Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gunfighters of the Western Frontier

From the preface: "William Barclay Masterson, forever known as Bat to his friends and enemies alike, was born Bertholomiew {later Bartholomew} Masterson in Henryville, Quebec, Canada on November 26th, 1853. He died after a life of adventure, as fat and prosperous as a banker, in New York City on October 25th, 1921. Belying the dangers of his career as a buffalo hunter, scout, gambler, sheriff of several cowtowns in Kansas, and Deputy U.S. Marshal {for the Southern District of New York; he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905}, he ended his days as a newspaperman, writing a sports column for the Morning Telegraph {from 1903 onward} and dying at his desk.
During his sixty-seven years, Bat Masterson was friends with, enemies with, or knew by reputation nearly all the major figures of what is now called the Old West. From his early hunts with Tom Nixon, Bill Tilghman, and Billy Dixon {with whom Bat lived through the siege at Adobe Walls}, through his scouting days with Colonel {later General} Miles, to his friendship with Teddy Roosevelt and the Earps, he saw or heard of the exploits commemorated in hundreds of books, stage plays, television shows, and movies, including the ever-famous gunfight at the OK Corral.
History has been rewritten since the days when the Earps wore white hats and Marshal Dillon never made a pass at Miss Kitty, and our picture of that period is more complicated now than when we were children. The Old West was a lot safer, a lot poorer, and a lot less white-bread than movies and television made it out to be. There were more shootings and stabbings, per capita, in an average year in New York than in Dodge City during the cowboy era, just as there are today. There were more farmers and ranchers that went broke, or starved to death, than ever put together a spread like the King Ranch, or even the Ponderosa. There were Hispanic and black cowboys {after the Civil War} nearly equal in numbers to whites, tens of thousands of Chinese railroad workers, and German immigrants in Texas who outnumbered English-speakers in several counties. Ignoring the dozens of Native American nations, oft-maligned {including by Masterson himself} and much-abused in the rush to settle the frontier, there were a myriad other nations and languages represented that made the real Old West much more varied, and hell of a lot more interesting, than the one we watched on the silver screen at Saturday matinees downtown or on little black & white screens at home.
But revisionist historians cannot, yet, go back in time to see what actually happened. There were no movie or video cameras in the 1800s, and pitifully few still photographs. The best information we have is the recollections of those who were actually there, who saw the changes that swept over half the nation in half a century, from the 'howling wilderness' before the Civil War to the settled towns and cities at the beginning of the 1900s. This book is one such treasure, memories set down by a man who was there, who knew the people and the places, and who participated in the great deeds of the day. Are his stories tinged around the edges by fading or generous memory? Surely. No newspaperman, especially a sportswriter, can resist making reality a little bit better, a little more colorful. Without a time machine, we can only rely on these words to give us a sense of who these men were, what they did, and how the Old West really was.
Those of us who enjoy Cowboy Action Shooting™, or historical reenactments, or just dreaming about the cowboy life, wish we could visit the Old West. But the reality was, of course, far different than we like to envision. Before penicillin and anesthesia, before sanitary committees and clean water supplies, before modern dentistry {may the shade of Doc Holliday forgive me}, before paved streets and the replacement of horse droppings with auto exhaust, the Old West was far dirtier and deadlier than we imagine. Life was, indeed, 'short, brutish, and dull' out on the Ol' Prairie, as it was in the cities and towns the pioneers left behind. Even Bat Masterson once said, safely in New York, that he was 'quit with the West'. But it was a fascinating and glorious period, and there is much to enjoy, at this distance in time and comfort, in these tales of the hard men and the hard times of the late 1800s.
With his boots on his feet and with a pen, that deadliest of weapons, in his hand, W.B. Masterson was writing out his thrice-weekly newspaper column when he felt the end coming upon him, after a short illness he thought he'd survived. His last words...
...there are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose the ginks who argue that way hold that, because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in the winter, things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I'll swear I can't see it that way.
To see some of the unforgettable men, of a world that has vanished, through the eyes of Bat Masterson-- buffalo hunter, gambler, lawman, and writer-- order the book below.

Gunfighters of the Western Frontier
76 pages
11.00" x 8.50"
Softcover, black & white photographs and text {with a map of mentioned places of the Western Frontier}
Order the newer (and cheaper) version from CreateSpace.