This interesting biography of Bat Masterson’s final 30 years by Robert K. DeArment provides a very different view of Masterson than how most readers think of him.
There are few Kansans who haven’t heard of William Barclay (Bat) Masterson. The popular television show starring Gene Barry aired from 1958 to 1961 and provided a generation with an image of Masterson as a snappy dresser topped by a Derby hat who settled most disputes with his gold-knobbed walking stick.
Others know Masterson as a lawman in Dodge City or Ford County in the late 1870s.
He is also known as an Indian fighter, buffalo hunter and gambler and prominent figure in the American West.
DeArment dealt with these aspects of Masterson’s life in an earlier book, “Bat Masterson: The Man and The Legend.”
In “Gunfighter in Gotham” DeArment provides readers with an in-depth look at Bat Masterson’s life after he left the West.
Masterson had already started writing when he lived in Dodge City where he published a single issue of a four-page paper titled “Vox Populi.”
He used the paper to attack his political opposition in the election of November 1884.
The summer before he had written his first sports piece, a letter to the editor regarding a horse race held in Dodge City.
His interest in sports was mainly confined to boxing and it was initially related to his being a roaming gambler who both staged and bet on various pugilistic contests throughout the West.
By 1889 he was contributing by-line columns to a Denver paper called “George’s Weekly.”
These efforts foreshadowed Masterson’s writing career at The New York Morning Telegraph from 1903 until his death in 1921.
DeArment takes this period of Masterson’s life and draws out fascinating details of his conflicts, his political views and his friends.
Among his friends were Damon Runyon, Stuart N. Lake, Albert Payson Terhune, Irwin S. Cobb, Heywood Broun and even President Theodore Roosevelt.
He may have mellowed with age but Masterson was still feisty and impassioned about the things he believed in. He was willing to fight for his beliefs and his journalistic efforts often reflected his intense feelings.
Some of the writers among his friends used Masterson as a model for characters in their writings.
Runyon in particular used Masterson to develop the character Sky Masterson in the short story, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and later the musical, “Guys and Dolls.”
Alfred Henry Lewis, writer and publisher in New York, who had known Bat Masterson much earlier, wrote a novel in 1905, “Sunset Trail,” based loosely on the adventurous life of Masterson and it contributed to Bat’s status as a legendary figure.
While his life may have been the stuff of legend, Masterson’s career had some aspects that aren’t usually brought up. Although he served in a number of official government positions, he was never legally a U.S. citizen. DeArment provides evidence Masterson was actually born in Canada and never became naturalized.
Despite extensive searches of records, there is nothing that indicates Masterson and his wife of more than 30 years were ever formally married. In fact she was married to someone else when she first started living with Bat and could have been charged with bigamy.
The irony of Masterson being a lawman, even serving as a U.S. Marshal for awhile in New York, while much of his dealings and lifestyle were at the edge of legitimacy, makes him all the more interesting.
DeArment provides readers with a scholarly but exceedingly readable account of this legendary figure’s final years.
Elby Adamson is a retired English teacher and a Clay Center resident.