The Wild, Wild West


And meanwhile, what of Bat Masterson? He had hustled back to Dodge City from Tombstone in April, 1881, in response to a hurry-up plea for help from his younger brother Jim. This worthy, still Dodge’s marshal and also co-owner of a dance hall, had got into a scrape with his partner, A. J. Peacock, and the man they employed as bartender, Al Updegraff, but Jim Masterson was apparently too timid to do his own fighting. His big brother stepped off the train at noon on April 16. Peacock and Updegraff were there waiting, and once again the tiresome shooting commenced. It was laughable. They all fired their guns empty, without effect. Some unknown hero, using a rifle, wounded Updegraff from behind. Masterson was fined $8 for shooting his pistol on the street. The Ford County “Globe” commented, “The citizens are thoroughly aroused and will not stand any more foolishness,” while the Jetmore “Republican” referred caustically to “the old gang.” Bat and his brother were ordered out of town.

Like a cat, Bat landed on his feet in Trinidad, Colorado, where in addition to running a gambling concession he appears to have been appointed a peace officer. Certainly he had some political influence. For, when an Arizona sheriff came to Denver with a request for the extradition of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Masterson helped protect them. He got out a warrant for Holliday’s arrest on the charge of running a confidence game. This superseded the request for extradition, after which the charges against Holliday were of course dropped. “I know him well,” Bat told a reporter for the Denver “Republican,” speaking of Holliday. “He was with me in Dodge, where he was known as an enemy of the lawless element.”

But the trail led down from glory. In the iSgo’s Masterson ran a faro layout at the Arcade in Denver, then notoriously the crookedest town in the country. (Earp was dealing nearby, at the Central.) But around the turn of the century Bat was ordered to leave even Denver—it was like being told he was too low for the sewer. In 1902 he went to New York where he was at once arrested. On the train from Chicago he had, it seems, fleeced a Mormon elder of $16,000 by using marked cards in a faro game. No matter: New York was then also corrupt; Bat was bailed by John Considine, a partner of Big Tim Sullivan, who bossed the town. The elder was persuaded to mumble that he must have been mistaken when he identified Masterson. When Bat was again arrested, this time for illegally carrying a gun, his friends pulled on strings that led all the way to the White House ; and such was the magic of the Wild West legend that President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Masterson a deputy U.S. marshal for the southern district of New York. The term of the appointment was brief. Then Bat was put out to pasture as a sports writer for the “Morning Telegraph.” He died at his desk in 1921.

Meantime Earp had married a San Francisco woman named Josephine Marcus. As late as 1911 he was accused of complicity in a confidence game, but in the main he had retired to live off his investments. He died in Los Angeles in 1930. The ugliest bit of his past has been dug up, with some disgust, by Frank Waters. It concerns Mattie, the girl Earp deserted in Tombstone. Alone and friendless, Mattie drifted first to Globe and then to a mining camp near Willcox, Arizona. She was reduced to prostitution for a living. In July, 1888, she died of an overdose of laudanum, a suicide. The coroner who sent her few belongings back to her family in Iowa tucked into the package a letter in which he wrote that Mattie had been deserted by “a gambler, blackleg, and coward.” Among her effects was a Bible that had been presented to Earp when he was in Dodge. The inscription read: “To Wyatt S. Earp as a slight recognition of his many Christian virtues and steady following in the footsteps of the meek and lowly Jesus.”


We have come at last to our fifth Horrible, a slight, short, buck-toothed, narrow-shouldered youth whose slouch adds to his unwholesome appearance. He looks like a cretin, but this may be deceptive. As we crane cautiously forward, we can see that his label reads


This young outlaw is less interesting as a human being than as a sort of Rorschach ink blot by which one may elicit fantasies and so study their inventors. It is safe to say that at least a thousand writers have used Billy the Kid as a vessel into which to pour their passions, prejudices, and opinions; but it is likely that no two portraits of him jibe. He has been endowed with every imaginable personality; from the way he has been described one could conclude that he was the original Man With a Thousand Faces; his alleged backgrounds are as various; so even are his names.

The best guess is that he was born November 23, 1859, in New York City, and called Henry McCarty. There was a younger brother, Joe. Around 1863 the family went west to Kansas. The father may have died here; at all events Mrs. Catherine McCarty was married on March i, 1873, with her two sons as witnesses, to William H. Antrim, in Santa Fé, New Mexico. The newlyweds settled in Silver City, near the Arizona border, and here Mrs. Antrim died on September 16, 1874. Henry McCarty was not yet fifteen.