Wild West Podcast

Tales and Tactics of the Frontier: Unmasking Bat Masterson's Key Role in the Royal Gorge War and His Remarkable Western Legacy

August 02, 2022 Michael King/Brad Smalley
Wild West Podcast
Tales and Tactics of the Frontier: Unmasking Bat Masterson's Key Role in the Royal Gorge War and His Remarkable Western Legacy
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Unearth the riveting tale of Bat Masterson, the man of many hats from the American West who played a pivotal role in the Royal Gorge War. You're joining us on a thrilling journey back in time, where you'll gain insight into the fierce dispute between the Santa Fe and Denver & Rio Grande railroads. Decoded tactics like recruitment of armed men and storming a telegraph office were strategies to gain the right of way for laying tracks from Canyon City to Leadville.

Get to know this enigma better as we chronicle the chapters of Masterson's life, his resignation as sheriff of Ford County, his personal life with Emma Molten, and the switch of his career as a sports rider for the New York Morning Telegraph. We'll take you through his impactful days in Dodge City, Kansas City, and Tombstone, Arizona, where his knack for settling disputes and establishing peace was well noted. Buckle up as we bring to light his legacy and extraordinary contributions to establishing the Western Frontier. This incredible exploration into one of American history's most influential figures will surely leave you enthralled.

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Speaker 1:

In this episode of the Life and Times of Bat Masterson, bat and a few of his hired hands traveled to Colorado to settle a dispute between two railroad tycoons who have engaged in a war for the right of way to lay track along Colorado's Royal Gorge. This episode concludes with Bat Masterson's final years, including his resignation as Sheriff of Ford County, his marriage to Emma Molten in 1889, and his career as a sports rider for the New York Morning Telegraph until his death on October 26, 1921. Wild West Podcast is proud to present the final episode of the Life and Times of Bat Masterson the Royal Gorge War and the finale years. Please stay tuned after this episode for some concluding thoughts on Bat Masterson's overall contributions to settling the Western Frontier. During the month of March 1879, sheriff Masterson became involved in a railroad feud. The Santa Fe and Denver and Rio Grande railroads were fighting for the right of way from Canyon City to Leadville. Colorado Silver had been discovered at Leadville and the railroads were anxious to get there as soon as possible. Both railways had tracks in the lower Arcanzas Valley at the time. The Santa Fe was at Pueblo, about 35 miles east of Canyon City, where the Denver and Rio Grande had its tracks. Leadville was over 100 miles northwest of Canyon City. In addition, both railroads wanted the right of way through the gorge to the rich mining fields in Leadville, but with room for only one set of tracks. The war for the gorge began between the two rail lines. Usually two railroads occupying the same valley would not be a problem. Still west of Canyon City and on a clear path to Leadville, stood the formidable 10-mile-long Royal Gorge Canyon. This chasm in some places is 1250 feet in depth and 30 feet at its narrowest point, with sheer granite walls that plunge into the tumbling Arcanzas River, creating an impassable barrier. In April of 1878, a construction crew assembled by the Santa Fe Railway began grading for a rail line west of Canyon City, at the mouth of the gorge. The DNRG, which had tracks that ended about three-fourths of a mile east of Canyon City, quickly sent crews to the same area, but the Santa Fe workers blocked the narrow entrance. The blocking of access to the gorge was to be the first round in a two-year struggle of the Royal Gorge War. The Rio Grande, a Colorado concern, was financially weak compared to the powerful Kansas line, and the war for the Royal Gorge drained off a great deal of capital. In December 1878, under pressure from his bondholders, general Palmer was forced to lease his road to Santa Fe for thirty years. It appeared then that the war was over and the Santa Fe had won. But in March 1879, palmer reopened the fight in the courts, claiming that the Santa Fe had broken the terms of its lease. At the same time, he dispatched squads of armed men to fortifications he had built overlooking the gorge. The Santa Fe re-armed its work crews and imported professional fighters to protect its holdings. The war was on again. While lawyers argued both sides in court, armed men hired by Santa Fe took control of Rio Grande stations from Denver to Canyon City. Some sources alleged Santa Fe used its political influence to obtain a US Marshals appointment for a Bat Masterson so that it could legally defend their property. Masterson enlisted the help of JH Doc Holiday to find recruits. Among the six years so hired were two gunfighters with the colorful names of Dirty Dave Rudebaugh and Mysterious Dave Mather. Gunman Ben Thompson, reported to be a personal friend of Masterson, was also recruited. In addition, holiday tried to recruit his friend entertainer Eddie Foy, who declined on the grounds that he couldn't hit anything with a gun. On March 25th 1879, ford County Globe reported. Last Thursday evening Sheriff Masterson received a telegram from the offices of the Atchison, topeka and Santa Fe Road at Canyon City asking if he could bring a posse of men to assist in defending the workmen on that road from the attacks of the Denver and Rio Grande men who were again endeavoring to capture the long contested pass through the canyon. Masterson and Deputy Duffy immediately opened a recruiting office and before the train arrived Friday morning had enrolled a company of 33 men. They all boarded the morning train, armed to the teeth. Sheriff Masterson, in command, started for the scene of the hostilities. Bat took his party from Dodge City. On June 9th A dispatch from Pueblo to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver headed Santa Fe Arming described the deployment of the troops. Three extra trains came in from the south and east yesterday with the following men Patty Welsh and 45 of Dick Wotan's deputy sheriffs from Trinidad. Bat Masterson, sheriff from Ford County, kansas, was 65 men. Charles Hickey, sheriff of Bent County, with 18 men, and extra went to Colorado Springs last night with a lot of bad men from Dodge City. Bat Masterson goes to Canyon City this afternoon to regulate Haddon and DeRaymer. Does the governor care to hear of this? Bat was placed in charge of the railroad station and roundhouse at Pueblo, the pivotal point for the Santa Fe defense system. Pueblo controlled the tracks leading north toward Denver and west toward Canyon City in the Royal Gorge. Shortly after Masterson and his gunman took charge of the station's roundhouse, rf Whitebrecht, treasurer of the DNRG, met with Chief Engineer JA McMurtry, sheriff Hymley R Price and Pat Desmond, a deputy with the Rocky Mountain Detective Association. These men were seeking a way to oust Masterson and his men from the roundhouse. Rf Whitebrecht suggested to Chief Engineer that they borrow the cannon from the state armory as a way to drive Masterson and his men from the roundhouse. To their surprise, the group found that Masterson had already borrowed the cannon and positioned it at the roundhouse. The cannon trained on the line of attackers. Dnrg's McMurtry, price and Desmond rounded up 50 men and passed out ammunition and rifles. History says they stormed the telegraph office on the Santa Fe station platform, crashed through the doors and sent Masterson's men scrambling out the back windows. Then the 50 headed for the roundhouse. Though there was little gunfire at the roundhouse, one of Masterson's men was allegedly shot in the back. Another reportedly lost a front tooth, later replaced with a shiny gold substitute free of charge by Masterson's compadre, doc Holliday, with the cannon trained on them. Whitebrecht met with Masterson, who surrendered. The roundhouse McMurtry and Masterson discussed the situation and Masterson told his men to stand down. The battle was over. Masterson was later criticized for his actions. Multiple rumors spread that Masterson and his men had been paid as much as $25,000 to surrender. However, the probable truth is he surrendered after seeing the court order proving that DNRG held the right of way through the gorge. In the following October of 1879, masterson once again faced a coming election. He ran on the independent ticket supported by the Dodge City Times. The opposition party, the People's Ticket caused Masterson a considerable amount of trouble by calling him to account for spending too much of the tax money he had collected from the inhabitants of Ford County. He was also accused of fraud by alleging to have been given $25 for the returning of a stolen pony. An article written by Stevenson appeared in the Dodge City Times four days before the election, refuting the rumors of payment for the returned horse. Stevenson wrote I desire to inform the people of Ford County that all parties circulating the report that Bat Masterson charged me $25 or any other amount for finding and returning of my stolen pony last fall are telling an unmitigated falsehood as was ever uttered by evil-minded persons. My transactions with Mr Masterson have always been perfectly satisfactory. I expect to vote for him and work for his election, despite Stevenson's letter and both of the charges never proven. At election time that November of 1879, masterson was defeated for his second term as sheriff. However, the misleading campaign was successful. Four Masterson was beaten rather soundly by his opponent, george Hinkel. The final count for the voting showed that Hinkel won by 136 votes. In January 1880, bat took two prisoners to the Leavenworth prison, his last official act as sheriff of Ford County. On January 12th he gave his badge to George Hinkel, relinquishing at this time also his commission as deputy US Marshal. Some of Bat's friends had deserted him when he needed them, but a few of the real old timers never failed to speak up for him when his integrity was questioned, wrote Bob Wright in 1913. Notwithstanding, they have talked and published Bat as a robber and murderer and everything else. That is vile. There is nothing of the kind in his makeup. He is a leader of men in a natural born general, always accomplishing whatever he undertook. This is the reason he was sought after by the gang and recognized as their general. He had much natural ability and good, hard common sense, and if he had got started right, bat today would have been occupying a seat in the United States Senate instead of being a reporter for a newspaper. There is nothing low about him he is high toned and broad minded, cool and brave. The following years were restless ones for Masterson. He left Dodge in February 1880 to go on to Leadville where he was examining the prospect of going into business there. Hearing that the town of Gunnison was fast becoming wealthy, masterson moved there. However, the rumors of the purported mining bonanza in Gunnison didn't pan out and by mid-July he was back in Dodge. Yet in the latter part of 1880, the Times reported their former sheriff as being in Kansas City. Again, his stay was temporary. Finally, in February 1881, wyatt Earp telegraphed Bat Masterson to help him in Tombstone with the Slopers. After arriving in Tombstone, bat accepted a job from Bill Harris of the Oriental Saloon to deal Pharaoh and poker with Luke Short. Tombstone at this time was the wildest town in the frontier, due to the seemingly endless mining strikes that served as a lure for some of the West's worst citizens. On March 11, 1881, he was deputized by Wyatt Earp, who had moved there from Dodge in late 1880, and was now the deputy US Marshal for Tombstone to serve an aposite to track down a group of stage robbers. Sometime in 1881, jim Masterson, bat's brother, telegraphed Bat to come back to Dodge and help him settle a dispute with A J Peacock and Al Uptograph. The younger Jim Masterson and Peacock had previously got into a saloon business together. Uptograph, a brother-in-law of Peacock, had been hired by the two saloon keepers. A disagreement arose over the caliber of Uptograph's work and Jim demanded that the brother-in-law of Peacock be fired. Jim's partner, peacock, took offense at this and Jim Masterson thought there would be trouble and sent for his brother. When Dodge's former sheriff stepped from the train, bat saw Peacock and Uptograph going toward the depot. Bat called them to halt and both thought he met to kill them and ran behind the corner of the jail. Immediately the air resonated with the noise of gunfire. Some ten minutes later, mayor A B Webster arrested Bat and fined him for disturbing the peace. Masterson paid the fine and left Dodge City. It seemed that Dodge was now past his gun-loving days and couldn't recognize the presence of such a well-known former officer of the law. Just in 1882, masterson opened up a gambling concession in Trinidad. Then, in the spring of the same year, masterson ran across his old Dodge City adversary. While he was in Denver, doc Holliday had fled to Colorado from Arizona seeking to escape a murder rap Bat, by talking to the governor of Colorado, succeeded in persuading the governor to refuse to honor the extradition papers filed against Holliday. Masterson did this gesture more out of his fondness for Wyatt Earp, who was a good friend of Holliday, than for his love of the Frontier Killer. Because of Holliday's reputation as a killer and his unfriendly manner, masterson had never liked the man. Dodge's former sheriff returned to Dodge City in June of 1883 at the request of his old friend Luke Short, who ran a combination saloon and gambling establishment in Dodge. Mayor Webster had issued orders denying women free access to saloons. The mayor operating a saloon of his own imported a piano so that he might outdo his competitors Short and Harris. Luke Short was handy with a gun. He secured a piano and hired three girls to sing and play. Seeing the crowds that inhabited Luke Short's rival saloon, mayor Webster enacted city ordinances and ordered the police to arrest the girls from the Long Branch Saloon. Short, figuring he was being mistreated, wired Bat and asked him to put the grievance before the governor of Kansas. What resulted was the famous Dodge City Peace Commission. The commission was organized by the adjutant general of Kansas, including Bat Wyatt and a host of gunfighters. In Desperados of earlier days. In the presence of such formidable company, the trouble was readily straightened out and Short was soon doing a prosperous business once more. For the next two years, bat was in and out of Dodge. During this time he became associated with two diversions that would in future years stand him in good stead. In the latter part of 1884, he became the editor and proprietor of a daily newspaper called the Vox Populi in Dodge. Though the Trinidad News commented that he possessed real journalistic ability, the paper failed to survive the first edition. In August 1885, the old sheriff refereed a prize fight in Denver. The Denver News called him a ready umpire. The gunfighting days for William Barkley Masterson were over. The time had come to take up some profession that would give him a source of stability in his last years. Except for a final visit to Dodge City in 1886, in which he joined a temperance group and staged a general cleanup of Dodge, closing the saloons and ridding the town of gamblers, bat Masterson spent the next 15 years in Denver. Here he leased a gambling house called the Palace Theater. In between caring for his business and serving as a referee in many of Denver's prize fights, one managed to court a young burlesque showgirl named Emma Walter. They were married in 1891. Emma was born Emma Walter in Philadelphia, pennsylvania, on July 10, 1857. Her parents were John and Catherine Walter and she had two sisters, anna and Bertha. Before her marriage to Bat Masterson, emma was married to Edward Moulton on January 13, 1873, when she was 15 years old. In 1889, emma Moulton was a blonde song and dance performer at the Palace Theater and gambling parlor in Denver, colorado. It was there that Emma first met Bat Masterson. He was the manager of the establishment and soon after became the owner. Emma retired from the stage in 1892 when the couple married. After Emma obtained a divorce from Edward Moulton, the marriage to Edward Moulton ended in Denver, colorado, on November 9, 1893. Reportedly, the couple married on November 21, 1893, and Emma lived as Mrs Bat Masterson for the rest of her life. However, no official record of their marriage was ever found. Emma was childless and throughout her marriage to Bat she remained very much in the background. Few of Bat's friends ever knew her. She was quiet and reserved a direct opposite of her flamboyant husband. In 1902, the Mastersons moved to New York City. Shortly, teddy Roosevelt appointed Bat United States Deputy Marshal for the Southern District of New York. In 1903, masterson was hired as a particular writer on sporting and general topics for the New York Morning Telegraph. He later became its sports editor and the secretary of the Lewis Publishing Company and wrote a column entitled Masterson Views on Timely Topics. Reportedly, emma was the influence behind Bat's decision to pursue a career in journalism. On October 26th 1921, it was at his desk, while writing his column, that he died of a heart attack. One of the last of the West's frontier law officers had put away his guns for all time and had passed away. Any true Westerner would have wanted it with his boots on. Bat Masterson, like many of his confurls on the Western scene, has left behind him a legend. It could not be otherwise. The lawless environment with the conditions that prevailed in the cattle towns were conclusive to fostering the cereal. With Bat Masterson, as with Wyatt Earp, henry McCarty and John Henry Holiday, the legend was fed and nurtured by fellow admirers. On his death in 1921, the New York Tribune had this comment the two men who helped shape Masterson's career after Masterson left the frontier were Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Henry Lewis. The author of Western Short Stories who made Mr Masterson the hero of many a yarn. To Mr Lewis Bat is in debt for his becoming a frontier paragon. The author published a series of stories on the Old West in which Masterson was the main character. These stories were later put into a book entitled the Sunset Trail. Like Stuart and Lake, in his treatment of Wyatt Earp, lewis saw Masterson as the law officer who could do no wrong. He has him shooting many more men than he ever did, handling melodramatic events with an apparent appeal to the curious and, above all, evidencing the character of a Western Superman.

Speaker 2:

Brad, since this is the last episode of the Life and Times of Bat Masterson, I would like for us to reflect on some of Masterson's achievement. What were Masterson's greatest accomplishments, especially in his role in settling the West?

Speaker 1:

Well, I would say that Bat Masterson's greatest accomplishment was surviving especially well into the 20th century, like he did, most of the greats, the legends of the American West that we tell stories about, like you know, while Bill Hickok and some of the others died, if not still early in their careers, died well before the invention or the kind of development of modern 20th century pop culture. They lived and died while the West was the Wild West, instead of into the 20th century when people were telling stories and building the legends of the American West. And for those who did survive into that guys like Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp who lived even a few years longer they were able to not just sort of be the heroes of their own story, as other people were telling them, but they could continue to tell their own story, whether it be the real version or the fictional version. They understood their role and Bat Masterson especially, he very much understood hit, the significant role that he played in the development and I guess you could call it civilizing of the West. He knew that and he could continue to tell that to the young up and comers who many times had not even been born while Bat was doing the great things that we were, the stories that we're now telling.

Speaker 2:

The next question I have for you would Wyatt Earp's legend exist as it does today without the panionship of Bat Masterson?

Speaker 1:

That is a very good question. I like that and kind of timely actually is. One thing that I've said for years and years is that you can tell the story of Dodge City specifically without Wyatt Earp. It's not as interesting of a story, but you can do it. You cannot say the same thing about Bat Masterson. Now, granted, that is specifically Dodge City. However, the two men cemented their life, their career and the men that they were and were going to become while working together in Dodge City, and I happen to notice which why I said it's a very timely question is very recently at least as of the time of this recording. I happen to notice a Bobbo's bell with the true West magazine recorded a YouTube video entitled if it wasn't for Bat Masterson, would you have ever heard of Wyatt Earp? And I've met Mr Bell a couple of times. I didn't think he'd necessarily been reading my diary, but I guess he's formed the same opinion as I think most Western historians would. And I would occasionally actually go back to a question that Bat Masterson received during an interview. That was and forgive me, I cannot remember the exact quote, but essentially it was you know, bat, tell us the real story of the American West and Bat's reply, in typical humorous, sarcastic Bat fashion, was the real story of the West will never be told until Wyatt Earp tells it, and he ain't talking. So that was their relationship between the two. I've never formed the opinion that Bat and Wyatt were necessarily friends. However, they were very respectful of each other during their their own serving career and throughout their lives. After they no longer really had contact with each other, they spoke very highly of each other until the day they died. I think Wyatt would very much have formed his own legend, if you will, but it would have been very different and I think it's a hard question to answer because certainly it's all hypothetical. It was again, it was Dodge City who made both men and again at the same time they bounced off of each other. Their career was in part formed by each other in the work that they did together. So I do think that Wyatt would have, especially given the fact that he also lived well into the 20th century and was able to continue to tell his own legend through his biographer Lake and others. But it would have been perhaps quieter, more subdued, maybe more like like an Emmett Dalton type, who also did survive, or even Frank James, who lived much longer after the events that we mostly know them. For that it would be very difficult to tell the story of the West without either one.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, brad, for giving us that insight to the Life and Times of Bat Masterson. It's been an enjoyable episode to cover the full life of Bat Masterson, from the time he hit the Buffalo Fields and then his Life and Times in Dodge City and all the way to his end when he was a writer for a newspaper. Again, this is the end of this episode and we appreciate everyone being a part of these series.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for listening to our podcast. Join us next time as we take you back to the aftermath and the Battle of the Washitaugh. You can learn more about the Legends of Dodge City by visiting our website at worldfamousgunfightersweeblycom. If you would like to purchase one of our books, you can go to worldfamousgunfightersweeblycomhtml. Thank you.

Bat Masterson and the Gorge War
Bat Masterson