Police History: How Bat Masterson and his brothers policed Dodge City
Ed, Jim and Bat Masterson poured their heart and soul into 19th century law enforcement
Article updated December 17, 2017.
Most students of police history have heard the name Bat Masterson. Few have heard of his brothers, Jim and Ed, who even though they were less famous, poured more time and blood into law enforcement than their famous brother, Bat.
Ed, Bat, and Jim Masterson were born in Canada, and started their western adventures not as law men, but as buffalo hunters. Bat gained immediate notoriety because of the courage he showed in the "Second Battle of Adobe Walls."
In June 1874, Bat’s group of buffalo hunters was attacked by a large combined force of Kiowa, Comanche and Cheyenne in the Texas panhandle. Bat and his rugged companions fought valiantly, driving the warriors off with their long range rifles and superb marksmanship. After the buffalo disappeared from the plains, the Mastersons became law men in this lawless land.
In June 1877, the oldest of the Masterson brothers – Ed – was appointed assistant marshal in Dodge City and his efforts were noticed immediately in the raucous cow-town. The Dodge City Times reported, "Ed Masterson and Joe Mason are covering themselves with glory, and their prompt and efficient action can’t be too highly commended."
In August 1877, the Times praised Ed once again saying, "The city was not wanting in an efficient peace officer...assistant marshal Edward Masterson seemed to be always on time to quell the disturbance and bear away to that home of the friendless (the doghouse) the noisy disturbers of the peace. Mr. Masterson has a remarkable record during the month as the docket of the Police Court will bear witness."
In November 1877, Ed arrived at such a disturbance at the Lone Star Dance Hall to witness Dick Shaw, with revolver in hand, threatening "Texas Dick." Ed "buffaloed" Shaw, but instead of dropping him with his gun butt, Shaw spun and shot Ed in the right breast. With Ed’s right arm out of action the intrepid marshal transferred his gun to his left hand, returned fire, ending the fight.
Moore and a bartender were also hit in the exchange, but everyone survived.
Ed Masterson needed time to heal.
Bat Masterson elected sheriff of ford county
Ironically Ed’s brother Bat was elected sheriff of Ford County, which contained Dodge City, the day after Ed’s encounter with Dick Shaw. Bat had already established a reputation as an impactful law man. While serving as sheriff, he apprehended nearly every horse thief, who foolishly practiced their trade.
As sheriff, Bat immediately gained high praise by capturing two members of a gang, which robbed the Santa Fe Station in Kinsley after tracking them through a snowstorm. He caught two more of their members as they partied in a Dodge City saloon. These four gunplay-free arrests inspired this write up in the Dodge papers: "The nerve and skill of Sheriff Masterson and gallant posse is recorded as a brilliant achievement and is receiving just tribute for so daring a venture accomplished so adroitly and maneuvered with the skill of a warrior."
ed masterson Killed in the line of duty
Shortly after recovering from his wounds, Ed Masterson was appointed marshal of Dodge City.
On April 9, 1878 Ed and an officer named Haywood broke up a raucous disturbance inside a saloon involving a group that included Jack Wagner and Alf Walker. The cowboys were disarmed and cautioned by the marshal to have fun, but settle down.
Thinking their mission was accomplished, Haywood and Masterson exited the saloon. A few moments later Walker and Wagner burst out of the saloon armed with pistols and murderous intent.
Walker stuck his pistol in Haywood’s face and "Click!"
Wagner simultaneously stuck the muzzle of his own revolver into Ed’s abdomen and Masterson instinctively took hold of Wagner’s arm. After a brief struggle "Bang!"
The contact muzzle flash set Masterson’s shirt on fire. Ed staggered backward, drew and returned fire.
Bat, on duty across the street witnessed the horrific attack on his brother. He also fired on the two cowboys as he advanced. Both cowboys went down.
Ed ended his tour, 40 minutes after being shot.
Deputy Jim Masterson served as respected marshal of dodge city
After Ed’s death, Jim Masterson joined the Dodge City police force as an assistant marshal, beginning the longest career of all the brothers.
On July 26, 1878, assistant marshals Jim Masterson and Wyatt Earp were working together in Dodge City at about 3:30 a.m., when a group of cowboys opened fire as they road through town. Both Jim Masterson and Wyatt Earp fired at George Hoy, a cowboy who was not just firing into the air, but also into occupied saloons. Hoy was shot from his saddle and landed in the Boot Hill Cemetery.
Jim Masterson would make hundreds of arrests in his years serving as a respected marshal of Dodge City. After the city no longer needed the kind of skills Jim had, he moved on to wear a badge in Trinidad, Colorado, Guthrie, Oklahoma and Colfax County, New Mexico. He also served as one of Judge Isaac Parker’s U. S. Deputy Marshals in Oklahoma Territory.
Jim Masterson was involved in more gunbattles with criminals than his more famous brother Bat, including the shoot-out with the infamous Doolin Gang, in Ingalls, Oklahoma, where two U.S. Deputy Marshals were killed in the line of duty.
Ironically Jim Masterson’s life was taken by the same culprit that claimed the life of another Dodge City luminary, Doc Holliday. In 1895 U. S. Deputy Marshal Jim Masterson died of Tuberculosis.
In 1921, Bat died of natural causes behind his typewriter in New York City, where he was of all things, a sports writer.