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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas Law and Order
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Editors Note: The following is a fictional account of how Bat Masterson became the Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. 

This came long after the battle at the ’Dobe Walls, and was of the year next before Dull Knife, that Red Richard of the Cheyennes, with one hundred and forty-eight followers, two-thirds of whom were squaws and pappooses, broke from the soldiers and fought his way to his old home in the North, whipping the cavalry once, twice, thrice; yielding only and at last to the lying treachery of Red Cloud and his Sioux police. It was a great trail that last long running fight of Dull Knife, and proved his heart good and his “medicine” strong. Some one some day ought to write the story high among the gallant deeds of men. However, here is not the place nor this the time; for what comes after is to be a tale of stratagem, not battle; politics, not war.

Commonly the face of Dodge was as open and frank and care-free as the face of a Waterbury watch. On the occasion in hand it wore a look of occupation and serious business. This business expression was fairly founded; a sheriff for Ford County must be selected, the gentleman who had filled that post of trust being undeniably dead.

The passing of that sheriff was curious. One morning he rode forth, and fording the Arkansas at the Cimarron Crossing, made south and west for Sand Creek. And thereafter he never rode back. It was understood that he bore official papers to serve upon a certain miscreant who dwelt on Sand Creek. The Sand Creek miscreant having bought goods of Mr. Wright, later jeered at the suggestion that he pay, and Mr. Wright had been driven to ask aid of the law.

Three days after the sheriff splashed through the Cimarron Crossing his pony was picked up by cow people, saddled, bridled, and in the best of spirits, close by the river where the lush grass grows most to a pony’s taste. It did not escape experienced eyes that, when the pony was thus recovered, the bridle reins were properly upon its neck and had not been lifted over its head, to hang by the bits and drag about its hoofs. Later, the missing one’s six-shooter and belt, the latter tooth-marked, together with shreds of clothing, scraps of leather leggings, and sundry bones gnawed white, were found an hour’s ride out on the trail. The pistol possessed a full furnishment of six unexploded cartridges. Also, the tooth-marked belt and those fragmentary reminders, scattered here and there and all about for the round area of a mile, offered much to support a belief that the late officer, in his final expression, had become of gustatory moment to coyotes, which grey beggarmen of the plains were many and hungry in those parts.

When the evidence recounted was all in, the wisdom of Dodge made divers deductions. These found setting forth in the remarks of Mr. Wright, the same being delivered to Mr. Short and others in the Long Branch saloon.

“Those bridle reins on the pony’s neck,” observed Mr. Wright, inspired to the explanation by Old Jordan and a local curiosity which appealed to him as among the best intelligences in camp, “those bridle reins on the pony’s neck shows that Dave went out o’ the saddle a heap sudden. If Dave had swung to the grass of his own will he’d have lifted the reins over the pony’s head, so’s to keep that equine standin’ patient to his call.”

“Don’t you reckon, Bob,” broke in Mr. Short, “your Sand Creek bankrupt bushwhacks Dave?”

“No; Dave wasn’t shot out o’ the saddle, the six loads in his gun bein’ plenty on that point. It’s preposterous that an old hand like Dave, in an open country, too, could have been rubbed out, an’ never get a shot. Dave wasn’t that easy. Besides, if the Sand Creek hold-up had bumped Dave off, he’d have cinched the pony. Gents, the idea I entertain is that Dave, in a fit of abstraction, permits himself to be bucked off. Landin’ on his head that a-way, his neck naturally gets broke.”

The Wright theory having been adopted, Dodge, in addition to the serious business look, took on an atmosphere of disappointment which trenched upon the mournful. Not that the late sheriff’s death preyed upon Dodge. Dodge was aware of sheriffs in their evanescence. They were as grass; they came up like the flowers to be cut down. What discouraged Dodge was the commonplace character of that officer’s exit, as so convincingly explained by Mr. Wright. Nothing had been left wherewith to gild a story and tantalize the envious ears of rivalry. To be chucked from a careless saddle to the dislocation of an equally careless neck was not a proud demise.

By Western tenets the only honourable departure would have been the one usual and official. The sheriff who would quit his constituents under noblest conditions must perish in the smoke of conflict, defending communal order and the threatened peace of men. Obviously he must not be pitched from his own pony to fatten coyotes.

“For,” as Cimarron Bill was moved to observe, “to be bucked into a better life, inadvertent, is as onromatic as bein’ kicked to glory by an ambulance mule.”

Had the late sheriff gone down before the lawless muzzle of some desperate personage, bent, as runs the phrase, on “standing Dodge on its head,” what exhilarating ceremonies would have been the fruit! The desperate personage, on the hocks of that snuffing out, would have been earnestly lynched. The slain sheriff, his head pillowed in his saddle, his guns by his side, would have lain in state. Dodge, crape on its sombrero and with bowed head, would have followed the catafalque, while a brass band boomed the dead march; the rites, conducted in a mood of gloomy elevation, would have aroused the admiration of an entire border. All these good advantages were denied Dodge, and it was that funeral loss which clouded the public brow. The possibilities would now be exhausted when the fate of the once sheriff was officially noticed, and the vacancy thus arranged had been filled.

And now a new sheriff must be chosen. Dodge, politically speaking, was all there was of Ford County. Politics, in the sinister sense of party, had never reared its viper head in Dodge; there existed no such commodity of misrule. Also, the station of sheriff was of responsible gravity. Thus, indeed, thought Dodge; and went upon that sheriff-mongering with care.

“My idea of a sheriff,” vouchsafed Mr. Short, “is one who, while he does not wear his six-shooters for ornament, can be relied on not to go shootin’ too promiscuous. The prosperity of Dodge swings and rattles on the boys who drive the herds. It isn’t commercially expedient to put a crimp in one of ’em for trivial cause. Of course, should the most free-handed consumer that ever tossed his _dinero_ across a counter pull his hardware for blood, it is obvious that he must be downed. The demand of the hour is for a sheriff who can discriminate on the lines I’ve laid down.”

This and more was said. When discussion had been exhausted Mr. Trask, with a view of focussing suggestion, advanced the name of Mr. Masterson. Mr. Wright, as well as Mr. Short, was prompt with his support.

“For,” said Mr. Wright, “where can you find a cooler head or a quicker gun than Bat’s?”

“But Bat ain’t here none,” explained Cimarron Bill. “He’s down on the Medicine Lodge, killin’ buffalo; his camp’s in Walker’s Timber.”

It was apparent that the better element, that is to say, the better shots, favoured Mr. Masterson. An informal count displayed among his supporters such popular towers as Mr. Wright, Mr. Trask, Mr. Short, and Mr. Kelly. Mr. Short was emphatic in his partisanship.

“Not only,” explained Mr. Short, “is Bat cool an’ steady, but, bar Mike Sutton, he’s the best educated sharp in Dodge.”

Cimarron Bill, who seemed born to ride bad ponies, saddled a bronco whose studied villainy of disposition was half atoned for by an ability to put one hundred miles between himself and his last feed. Cimarron Bill had been directed to bring in Mr. Masterson.

“An’ don’t tell him what’s in the wind,” warned Mr. Wright. “Bat’s modest, an’ if you spring this on him plumb abrupt it might shock him so he wouldn’t come.”

“What’ll I tell him, then?” demanded Cimarron Bill. “I shore can’t rope up Bat without a word an’ drag him yere with my pony.”

“Here’s what you do,” said Mr. Short. “Tell him I’m goin’ to run, with Updegraffe up for the opp’sition. Tell him that Walker of the Cross K, an’ B’ar Creek Johnson are ag’in me. That would fetch Bat from the Rio Grande.”


On the south bank of the Medicine Lodge was a horseshoe bend, and the enclosed forty acres, thick-sown of trees, were known as Walker’s Timber. Here was pitched the buffalo camp of Mr. Masterson, and therefrom, aided and abetted by his brother Ed and Mr. Tighlman, he issued forth against the buffaloes, slaying them serenely, to his profit and the fullfed joy of sundry coyotes and ravens that attended faithfully his hunting.

It was in the earlier darkness of the evening, and Mr. Masterson was sitting by his campfire, peering into a little memorandum book by the dancing light of the flames. In this book, with a stubby pencil, he soberly jotted down a record of the day’s kill.

“We’ve made eight hundred and thirty-three robes, Billy,” observed Mr. Masterson to Mr. Tighlman, who was busy over a bake-kettle containing all that was mortal of two hen turkeys—wild and young and lively the night before. “And,” concluded Mr. Masterson, with just a shade of pride in his tones, “I fetched them with precisely eight hundred and thirty-three cartridges, the nearest bull four hundred yards away.”

Mr. Tighlman grunted applause of the rifle accuracy of Mr. Masterson. Mr. Tighlman was the camp’s cook, having a mysterious genius for biscuits, and knowing to a pinch what baking-powder was required for a best biscuit result.

Mr. Tighlman presently announced supper by beating the side of the bake-kettle with the back of a butcher-knife. The challenge brought Ed Masterson from the drying-grounds, where he had been staking out and scraping, with an instrument that resembled a short-handed adz, the fresh hides of that day’s hunt. Mr. Masterson put away his roster of buffalo dead and made ready to compliment Mr. Tighlman in the way in which cooks like best to be praised.

Suddenly there came a sound as of some one crossing the little river. Each of the three seized his rifle and rolled outside the circle of firelight. It was as one hundred to one there abode no danger; the Cheyennes had not yet recovered from the calmative influences of the Black Kettle war. Still, it was the careful practice of the plains to distrust all things after dark.

“Go back to your fire,” shouted a voice from out the shadows. “Do you-all prairie dogs reckon that, if I was goin’ to jump your camp, I’d come walloppin’ across in this egregious style?”

“It’s Cimarron Bill,” exclaimed Mr. Masterson, discarding his rifle in favour of renewed turkey.

Cimarron Bill tore the saddle off the malevolent bronco and hobbled him.

“Whoopee!” he shouted softly, as he pushed in by the fire and pulled the bake-kettle towards him; “I’m hungry enough to eat a saddle cover.”

Cimarron Bill, being exhaustively fed, laid forth his mission mendaciously. He related the vacancy in the office of sheriff, and said that it was proposed to fill the same with Mr. Short. Cimarron Bill, seeing a chance to tell a little truth, explained that the opposition would put up Mr. Updegraffe.

“Who’s behind Updegraffe?” asked Mr. Masterson.

The veracious Cimarron Bill enumerated Mr. Webster of the Alamo, Mr. Peacock of the Dance Hall, Mr. Walker of the Cross-K, and Bear Creek Johnson.

This set Mr. Masterson on edge.

“We’ll start by sun-up,” quoth Mr. Masterson. “Ed and Billy can pick up the camp.”


When Mr. Masterson discovered how he had been defrauded into Dodge, and learned of those honours designed for him, his modesty took alarm.

“I didn’t think, Cimarron,” said Mr. Masterson, in tones of reproach, “that you’d cap me up against a game like this!” Then he refused squarely to consider himself a candidate.

“But it’s too late, Bat,” explained Mr. Short. “You’ve already been in the field two days, with Updegraffe in opposition. If you refuse to run they’ll say you crawfished.”

Mr. Short spoke with sly triumph, for it was his chicane which had announced Mr. Masterson as a candidate. He had foreseen its value as an argument.

The sagacity of Mr. Short was justified; Mr. Masterson was plainly staggered. His name had been used; his opponent was in the field; Mr. Masterson could find no avenue of retreat. It was settled; Mr. Masterson must be a candidate for sheriff of Ford.

The great contest of Masterson against Updegraffe had occupied the public four days when Mr. Peacock, Mr. Webster and Mr. Walker, acting for Mr. Updegraffe, waited upon Mr. Wright, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Short, who received them on behalf of Mr. Masterson. Mr. Peacock, for the Updegraffe three, made primary explanation. He and his fellow commissioners had observed a falling off in trade. The Alamo was not taking in one-half its normal profits; the same was true of the Dance Hall. The Updegraffe committee asked Mr. Short if an abatement of prosperity had not occurred at the Long Branch, and put the same question concerning the Alhambra to Mr. Kelly. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Short, being appealed to, confessed a business slackness.

“But you know,” observed Mr. Kelly, philosophically, “how it is in business; it’s a case of come-an’-go, like the old woman’s soap.”

Mr. Webster believed the falling off due to an election interest which engulfed the souls of folk.

“It takes their minds off such amusements as roulette an’ farobank an’ rum,” explained Mr. Webster. “Besides, the people of Dodge are a mighty cautious outfit. Dodge won’t take chances; an’ at a ticklish time like this Dodge sobers up.”

“There may be something in that,” mused Mr. Short. “But, coming down to the turn, what was it you jack-rabbits wanted to say?”

“This is the proposition,” said Mr. Webster, “an’ we make it for the purpose of gettin’ the racket over without delay. Our idea is to set the time for a week from now, round up the votin’ population in the Plaza, say at eight o’clock in the evenin’, an’ count noses, Masterson ag’in Updegraffe, high man win. That’s the offer we make. You gents will need an hour to look it over, an’ we’ll return at the end of that time an’ get your answer.”

“How do you figure this?” asked Mr. Wright of his fellow committeemen when the Updegraffe delegation had departed. “Is it a deadfall?”

“Strange as it may sound,” responded Mr. Short, “considerin’ what liars that outfit is, I’m obliged to admit that for once they’re on the squar’.”

Mr. Kelly coincided with Mr. Short, and it was finally agreed that the proffer of the Updegraffe contingent should be accepted.

“We’re with you,” said Mr. Short when Mr. Webster and the others returned, “but not on selfish grounds. We base our action on the bluff that the peace of Dodge requires protection, an’ that the office of sheriff, now vacant, should be promptly filled.”

“Then the election is settled,” said Mr. Webster, who was a practical man, “for eight o’clock in the evenin’, one week from today, to be pulled off in the Plaza?”

“That’s the caper,” retorted Mr. Short, and the commissions adjourned.

The canvass went forward in lively vein, albeit, as Mr. Webster had complained, there was a notable falling away in the local appetite for rum. Plainly, Dodge had turned wary in a day that wore a six-shooter, and under circumstances which tested the tempers of men. Evidently, it had determined that while this election crisis lasted, its hand should remain steady and its head cool.

It was five days before the one appointed for, as Mr. Webster called it, “a count of noses” in the Plaza. The friends of Mr. Masterson developed an irritating fact. There were, man added to man, four hundred and twelve votes in Dodge; of these a careful canvass betrayed two hundred and twelve as being for Mr. Updegraffe—a round majority of twelve.

This disquieting popular condition was chiefly the work of Bear Creek Johnson. The malign influence of that disreputable person controlled full forty votes, being the baser spirits; and these now threatened the defeat of Mr. Masterson.

Cimarron Bill, when he grasped the truth, was for cleansing Dodge of Bear Creek with a Colt’s-45. These sanitary steps, however, were forbidden by Mr. Masterson; at that the worthy Cimarron tendered a compromise. He would agree to do no more than mildly wing the offensive Bear Creek.

“No,” said Mr. Masterson, “don’t lay hand to gun. I’m not going to have Abilene and Hays pointing fingers of scorn at Dodge as being unable to elect a peace officer of the county without somebody getting shot. Besides, it isn’t necessary; I’ll beat ’em by strategy.”

Cimarron Bill, withheld from that direct aid to Mr. Masterson which his simple nature suggested, groaned in his soul. Observing his grief, Mr. Masterson detailed Mr. Tighlman to be ever at Cimarron Bill’s elbow, ready to repress that volatile recruit in case his feelings got beyond control and sought relief in some sudden bombardment of the felon Bear Creek.

That profligate, thus protected, pursued his election efforts in behalf of Mr. Updegraffe cunningly, being all unchecked. His methods were not unmarked of talent; this should be a specimen:

“What party be you for?” Bear Creek demanded of an Ishmael who lived precariously by chuck-a-luck. The one addressed was of so low a caste that he would accept a wager of ten cents. This put him beneath the notice of such as Mr. Short, whose limit was one hundred and two hundred, and in whose temple of fortune, the Long Branch, white chips were rated at fifty dollars a stack. “Which is it? Masterson or Updegraffe?”

“Well,” returned the Ishmael of chuck-a-luck, doubtfully, “I sort o’ allow that Bat Masterson’s the best man.”

“You do!” retorted the abandoned Bear Creek, disgustedly. “Now listen to me. What does a ten-cent hold-up like you want of the best man? You want the worst man, an’ so I tell you! Make it Updegraffe,” concluded Bear Creek, convincingly, “an’ you stay in Dodge. Make it Masterson, an’ he’ll make you an’ every other tinhorn hard to find.”

It was in that fashion the industrious Bear Creek piled up the majority of twelve. Unless something was done Mr. Masterson would sup disaster, and even the conservative Mr. Kelly whispered that he really thought the plan of Cimarron Bill, for the abatement of Bear Creek, possessed a merit.

“Let me think this over a bit,” said Mr. Masterson to Mr. Kelly.

That night Mr. Masterson met Mr. Kelly, Mr. Wright and Mr. Short at the Long Branch and laid bare a plan. Its simplicity impressed Mr. Masterson’s hearers; Mr. Wright even waxed enthusiastic.

“It’ll win!” he cried, smiting the poker table about which the four were gathered.

“It shore looks it,” coincided Mr. Short. “In any event we lose nothin’; we can always fall back on the guns.”

At the latter intimation Mr. Kelly nodded solemnly. While not mercurial, Mr. Kelly was in many of his characteristics one with Cimarron Bill. There were questions over which their honest natures met and sympathised.

Acting on the plan of Mr. Masterson, Mr. Wright and Mr. Short and Mr. Kelly craved in their turn a conference with the Updegraffe three.

“It is this, gents, that troubles us,” began Mr. Wright, when the committees found themselves together for the second time. “There are hot and headlong sports on our side as there are on yours. If we convene in the Plaza, as we’ve arranged, there’ll be bloodshed. I’m afraid we couldn’t restrain some of the more violent among us; indeed, to be entirely frank, I’m afraid I couldn’t even restrain myself. And yet, there’s a way, gents, in which danger may be avoided. Let us abandon that clause which provides for a count of noses in the Plaza. The end in view can be attained by having it understood that at eight o’clock the Masterson forces are to rally in the Long Branch, and the Updegraffe people in Mr. Peacock’s Dance Hall. Thus the two sides may be counted separately and the chance of deadly collision eliminated. We will set our watches together so that the count shall occur at eight o’clock sharp. Mr. Kelly for our side will be at the Dance Hall to act with Mr. Peacock in a count of the Updegraffe votes, while Mr. Webster for your interests is welcome to come to the Long Branch to aid Mr. Short in a round-up of the strength of Mr. Masterson. The two forces being out of gunshot of each other, the attendance will be freer and more untrammelled. Following the count Mr. Short and Mr. Kelly, Mr. Webster and Mr. Peacock will come together and declare the result. There of course will be no appeal, unless those appealing aim at civil war.”

As Mr. Wright talked on, suavely, smoothly, laying down each feature of his design, a slow look of relief stole into the faces of Mr. Webster and Mr. Peacock. Even the more hardy features of Mr. Walker were not untouched.

There had been doubts tugging at the Updegraffe three. True, the majority of twelve was theirs, but the weight of valour stood overwhelmingly with Mr. Masterson. The offer of a safe separation of forces was a relief, and Mr. Peacock, Mr. Walker and Mr. Webster lost no time in accepting. Notices were posted proclaiming an election after the scheme laid down by Mr. Wright.

It was election night; only the enterprising and those with votes and guns were abroad in Dodge. The rival clans of Masterson and Updegraffe began to gather, respectively, at the Long Branch and the Dance Hall. There was never a ripple of disorder; nothing could be finer than that peace which was. Ten minutes before eight o’clock, the hour fixed for the count, the strength of each had convened.

The Updegraffe people were jubilant; every man belonging to them being in the Dance Hall, that majority of twelve was sure. The minutes went ticking themselves into eternity, and the watches of Mr. Kelly and Mr. Peacock registered one minute before eight. In sixty seconds the count in the Dance Hall would take place.

At the Long Branch, where the followers of Mr. Masterson filled the rooms, conditions were much the same. There Mr. Webster and Mr. Short would make the tally. Watch in hand they stood waiting for the moment.

It was at this crisis that Mr. Tighlman pulled his pistol and fired through the Long Branch floor. The report was as a joyful signal. Instantly one hundred shots rang out. Indeed, it was a noble din! The room filled with smoke; excitement mounted! Cimarron Bill, a six-shooter in each faithful hand, was in the midst of the hubbub, blazing like a piece of fireworks, whooping like a Comanche.

The night breeze carried the stirring story of riot and uproar to the waiting multitude in the Dance Hall. Those waiting ones looked first their amazement, then their delight. As by one impulse they tore through the door and made, hotfoot, for the Long Branch. By conservative estimates, founded upon the whole number of shots, there should be at least five dead and fifteen wounded.

As the advance guard arrived at the Long Branch they found Mr. Short outside.

“Bat’s downed Bob Wright,” remarked Mr. Short; “plugged him plumb centre.”

Inside went the hilarious Dance Hallers. The astute Mr. Short followed, closed the door and set his back against it.

“It’s eight o’clock, Mr. Webster,” remarked Mr. Short. “We must begin to count.” It was observable that in the hand that did not hold the watch Mr. Short held a six-shooter.

Mr. Webster was in a flutter of nerves; he had been the only one in the Long Branch who did not understand and had not anticipated those frantic excesses of Mr. Tighlman, Cimarron Bill and others of that heroic firing party. Mr. Webster was in no wise clear as to what had happened. Borne upon by a feeling of something wrong he made a protest.

“Stop!” he cried, “there’s a lot of Updegraffe men in here.”

“No, sir,” responded Mr. Short, coldly, while a gray glimmer, a kind of danger signal it was, began to show in his eye. “Every gent inside the Long Branch is for Bat Masterson or he wouldn’t be here. Also, to suggest fraud,” concluded Mr. Short, as Mr. Webster seemed about to speak, “would be an attack upon my honour, me ownin’ the joint.”

Now the honour of Mr. Short, next to Mr. Short’s six-shooter, was the most feverish thing in Dodge. The mere mention of it sent a shiver through Mr. Webster. Without parley he surrendered tamely, and the count at the Long Branch began. The total proved satisfactory; the returns gave Mr. Masterson two hundred and sixty votes.

“Let us go over to the Dance Hall,” said Mr. Wright, “and see what Kelly and Peacock have to report.”

They were saved the journey; Mr. Kelly and Mr. Peacock, the latter bewildered and fear-ridden in the face of the unknown, just then came into the Long Branch. “Only thirty-three for Updegraffe,” said Mr. Kelly. “That’s correct, ain’t it, Peacock?”

Mr. Peacock gasped, but seemed to nod assent.

“Mr. Masterson, it would appear, is elected,” observed Mr. Wright, benignantly, “by a majority of two hundred and twenty-seven. It is a tribute to his popularity. The whole vote, however, is much smaller than I looked for,” and Mr. Wright beamed.

“I think,” said Mr. Kelly, judgmatically, “that thar’s a passel of Updegraffe people stampedin’ about the streets. But, of course, since they weren’t in the Dance Hall, me an’ Peacock had no authority to incloode ’em; did we, Peacock?”

Mr. Peacock mopped his moonlike countenance and shook his head in forlornest fashion. He was too much cast down to oppose the word of Mr. Kelly.

Bear Creek Johnson, eye aflame, a-bristle for trouble, pushed through. Cimarron Bill, who was the soul of business at a time like this, met the outraged Bear Creek in the door.

“Whatever do you reckon you’re after?” queried Cimarron Bill, maintaining the while a dangerous eye.

Bear Creek Johnson surveyed Cimarron Bill, running him up and down with an uneasy, prudent glance. He smelled disaster off him as folk smell fire in a house.

“Me?” he returned, mildly. “Which I simply comes pirootin’ over to move we make the ’lection of Bat Masterson yoonanimous.”

Thus did the _ruse de guerre_ of Mr. Masterson result in victory; thus was he made sheriff of Ford.
 

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