, saying his reputation as a “square gambler” was well known. Bat won money in an out-of-court settlement. This got nationwide news and the victory was sweet for the sporting fraternity.

When a rival newspaper said that Bat had made his reputation in the Old West by shooting Mexicans and Indians in the back, Bat sued them too. The newspaper had as their attorney future Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo. Bat won when two army generals, Baldwin and Miles, testified to his courage and reputation. Bat had been an army scout for a few months, 40 years earlier. He was awarded $3,500 in damages.

Each time Bat was back in the news, the old story of him killing 26 men would surface, but it did not seem to hurt him. When President Theodore Roosevelt was elected in 1904, Bat became a regular visitor to the White House. Roosevelt appointed Bat a Deputy Federal Marshal for the Southern District of New York. This was a part-time political job that did not interfere with his newspaper work, boxing promotion or gambling.

A whore's breakfast was defined as “a cigarette and the Morning Telegraph”. Several famous writers, including Gene Fowler, Heywood Broun, Louella Parsons, and Bat's protege, Damon Runyon, wrote for the Telegraph also. Runyon has said Bat would buy old six-guns from pawn shops, carve notches in them and sell them to collectors as guns used in famous gunfights.

Bat died at his desk at the newspaper of a heart attack in 1921 when he was 67-years-old. His last column was ready to go. Here is a bit of the last thing Bat Masterson ever wrote: “There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I'll swear I can't see it that way.”

Johnny Hughes is the author of Famous Gamblers, Poker History, and Texas Stories, on all Amazons.

Tags: Road Gambler, Johnny Hughes, Bat Masterson