Long Before They Were Legends

When anyone mentions the names Bat Masterson or Wyatt Earp, these icons of the Old West conjure images of law enforcement in places like Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone, Arizona.

Bat Masterson became one of the most famous lawmen of the era even though he was seldom involved in shootouts of any kind. He did gun down one Jack Wagner for killing his brother, Ed Masterson, and had intended to use lethal force as a member of “The Dodge City Peace Commission” when the Dodge City Council closed the gambling halls, saloons and brothels in the interest of stopping vice and immorality. Not a single shot was fired, however, because the governor intervened  in the interest of “sound economics,” reversing the ordinances that threatened the financial livelihood of the city.

Bat Masterson wore a bowler hat and three-piece suit and carried a silver tipped cane; hardly the image of a lawman, but emblematic of high fashion at the time. It earned him the moniker “Dandy” in spite of his ability to hold his own in any encounter against outlaws or anyone looking to cause trouble.

His friend, Wyatt Earp, on the other hand would come to epitomize “the lawman” in the public’s imagination. The “Gunfight at the OK Corral” solidified his place in history and our perception of him as the stalwart Marshall of Dodge City and Tombstone who brought law and order to the frontier. In truth, after the famous confrontation with the McLaury brothers and Ike Clanton he carried out a personal vendetta against “The Cowboys” that killed his brother, Morgan, and seriously wounded his brother, James.

Although involved in numerous gun fights over his lifetime, Wyatt Earp was never once wounded which only added to his legend and mystique.

Of course, as young men, long before either achieved fame, they met and labored in the buffalo hide trade. Bat Masterson, at the age of twenty, had been at the 2nd Battle of Adobe Walls when a coalition of Comanche, Southern Cheyenne, Kiowa and Plains Apache led by the Comanche war chief, Quanah Parker, attacked the isolated outpost. He survived the battle and volunteered to lead the survivors to safety before returning to his previous occupation.

Though his presence at Adobe Walls amongst fellow buffalo hunters had placed Bat Masterson in danger, youth has a way of ignoring threats to life and limb, and Bat returned to the lucrative trade.

It was during this stage of his life that he met Wyatt Earp and struck up a friendship that would see both men go on to become legendary Kansas lawmen; but at the moment, the two sidekicks found themselves knee deep in blood and covered with flies as they worked from dawn to dusk skinning and scraping buffalo hides. The year was 1877 and both had had their fill of the stench and labor involved, and each sought a new beginning. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Author: maxknight73

Retired Army Officer and Counterintelligence Specialist. Currently living in San Antonio, Texas with his wife Gray. Cancer survivor. Avid history buff and writer.

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