Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Bat Masterson Crowns Wyatt Earp


February 15, 2022

   After their adventures in Kansas, Texas and the Southwest, the two Sporting Men, Bat & Wyatt, essentially went their separate ways, with Earp going West and Masterson gravitating to the east. Bat's first trip to New York was in 1895, when he was hired as a bodyguard for millionaire George Gould. Wyatt Earp also served in the same capacity, acting as a bodyguard for George Hearst, who came to Tombstone to look at the mines, and later Earp also guarded George's son William Randolph, in San Francisco.

The Bodyguard Bat Masterson

   Masterson wrote to his friends in Denver how much fun he had fishing off of Gould's yacht and told them he intended to stay in New York. However, he came back to Colorado and had various adventures—most of them legitimate—all of them colorful, until he and his beautiful wife Emma, moved to Manhattan for good in June of 1902. Thanks in part to his Gould connections, a friend and journalist, Alfred Henry Lewis talked his brother into providing Masterson with a gig writing about boxing in the New York Morning Telegraph. Three times a week, he wrote under the banner of "Masterson's Views On Timely Topics." He wrote the column from 1903 until his death in 1921, becoming a successful writer in the process. This is something Earp could never master.

Alfred Henry Lewis Opens The Door

   And it was Alfred Henry Lewis who encouraged Masterson to write a series of sketches about his Wild West adventures to be published in Human Life magazine, and in 1907 Bat wrote up character sketches on Ben Thompson, Wyatt Earp, Luke Short, Doc Holliday and Bill Tilghman.

   In these sketches, Bat made it very clear how much he admired Wyatt Earp and one interesting thing is how much he disliked Doc Holliday, writing, "Physically, Doc Holliday was a weakling who could not have whipped a healthy 15-year-old boy in a go-as-you-please fist fight, 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."

Not a fan of Doc Holliday.

   Through his connection with Lewis, Masterson met Teddy Roosevelt and Bat became a regular visitor at the White House. The president appointed Bat as a U.S. Deputy Marshal at a salary of $2,000 a year (the equivalent of $50k today). At one of these visits, Masterson supposedly said, "The true history of the West will never be told until Wyatt Earp talks. And Wyatt Earp isn't talking." A young press secretary, Stuart Lake, overheard this remark, and after Masterson died typing at his desk in 1921, Lake eventually got around to going out to California to find Wyatt Earp and get the true story. When he found the old frontiersman he was in for a rude suprise.

Boy Howdy!

   In the Twenties, the Western movie star, Tom Mix, and his friend, Wyatt Earp, decided to get culture, and Mix ordered a bunch of books on Shakespeare plays for them to read. Someone asked Earp what he thought of Shakespeare and his plays and the old frontiersman said, "That feller Hamlet was a talkative man. He wouldn't have lasted long in Kansas."

Not impressed with Shakespeare

The Man Who Didn't Talk Much at All

   One of the reasons Earp probably lasted in Kansas is partly due to the fact he was not a chatty fellow. When Stuart Lake finally caught up to Earp he complained bitterly that Wyatt was monosylabic, answering most questions with three answers. "Yep." "Nope." "Don't recall." And then Wyatt Earp died. Perfect for a writer. Now Lake could put any words in his mouth he wanted. Lake's working premise was, Hey, I talked to the guy. This is what he told me.

   So, in the end, with the publication of Stuart Lake's "Frontier Marshal" in 1931, Earp rose from the regional personality he always had been in life, into the icon he is today. Wyatt now stands shoulder to shoulder with Wild Bill, Jesse James, Crazy Horse, Custer and Geronimo. . . and, he has his good friend William Barclay "Bat" Masterson, to thank for that.

"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."

—Bat Masterson


  1. With crime out of control in major cities around the country, we need lawmen like Wyatt and Bat back

  2. at the age of six, my mom gave me paul d. horan's "a pictorial history of the wild west". i still have it. at my early age, i began to think that book was all there was...I have a lot of respect for Wyatt, but i always felt that "Shakespeare rocking chair" picture looked like he was listening to the chicago hog futures on his new philco stand up radio, waiting to be brought his mid-morning coffee by his 'lady fair'... 9TAKIN' IT EASY, -BUT TAKIN' IT-


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