F.lli Pietta

Pietta brothers’ tribute to the other Bat Masterson famous Hero of black and white Westerns 1/3

“When the West was very young,

There lived a man named Masterson;

He wore a cane and a bowler hat,

They called him Bat, Bat Masterson.”

In the days of black-and-white television, our heroes were extraordinary, confined as they were to a small screen inside a large wooden cabinet. In our house it was a Packard Bell in a mahogany cabinet. The knob for changing channels was in one corner below the screen, and the volume button was in the other. In the center was a panel with an opening cover that contained buttons for possible changes: fine-tuning, brightness, and contrast, the essential changes for black-and-white TV.

The entire lower part of the cabinet was a speaker placed behind a cloth, whose color blended with that of the wooden parts. It was a fascinating machine that could, in one night, go to Dodge City and follow the exploits of a man who represented law and order in a town that lacked it, Bat Masterson.

The real Bartholomew “William Barclay Bat” Masterson was a man made such by life on the frontier, a buffalo and deer hunter, skinner and horseman; a life Masterson lived long before he became sheriff in Dodge City. The TV Bat Masterson was a showman, Gene Barry, who had the look, attitude, and style that the real-life Bat Masterson advertised as his own in his writings and photographs.

Bat became a journalist after hanging up his six-guns, and much of what was portrayed in the TV series was based on his real life. The same was true for The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O’Brian as Earp. The stories were based on his real life, or one written by Stuart Lake. Both represented the Old West, more as it could be portrayed on television, respecting its limits related to censorship and guidelines, which meant that rarely did anyone bleed after being shot, no one blasphemed, and the highest actions in life were enacted by characters who made bad decisions, who did not follow good manners, and who planned unscrupulous crimes to rob banks, rob wagon trains, steal cattle, steal land, water rights, and, of course, cheat and cheat at cards.

The bad guys were countered every week by Bat’s cane, gun, fists or wits. Buffalo Bill Cody would have called it a good play on the West.

Bat Masterson’s real life tested him with both Sharps rifles as a hunter and Colt revolvers as an American cavalry scout, having been drafted in 1874 by Colonel Nelson A. Miles. Masterson worked as a scout for the cavalry until the spring of 1875, when he briefly resumed buffalo hunting.

A year later he was involved in his first shootout in Sweetwater, Texas, with a cavalry sergeant named Melvin A. King. The dispute occurred over a woman named Mollie Brennan, and as Wyatt Earp wrote in connection with the incident, King entered the Lady Gay saloon and opened fire on Masterson and Brennan, killing her and hitting Bat in the side.

Masterson was able to get his hands on his own weapon and knock King down with a shot to the heart. There are several versions regarding the development of the shooting, according to some King ambushed Masterson and Brennan, according to others it was a face-to-face shootout in the Lady Gay saloon, but all end the same way, with Mollie Brennan killed, Bat seriously wounded, and King dead. The injury left Masterson permanently lame and consequently with what-as an obligatory consequence-would become his trademark, his cane.

When Bat returned to Dodge City in the late spring of 1876 he found a city devoid of rules and with little law enforcement, a city that theHays City Sentinel baptized “the dry branch of Kansas…whose borders were the meeting place of all the scape-goers without an occupation of the seven states. Its chief is polygamy, its code of honor is the morality of thieves, and it knows no decency…” The masthead The Kinsley Graphic was somewhat less gentle, calling Dodge “…the beautiful biblical Babylon of the border.” And it was in Dodge City that Bat Masterson, his younger brother Ed, Wyatt Earp, and Charlie Bassett would earn their first reputations as lawmen by establishing this indomitable refuge.

Recent Posts