How does Bat Masterson’s story compare with Wyatt Earp’s?

atm-logoHow does Bat Masterson’s story compare with Wyatt Earp’s?

Jim Gaines
Orangevale, California

Bat Masterson’s history was every bit as illustrious as Wyatt Earp’s—and in the early 1900s, he was actually more famous than Earp. Why? Masterson had a bigger story to tell.

In 1874, he and a small group of buffalo hunters held off hundreds of Indians at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in Texas. He then scouted for the U.S. Army and became a Western sheriff of renown. Earp, on the other hand, had a reputation based on his few years in Tombstone, Arizona.

But in his later years, Masterson preferred to talk about other folks. When President Teddy Roosevelt suggested that Masterson write his own story, he supposedly replied, “Mr. President, the real story of the Old West can never be told unless Wyatt Earp will tell what he knows, and Wyatt will not talk.”

Roosevelt’s press aide, Stuart Lake, heard this and sought out Earp to write the highly fictionalized 1931 biography that turned the lawman into a legend. Lake even borrowed Masterson’s first-person descriptions and attributed them to Earp.

Masterson might have become the legend had he been inclined to self-promote himself to Lake.

***

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.  If you have a question, write:

Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at  marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu

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