The Wild West Lawman
And The Kid From The
Lower East Side
by Bobby Franklin
If you are of a certain age you are probably familiar with Bat Masterson from the TV series in which Gene Barry played the dapper lawman. Barry’s version was of a well dressed gambler who subdued most of the villains by batting them over the head with his gold-knobbed cane.
Masterson was also the subject of a collection of Damon Runyon short stories published under the title of Guys and Dolls. The stories were turned into a Broadway musical and later a successful adaptation of the play into a hit movie. In the 1955 film version the character Sky Masterson was played by Marlon Brando.
The character of Bat Masterson was also used as the basis for a number of other movies and television series as well as books, short stories, and even comic books. He really became the stuff of legend, and with good reason.
Masterson was born William Barclay Masterson on November 26, 1853 in Quebec, Canada. As a young man he followed Horace Greeley’s advice and went West were he and his brothers worked on a section of track for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The subcontractor who hired them skipped out without paying the boys but Bat would later track the man down and see he paid his debt to them.
Masterson was also a buffalo hunter and Indian fighter. He was an involuntary participant in the Battle of the Adobe Walls, a five day siege in the Texas panhandle. From this experience Bat went on to to become a U.S. Army scout and was stationed at Fort Dodge.
He had also earned a reputation as a gambler and gunfighter, settling in Dodge City where he became the sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. He would eventually leave Dodge City and move to Tombstone, Arizona where he became friends with Wyatt Earp. The two would be participants in the “Dodge City War”.
Masterson was involved in many other exploits and it appears the man was even more interesting than the legend. He took a keen interest in prizefighting. He was present at the John L. Sullivan vs Jake Kilrain bareknuckle fight as well as the Sullivan/Corbett bout in New Orleans. Masterson had laid a bet down on Corbett in that contest. He would later work as a second for Charley Mitchell when Mitchell challenged Corbett for the title.
After trying his hand at operating a couple of boxing clubs Bat moved to New York City where he became a columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph. He wrote about a number of different topics but his focus was mostly on boxing. He also worked as a timekeeper for many fights, most notably the Johnson/Willard fight in Havana, Cuba.
The last fight he attended was the Dempsey/Carpentier bout on July 2, 1921. On October 25, 1921 Bat Masterson died in his office after writing what would become his final column for the Telegraph. Here’s where Sam Taub comes into the story.
Sam Taub was born on New York’s Lower East Side in 1886. With the advent of radio he would go on to become famous as the pioneer of blow by blow broadcasting from ringside. Later he would do the same on television calling the shots for the first televised boxing match, the 1941 bout between Lou Nova and Max Baer. For decades he wrote the column “Up And Down Old Broadway” for Ring Magazine. My friend author Paul Beston recalls a quote from that colorful column. Writing about the famous Long Count fight between Dempsey and Tunney, Taub wrote “As for Jack Dempsey, he accepted the outcome and never complained. HE knew who was to blame for the Long Count. That’s how it was long, long ago.”
Taub was among the best known boxing journalists of the 20th Century. He got his start at the New York Morning Telegraph working as an office boy for, you guessed it, Bat Masterson. The day Masterson died young Sam Taub heard him call out. When he came into Bat’s office the legendary lawman was having a fatal heart attack. Sam grabbed ahold of him as he took his last breath. In his later years Taub would sometimes introduce himself with the words “I’m the guy in whose arms Bat Masterson Died.”
Both of these men were colorful characters, the kind that will never be seen again. The kind that were drawn to boxing when it was truly an interesting sport filled with unusual people. What other sport would bring together a poor Jewish kid from New York’s Lower East Side and a gunfighter from the Wild West?