The Many Pranks of Bat Masterson

masterson_batRecently I have become aware that the famous Bat Masterson (1853-1921) is a distant limb on my family tree. He was apparently a cousin of my great-great grandmother, whose name was Rebecca Masterson before she married and became Rebecca Harscher. My father never spoke of this to me when he was alive, as he wasn’t pleased to be related to this “despicable” figure of wide renown. However, Bat’s notoriety has been put to bed, especially by the research of Robert DeArment. His 1979 biography proves that Bat was not the trigger-happy gunslinger of journalistic sensationalism, and this is now widely accepted. I’ll cover this in a later post.

On the other hand, Bat did enjoy outrageous pranks. If there was anything that made me believe I was related to this guy in reading DeArment’s biography, it was on this subject. Some of Bat’s pranks were quite dangerous. He would pull them on visitors to Dodge, in the years he served as the Sheriff of Ford County (1878-1879), with the help of accomplices like Wyatt Earp, Luke Short, Jack Bridges, and Dave Mather. Here are some notable examples:

  • Baby Contest. When Reverend O.W. Wright was in Dodge preaching the gospel, he announced a baby contest to raise a missionary fund. The contest raised $2000, but Bat pulled off a prank that ended in none of the mothers of the competing babies winning the prize. He arranged the winner to be the baby of a black woman from an African-American dancehall on the south-side of town. Bat and Wyatt Earp marched the black woman and her baby down to receive the prize, to the embarrassment of the black woman and the fury of competing mothers.
  • Science Lecture. Dr. Meredith, a phrenologist and venereal disease specialist, was in Dodge giving a lecture. Bat arranged for people in the audience to suddenly yell out insults at the doctor, as Bat pretended to be indignant and told the audience to keep quiet. Insults escalated, and Bat drew his pistol and threatened to shoot the offending audience members, terrifying the poor doctor.
  • Indian Act. This was Bat’s favorite prank, and a dangerous one that backfired on him in one instance. Whenever new arrivals in Dodge bragged too much about their Indian-fighting abilities, Bat and his accomplices would stage “Indian attacks” in the city, with a handful of people dressing up as Indians, war paint and all, and “killing” others in the streets, before screaming and charging the new arrival. At the last second, the “Indians” would stop the charade and reveal themselves. The time this prank backfired when they pulled it on a man named Harris. As a precautionary measure, the pranksters would always be sure the victim’s rifle was either unloaded or filled with blanks, and they did this with Harris’ rifle. But Harris also had a pistol that he kept concealed in his boot, and when the “Indians” attacked, he shot one of them.

As I was telling a friend tongue-in-cheek, I suspect that Bat’s gene pool is responsible for my own relentless pranks, which (like Bat) I pulled mostly when I was in my 20s.

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