by Dennis Adler
One of Eight
During the course of his career as a lawman and gambler, Bat ordered a total of eight single action revolvers from Colt’s. The most notable was an order made from Dodge City and written on Opera House Saloon stationary in July 1885 which stated,
Please send Me one of your nickel plated short .45 calibre revolvers. It is for my own use and for that reason I would like to have a little Extra pains taken with it. I am willing to pay Extra for Extra work. Make it very Easy on the trigger and have the front Sight a little higher and thicker than the ordinary pistol of this Kind. Put on a gutta percha handle and send it as soon as possible, have the barrel about the same length that the ejector rod is.
W B Masterson
By then Bat had already served as Under Sheriff of Ford County for Charlie Bassett, replacing him in 1877 after Bassett had served two consecutive terms (under Kansas law a Country Sheriff could not hold office for three consecutive terms). His first act after becoming County Sheriff, not surprisingly, was to appoint Charlie Bassett as Under Sheriff, the two essentially exchanging badges. During his tenure in Dodge City, which was also the County Seat and home to the Ford County Sheriff’s office, Bat appointed many of his old associates as special deputies when situations became thorny. Ford County encompassed some 9,500 square miles, a large portion of southwestern Kansas; a lot of territory into which outlaws could quickly vanish. In their pursuit Bat called upon Wyatt Earp, as well as appointing his younger brother James Masterson and friend Bill Tilghman Deputy Sheriffs. Dodge City also had its own City Marshal, Ed Masterson, and a local police force. Dodge was a tough town and it needed every lawman it had.
As County Sheriff, Bat’s rule of thumb was to buffalo an armed man first and then ask questions later, a technique he had learned from Wyatt in which the barrel of a six-shooter is firmly applied to the head of miscreants. It was a controversial practice but Wyatt and Bat always defended it use. And it was clearly posted on the way into Dodge that no guns were to be worn within the city limits. Often ignored by cattlemen, a great part of every law officer’s duty was to enforce the rule. And at times, with a bunch of liquored up cowboys running rampant, it could be a deadly job. In April of 1878 Ed Masterson was shot at point black range doing just that, disarming a drunken cowboy who had openly ignored the rules. Ed returned fire and downed two men before he stumbled across the street and collapsed. He died forty minutes later. Bat’s friend, Deputy Sheriff Charlie Bassett took over as City Marshal and Wyatt assumed the position of Deputy Marshal the following month. Bat had not been in Dodge the night Ed was murdered.
His brother’s death hit Bat hard because he always had believed Ed was too easy going and not as deliberate as he should have been. Bat had seen many lawmen gunned down, some with their own guns taken from behind and turned on them. He wore his Colt cross draw style, butt forward and covered, making it almost impossible for anyone to disarm him from behind. It has also been written that he carried two guns, and in some instances he did when heading up a posse or on the open plains, but in town where most everything happened at close range, it was the short barreled Colt carried cross draw that Bat preferred over any other.
In 1879 Masterson began his last office as a lawman in Kansas being appointed a U.S. Deputy Marshal. Ironically, though he had faced down countless cowboys on rampages through Dodge, and pursued murders, bank robbers, cattle rustlers and thieves, in his entire career as a lawman, Bat never killed anyone he apprehended. Many were wounded, but none were shot dead. His reputation for having killed 27 men as a peace officer was all legend, and Bat was wise enough to let the tales stand, as fear of his gun was as effective a weapon as the gun itself. Bat only killed one man in a shootout, his first and only, Melvin A. King.
The article continues in the next issue ....