Bat Masterson’s Colt Single Action:Pietta recreates one of the most famous Guns of the Old West -3/3
by Dennis Adler
On June 29, 1885 Bat was wearing a Deputy Sheriff’s badge having been asked by Dodge City Sheriff Pat Sughrue to personally handle a touchy situation with a prohibitionist sure to be hung by an angry mob. Bat stood in the doorway of the hotel and ordered the crowd to disperse. It is unlikely anyone, outside of Wyatt Earp, could have single-handedly braced such a mob.
By 1880 Wyatt Earp had resigned as Assistant City Marshal of Dodge City and started out for Tombstone with brothers Virgil and Morgan. Bat’s tenure as County Sheriff had also come to an end with his defeat in the next election.
Over the next few years Masterson was continually drawn between Kansas and Colorado, where he served as City Marshal of Trinidad, Colorado in 1882, but he eventually gravitated back to Dodge to work the gambling tables. He also developed an interest in officiating boxing matches, another trait that he had picked up from Wyatt that oddly enough was to take his life in an entirely new direction by the turn of the century.
And, there was one more facet to W. B. Masterson that emerged to everyone’s surprise, especially his often vocal critics in the press, he liked writing; writing letters to editors, political editorials, and sports commentary. Between writing, gambling, and occasionally serving in his capacity as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, by 1885 when Masterson ordered the seventh of his single actions from the Colt factory he had become a frontier legend, and he was only 32 years old.
Wyatt Earp, seated second from the left, and Bat Masterson, back row third from the left, in a photo taken around June 10, 1883 after Masterson, Earp, Charlie Bassett (front row far left) and Neal Brown (front row far right) returned to the city to restore their friend Luke Short (standing second from left) to his position as owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Dodge City politics were unraveling in June and the visit from the famous former lawmen soon restored a sense of order to the cow town. Also pictured are W.F. Petillon (back row at far right) and W.H. Harris, (back row far left). The photo came to be known euphemistically as the Dodge City Peace Commission.
Throughout the latter part of the 1880s Bat was in and out of Dodge, and on occasion, such as in June of 1885, was requested to fill in as a Deputy Sheriff to help “resolve” differences where his reputation and the inscribed Colt Peacemaker in his holster were generally enough incentive to the wise. This proved sufficient to ward off a mob bent on lynching prohibitionist Albert Griffin who was on a crusade to shut down Dodge’s saloons.
Masterson stood in the doorway of the temperance man’s room, his hand resting on the butt of his Colt and ordered the crowd to disperse. Despite their vocal protestations the angry mob began to break up. Although not a fan of Masterson, Griffin later acknowledged that Bat had saved his bacon that day.
In 1888 Bat finally bid farewell to Dodge City taking up residence in Denver, Colorado, where his major income was derived from gentleman’s gambling, fight promoting, and as an official referee for the new Colorado Athletic Association. An 1894 issue of Illustrated Sporting West called Bat Masterson “…one of the best judges of pugilists in America.”
The unsettled west that Bat and Ed Masterson had ventured into in the 1870s as young men was all but gone by the turn of the century, as was Bat’s enthusiasm for the life. In the summer of 1902 be boarded a train in Denver bound for New York City and began a career as a sports writer, journalist and author, penning the series of articles in 1907 about his life that would become the foundation for his book Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier.
Lawman and gunfighter William Barclay Masterson turned out to be one of the finest sports writers of the early 20th century, working as a journalist and sports editor at the Morning Telegraph up until his death, still at his desk the morning of October 25, 1921 when his heart gave out and he passed into the pages of immortality at age 67.
There is an old adage that “there are bold gunfighters and there are old gunfighters, but that there are no old, bold gunfighters.” Bat Masterson was one of the few exceptions. Long after Dodge City was behind him Bat kept the legend alive, not as a gunfighter or lawman but as a journalist; proof perhaps, that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, or the gun!
First of the Legendary Lawmen Single Actions
The Bat Masterson single action pictured is the first of F.lli Pietta’s new Legendary Lawmen series of engraved revolvers based on actual guns carried by famous Wild West Sheriffs and U.S. Deputy Marshals. The Bat Masterson will be introduced in 2013 and available in two versions, the hand engraved model shown, executed by renowned Italian engravers Sergiao and Mauro Dassa, and a less expensive version embellished with Pietta’s exclusive deep laser engraving. The Single Action revolvers will all come with factory tuned actions and faux ivory grips. The hand engraved Bat Masterson has a 5-1/2 inch barrel and sells for $2,230; the deep laser engraved model will retail for $1,150. Both versions will be available by special order through Dixie Gun Works, dixiegunworks.com; 800-238-6785. The copy of Masterson’s J.C. Collins holster and gunbelt were copied from an original attributed to Bat Masterson, and handcrafted by Alan and Donna Soellner of Chisholm’s Trail Leather; westernleatherholster.com; 678-423-7351. The original Bat Masterson Colt and gun rig provided courtesy of the William I. Koch collection.
The Other Side of Bat MastersonCarrying the “Big Fifty”
From the time Bat Masterson was a young buffalo hunter in his twenties and throughout his years as a Kansas lawman, he always carried a Sharps rifle in his saddle scabbard. In the early 1870s it was the gun his friends called the “Big Fifty” a .54 caliber percussion model that Bat successfully used to help defend the hunter’s settlement at Adobe Walls (East Adobe Walls Creek) in 1874. Billy Dixon who fought at Bat’s side during Adobe Walls wrote, “Bat Masterson should be remembered for the valor that marked his conduct, he was a good shot and not afraid.”
Even as a Kansas lawman Bat deferred to the Sharps when leading a posse, going for the long shot when most lever action rifles would have fallen short of their mark. In his pursuit of murderer Jim Kenedy across the open plains, Bat shot his horse out from under him at a great distance, a regrettable but often used tactic in pursuing outlaws because a man on foot was easier to catch. In Kenedy’s case the horse fell on him pinning him underneath, and Bat, Wyatt and the rest of the posse made an easy arrest.
While few lawmen eschewed the Winchester lever action for a single shot rifle, Bat Masterson made the Sharps as famous a trademark are his Colt single actions.
The Sharps pictured is a .54 caliber carbine manufactured by ArmiSport Chiappa and available from Taylor’s & Co. taylorsfirearms.com.
Bat Masterson The Man and the Legend by Robert K. DeArment, 1979 University of Oklahoma Press.
Guns of the American West by Dennis Adler, 2010, Chartwell Books
Bat Masterson – The Lawman Series by R. L. Wilson, Colt’s Inc. 1967