Masterson's Custom Colt

Bat Masterson's Custom 1885 Colt Single Action Army Revolver, and the story of his Service as Marshall of Dodge City, Kansas.
Bat Masterson

Dodge City Badges were worn by Bat Masterson (county sheriff), his brother, Ed Masterson, (a City Marshall killed in the line of duty) and Wyatt Earp (also a City Marshal), among others.  It was their job  to impose order on this wild, western Kansas cowtown where railroad workers, buffalo hunters, soldiers from Ft. Dodge and cowhands came to drink, carouse and fight.

Matt Dillon—TV’s fictional U.S. Marshall headquartered in Dodge City—was probably a composite of several lawmen who actually wore a badge and enforced the law in the Kansas cowtown.  Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp were two of the more famous lawmen who patrolled the mean streets of Dodge City, breaking up fights and curtailing further violence by disarming and arresting the drunk, rowdy and contentious revelers that flocked to the saloons, brothels and gambling tables.

Bat Masterson had a custom-made 1885 .45 caliber Colt Single-action Army (SAA) revolver that had a specially-made hammer that was exceptionally fast on release.  It was his personal preference to help him survive a gunfight.  The front sight was also a little taller and thicker than on the ordinary model, another of his preferences.  The revolver was nickel plated and polished to a high shine.   It had a claw-shaped scratch on the side plate, and a number "1" engraved on the loading gate.

Bat Masterson

Armed with Navy Colt revolvers and steely nerves, both Masterson and Wyat Earp had a reputation for being quick on the draw and deadly with a gun.  The fearsome reputation usually made it unnecessary for either to draw their weapons, much less shoot anybody.  A rowdy or belligerent drunk could usually be subdued by a rap on the head with the long barrel or heavy butt of a Navy Colt, and few sober men were willing to risk their lives by drawing down on a legend.

Dodge City, Kansas was born June 17, 1872 on the windswept prairie five miles west of the Fort Dodge military reservation. The new settlement included a barroom in a tent, and a three-room sod house that had been built in 1871 by pioneer rancher, Henry Sitler.

The location was significant: Liquor was prohibited in Fort Dodge, so the fledgling town was located close enough to attract business from the soldiers in the “dry” fort, but still remain legally outside its bounds. Other businesses soon followed the barroom, and on August 15, the town was organized as Buffalo City. In October the name was changed to Dodge City. There was already a Buffalo, Kansas, and the U.S. Post Office had a policy of avoiding duplicate names within the same state to avoid confusion in delivering the mail.

But Ford County, Kansas, where the town sprang up, was still a wilderness with no government, much less organized law enforcement. The county didn’t even have a sheriff until 1873. Dodge City, itself, was not formally incorporated until 1875–and it was during this two years of anarchy that the town acquired its reputation as a dangerous and violent haven for the lawless.

The military-the only vestige of government in the vicinity–had no jurisdiction outside the fort. The newly completed Atchison, Santa Fe and Topeka railroad track had turned Dodge City into a boomtown with many businesses, including multiple saloons and brothels. Buffalo hunters, railroad workers, cattle drovers and soldiers from the nearby fort fought in the streets, which inevitably led to shootings.  Men died with their boots on in quick, violent bursts of gunfire ignited by free-flowing liquor, which led to the creation of a “Boot Hill” cemetery, further fueling the town’s reputation for violence.

The first recorded killing in Dodge City was in September, 1872. During the year that followed, fifteen men would die in the lawless streets and be planted on Boot Hill, giving rise to the city’s reputation as a haven for lawless hooligans and gunslingers. Law enforcement, when it came, was a combination of rough vigilante justice and deputies whose methods were as violent as the lawbreakers.

Bat Masterson's Custom 1885 Colt SAA Revolver

Two political factions existed in 1873–those who wanted the town to remain wide-open to liquor, gambling and prostitution, and those who felt the town’s growing reputation as a violent and dangerous place was bad for business. The law and order crowd won out, and a sheriff was appointed. The appointee, Charlie Bassett, was re-elected in 1875.

By 1875, the great buffalo slaughter had ended, and the huge revenues flowing into Dodge City from processing and shipping buffalo hides had ended. Longhorn cattle from Texas became the town’s main source of revenue, arriving v i a the Chisolm and Western Trails to be shipped on to final destinations by rail.  Of course each herd arrived with its coterie of trail-weary cowboys ready to bust out, party and shoot up the town, so law and order was needed more than ever.

When Charlie Bassett–who began the trend toward more civilized law enforcement in Dodge–could not be elected to a third term according to the state constitution, William B. “Bat” Masterson was elected Ford County sheriff in 1877. Aside from his reputation as a deadly gunman, the dapper Masterson was famous for his derby hat and the gold-tipped cane he adopted after being wounded in a gunfight in 1876, ironically the one and only time he ever actually killed a man in a gunfight.

Order was imposed–as it often was in the Old West–via a city ordinance prohibiting firearms within the city limits, though the ordinance in Dodge City wasn’t all-inclusive. To pacify the “wide-open” advocates, the railroad tracks became the demarcation line. North of the tracks, no guns could be carried. South of the tracks was still wide-open to booze, madams and mayhem.

Lawrence Deger, the first city marshal of Dodge, was appointed by the mayor in 1875.  After Deger, the Dodge City marshal’s office was occupied by a number of men with familiar names in western history, including Wyatt Earp (1876-1879) and Bill Tilghman (1884-1886).

NOTE: There seems to be some debate whether Wyatt Earp served as a city marshall or a deputy marshall. He was quoted as claiming he served as a marshall, and some city documents from that period in Dodge City verify that. However, the term "marshal’ was used pretty loosely in those days, and could have meant either. It is verified fact that he and Bat Masterson became acquainted through working as lawmen together in Dodge City, and that they remained lifelong friends as a result of that association.

Firearm Type: Single-Action Revolver (Custom-made with special hammer action)
Nation Of Manufacture: USA
Military Service Dates : Bat Masterson (1853-1921)
Variations: Colt Single-Action Army (SAA)
Ammunition: .45 Colt
Wars: Bat Masterson, Marshall of Dodge City, Kansas  (1883-1884)
Recent Prices at Auction for Originals: Priceless Irreplaceable Original

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