Battle of the Plaza

Bat Masterson vs. Peacock & Updegraff

Things Go Lickety-Bang!

Bullets Careen into the Long Branch

Bat gets a warm reception at the Dodge City train station. Illustrations by Bob Boze Bell

 

Traveling mostly by rail, Bat Masterson has just covered 1,100 miles to come to the aid of his estranged brother Jim. Bat was just in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, with Wyatt Earp when he received word of threats against his brother’s life. 

As the Dodge City-bound train pulls into the Kansas depot from the west, Bat swings down off the train on the north side of the tracks. It is about noon. His intuition tells him his brother’s enemies may attempt to round him up at the depot. 

He scans the train platform and the busy streets looking for trouble. As the caboose passes, he notices two men on the opposite side of the tracks, walking toward the depot.

 

Dapper Bat – Even though he probably wore broad hats in the field, Bat Masterson had a preference for derbies, as shown in numerous photos. This dapper image of Bat is how he is most remembered.

 

Bat immediately recognizes both men and shouts, “Hold up there a minute, you two. I want to talk to you.”

Lady Gay Saloon owner A.J. Peacock and his brother-in-law, bartender Al Updegraff, take one look at the familiar stocky figure striding toward them and turn on their heels, ducking behind the corner of the jail. Jim is partners with Peacock at the saloon, and the two had disagreed over firing Updegraff, a dishonest drunk in Jim’s eyes.

 

Jim Masterson

 

All parties pull weapons and begin to bang away at each other. (It’s unclear which side fires first.) Bat retreats to the railroad track’s three-foot berm and hides behind it.

Bullets snap over Bat’s head and thud into Dr. McCarty’s drugstore on the north side of Front Street. Bat returns fire, knocking huge splinters of wood from the corner of the hoosegow.

Soon, Bat is fired upon from several south-side saloons as “deadline partisans” join the fray. The compliment is returned from the north side of the tracks as friendly fire (probably from Jim and his friends) rips into the south-side buildings. 

 

 

Bullets careen into the Long Branch Saloon, sending patrons scrambling out the back door. Owner Chalk Beeson seeks refuge behind the door of his safe. George Hoover’s saloon loses a window, and a bullet tears a newspaper from an idler’s hands.

Amidst the wild firing, Updegraff suddenly pitches forward as a bullet rips through his chest. Not long after, Bat and Peacock run out of bullets. Mayor A.B. Webster runs up and sticks a Fox shotgun barrel in Bat’s face. Learning from the mayor that his brother is alive, Bat surrenders and hands over his empty six-guns.

 

Dodge City’s Front Street, circa 1880, with a sign proclaiming, “The carrying of firearms strictly prohibited. Try Prickly Ash Bitters.” The Long Branch Saloon is second to the right of the brick building, Wright, Beverley & Co. (The Alamo Saloon, owned by Dodge City Mayor A.B. Webster, is in between.) Courtesy Kansas State Historical Society

 

Ham Bell’s Varieties, 1870s – The interior of Dodge City’s premier dance hall on a slow day. Beyond the monte and faro tables, six couples prepare to “indulge in the giddy dance.” At the far end of the building, a small, raised platform holds the band. Courtesy Kansas State Historical Society

 

 

The Tombstone Knights of The Green Cloth – In the spring of 1881, Bat Masterson heeded the call from his friend Wyatt Earp and landed in the new boomtown of Tombstone. He joined the ranks of what was called “The Easterners,” as opposed to “The Slopers,” who were West Coast cardsharps from the west side of the Continental Divide or the West Slope of the Rockies. Wyatt convinced Masterson to come based on Earp’s claim that faro dealers were making as much as $25 a week. (Cowboys earned on average $30 a month!) That’s Wyatt Earp seated, and behind him are (from left) Doc Holliday, Luke Short, Morgan Earp and Bat Masterson.

 

Aftermath: Odds & Ends

A hearing was held, and formal charges were brought against Bat Masterson. The complaint stated that “W.B. Masterson did…unlawfully, feloniously, discharge a pistol upon the streets of said city.” Bat pleaded guilty and was fined $8 in costs. Jim Masterson dissolved his partnership with A.J. Peacock, and both brothers left town on the evening train. Ford County Globe claimed, “They were allowed to leave town, with the understanding that they were not to return.”

Of course, Bat Masterson did return in April of 1883, to come to the aid of his friend Luke Short who had been harassed by the town fathers. The authorities arrested three “female singers” in Short’s Long Branch Saloon. Other saloons were spared harassment. Short puts out the call to Bat Masterson, who in turn, summons Wyatt Earp and the rest of the Dodge City Gang, who converged on Dodge. Wyatt negotiated a satisfactory settlement for Short, and they all retired to a portrait studio to have their picture taken (see Dodge City Peace Commission, page 40).

Al Updegraff insisted Bat hadn’t shot him. Writing in his hometown paper, Medicine Lodge Index (later reprinted in Ford County Globe), Updegraff claimed, “We were then fired at by parties from the saloon doors on the north side of Front Street, from one of which I was shot through the right lung.” Although he survived his chest wound, Updegraff died two years later, of smallpox. 

After the Battle of the Plaza, Jim Masterson left Dodge City with his brother Bat. Jim worked in law enforcement in Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma until his death from tuberculosis at the age of 39 on March 31, 1895.

Recommended: Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend by Robert K. DeArment, published by University of Oklahoma Press

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