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It was at the election following the one which made Mr. Masterson sheriff of Ford County that Mr. Kelly, proprietor of the Alhambra, became mayor of Dodge. Mr. Masterson, aside from being a natural captain of men, had had his genius for strategy ripened as a scout-pupil of the great Ben Clark during the Cheyenne wars, and on this ballot, occasion contributed deeply to the victory of Mr. Kelly.

Mr. Masterson came forward and withstood certain Mexicans, who otherwise would have exercised the ballot to Mr. Kelly’s disadvantage. The Mexicans belonged with the Cross-K brand, which had its range across the river; and since Mr. Walker, proprietor of the Cross-K, was an enemy of Mr. Kelly, they were rightfully regarded by Mr. Masterson as tools of the opposition.

Mr. Masterson urged, and with justice, that an extension of the franchise to Mexicans would be subversive of good morals, and offensive to the purer sentiment of Dodge.

“This is, or should be,” said Mr. Masterson, “a white man’s government, and how long, I ask, will it survive if Mexicans be permitted a voice in its affairs? If we are going to take the limit off in this ridiculous fashion we might as well send for Bear Shield’s band of Cheyennes and tell them to get into the game. To grant Mexicans the right to vote is to make preposterous that freedom for which our fathers fought and bled and died, and should republican institutions be thus trailed in the dust, I see nothing for it but an appeal to arms.”

This long speech was made to the judges of election, who were fair men and friends of Mr. Kelly. There were ten of the Mexicans and the contest was close; the judges remembered these things, and the position taken by Mr. Masterson, in defense of an unsullied suffrage, was sustained.

“It wasn’t worth a battle,” explained Mr. Walker in later comment on Mr. Masterson’s oration, “or I might have called that bluff of Bat’s about an appeal to arms.”

When Mr. Kelly was inaugurated in the discharge of his high trust, his earliest feeling was one of favor to Mr. Masterson; for his majority had been but five, and Mr. Kelly was a grateful man. The situation at a first blink baffled the friendship of Mr. Kelly. What could he do for Mr. Masterson? The latter, as sheriff of Ford, already held an office superior even to that of Mr. Kelly’s. Clearly, Mr. Masterson was beyond and above the touch of his gratitude, as though it stood on tiptoe; he must sit down and suffer a sense of obligation which he could not discharge. These truths came home to him after hours of profound thought, and he sighed as he reflected on his helplessness.

But Mr. Kelly was enterprising, and gratitude is as apt as necessity itself to sharpen the edge of invention. That debt he owed Mr. Masterson had not borne upon him two days before he began to see a way in which he might return the other’s friendly deeds upon his head. As mayor Mr. Kelly, under the State law just passed, could construct the post of marshal. The town had never had such an officer. Thus far it had needed none; Mr. Masterson, in his good-natured way, had stepped outside the strict duties of his place as sheriff and, without money and without price, acted the part of marshal. In the latter rôle, as honorable as it was perilous, Mr. Masterson’s six-shooters were already looked upon by Dodge as the local palladium.

Mr. Kelly, mayor, decided that he would create the post of marshal at a round stipend to him who should hold it. Also, he would name as such functionary Mr. Masterson’s brother Ed. When Mr. Kelly had completed this plan he rewarded himself with four fingers of Old Jordan; a glow overspread his countenance as he considered that he might thus requite the generous interference of Mr. Masterson concerning those Cross-K Mexicans, who, if their pernicious purpose had not been frustrated, would have defeated him of his mayoralty.

Mr. Masterson was not in Dodge when this kindly resolution was reached by Mr. Kelly, being over on Crooked Creek in quest of stolen mules. It thus befell that Mr. Kelly could not consult with him touching that marshalship and the exaltation of his brother. On second thought Mr. Kelly did not regret the absence of Mr. Masterson; that marshalship would be a pleasant bit of news wherewith to greet him when, weary and saddle-worn, he rode in with those lost mules and the scalp of that criminal who had cut their hobbles and feloniously taken them to himself.

Still, Mr. Kelly would seek advice; this was only caution, for the jealous West is prone to resent a novelty in its destinies which descends upon it as a surprise. The word, therefore, was sent throughout Dodge by our careful magistrate that he meditated a marshal, with Ed Masterson as the man.

Mr. Wright approved the scheme; likewise did Mr. Short and Mr. Trask. Mr. Webster and Mr. Peacock were understood to disparage the design. As for Mr. Walker of the Cross-K, his condemnation became open and he was heard to loudly proclaim it to Mr. Webster across the Alamo bar.

“And,” concluded the bitter Mr. Walker, replacing his empty glass on the counter, “if the Masterson family is goin’ to be sawed onto this community in a body, I for one am ready to pull my freight.”

“Well,” casually observed Mr. Short, who had dropped in from the Long Branch to note how a rival trade progressed, “I’ve always held that pullin’ your freight was safer than pullin’ your gun.”

“Perhaps I’ll pull both,” retorted Mr. Walker.

Mr. Walker, however, did not press the conversation to extremes. Mr. Short was a warm adherent of Mr. Masterson; moreover, he had killed a gentleman in Tombstone for merely claiming the privilege of counting the cards. True, that person of inquiring mind had set forth his desire for information with a six-shooter, and as Mr. Short was back of the box at the time, and the bullets were addressed to him personally, his retort was upheld by all impartial men. None the less, the ready completeness of the reply made for the dignity and western standing of Mr. Short, and Mr. Walker, who knew the story, felt no ambition to go with him to the bottom of Mr. Kelly’s new policy of a marshal.

When Mr. Kelly heard how Mr. Wright and Mr. Short and Mr. Trask applauded, he said that the affair was settled; those gentlemen were his friends. Messrs. Walker and Webster and Peacock were of the opposition, and Mr. Kelly was too good an executive to listen to his enemies. He would name Ed Masterson marshal; in order that Mr. Masterson might witness his brother’s elevation he would defer it as a ceremony until Mr. Masterson’s return.

It was four days later when Mr. Masterson came in with those wandering mules and the particulars concerning the last moments of the bandit that stole them, and who had opposed a Winchester to Mr. Masterson in the discharge of his duty. Following his return Mr. Masterson strode into the Alhambra with the purpose of restoring himself and conquering a fatigue incident to his labours. It was then that Mr. Kelly laid open those changes contemplated in the official list of Dodge, which were to work advantage for his brother. To his amazement Mr. Masterson, on receipt of the information, became the picture of dismay.

“Why, Bat,” exclaimed Mr. Kelly, alarmed by Mr. Masterson’s evident disturbance, “ain’t the idee all right?”

“Worst in the world,” groaned Mr. Masterson. “Has Ed heard?”

“Shore,” replied Mr. Kelly; “I nacherally told him the first flash out o’ the box. Bob Wright says it’s a beautiful scheme; so does Short.”

“I know, Kell,” said Mr. Masterson, wearily, “and no doubt Bob and Luke believe it’s the thing to do. But they don’t know Ed; he’s no more fit to be marshal than I am to join the church.”

“Oh come, Bat,” cried Mr. Kelly, evincing a critical disbelief, “no gamer hand than Ed ever buckled on a gun!”

“That’s it,” returned Mr. Masterson, “Ed’s too game. He’s so game it obscures his judgment. Those outlaws from below will study him, and in the wind-up they’ll outwit him. If you make Ed marshal he won’t last the year. Some of those murderers will get him sure.”

“I can’t understand, Bat; you told me yourself that when you an’ Ed was killin’ buffalo down on the Canadian for Billy Dixon, Ed was the best shot that ever went on the range; an’ the quickest.”

“Quick and as dead to centers with either a Sharp’s or a Colt’s as you could put your finger. There’s no discount on Ed’s gunplay, and so I tell you now. The trouble lies inside Ed; he’s too easy, too ready for a talk. And he can’t read his man. Indians and Mexicans? yes; I’d trust Ed to take a six-shooter and report favorably on twenty of ’em at a clatter. But a white man is too cunning; those Texas killers that come over the Jones and Plummer trail will throw him off his guard. There’s the loose screw, he’s guileless; if it’s a case of white man, he doesn’t know when to shoot. As I tell you, make Ed marshal, and he’ll never see another summer.”

“But what can I do? I’ve already told him.”

“Yes,” returned Mr. Masterson with a sigh, “and he’s as obstinate as a badger. You’ve got the notion planted in Ed’s head, and you couldn’t shoot it out with a buffalo gun! The way you’ve put the cards in the box, Kell, there’s nothing to do but appoint him. I can see the finish, though!”

Within the fortnight following Mr. Kelly’s investment of Ed Masterson with authority as Marshal of Dodge there arose an incident which went far to uphold the fears of Mr. Masterson. It was made plain, even to the dullest, that Marshal Ed was too thoughtless to secure a best and, for himself, a safest result in the discharge of his official duties.

The proof came in the broad glare of an afternoon, when the unblinking sun was still four hours high. A lonesome stranger had sought the Dance Hall; finding that theatre of mirth deserted, the desolation of the place weighed heavily upon him.

Smitten of the hope of adding vivacity to the scene and rendering it more cheerful, the lonesome stranger pulled his pistol and shot into the upright piano which reposed at the far end of the room. The lonesome stranger put three bullets through and through the instrument; and, as each cut a string, the deficiencies thus arranged were found later to mar the production of those gallops and quicksteps and mazurkas upon which Dodge depended in hours of revelry.

Mr. Peacock, who took to the sidewalk when the lonesome stranger produced his pistol, called aloud upon Marshal Ed for aid. That officer responded, and stepped into the Dance Hall just as the lonesome one fired the third shot.

“Here, here!” exclaimed Marshal Ed, his thumbs jauntily in his belt, and never a move toward his weapon, “here, you horse-thief! what do you figure now you’re doing?”

By way of reply the lonesome one sent the fourth bullet into the left shoulder of Marshal Ed. The latter, upon this hint, got his own artillery to bear and, while the shot in his shoulder knocked him off his feet, the lonesome one also went to the floor with a bullet in his hip.

Marshal Ed was up in a flash; the lonesome one was making an effort to rise. At this, Marshal Ed fell upon him in the most unofficial spirit and beat him with his pistol. When Mr. Masterson came upon the field his lively relative, weapon back in its scabbard, was surveying the lonesome one where he lay bleeding on the floor.

“Two of you pack that party to the doctor,” quoth Marshal Ed, addressing the concourse of citizens that arrived with Mr. Masterson. Then, in reply to the latter’s inquiry: “No, he didn’t do anything in particular; he was simply shaking up the joint, I reckon, under the head of good of the order.”

Nothing could exceed the indignation of Mr. Masterson when, fifteen minutes later, he learned of the bullet in Marshal Ed’s shoulder. It was then that the outrageous scandal of it began to break upon him.

“You find a bandit shooting up the Dance Hall,” cried the discouraged Mr. Masterson, “and all you do is enter into conversation with him! Then, when he’s plugged you, and you on your side have dropped him with a bullet in his leg, you beat him over the head!—him, with two cartridges left in his gun! What do you reckon those other five shots were put in your own six-shooter for? And you call yourself Marshal of Dodge!”

Image: Ed Masterson, Courtesy KSHS

The doctor, having repaired the lonesome one, began a hunt for the bullet in Marshal Ed’s shoulder, while Mr. Masterson, after freeing his mind as recorded, retired to the Long Branch to hide his chagrin.

“Ed’s new to the game, Bat,” observed Mr. Short, as he joined his depressed friend at the bar. “Give him time; he’ll make the round-up all right. What he went ag’inst today will be proper practice for him.”

“It won’t do, Luke,” responded Mr. Masterson, hopelessly, “Ed never’ll last to go the route. Did you ever hear of such a thing? A party has plugged him, and lies there organised with two more loads. Ed, with five shots in his gun, can’t think of anything better to do than beat him over the head. If I wasn’t so worried I’d feel ashamed.”

Dating from that uprising of the lonesome stranger there befell a season of serenity, the peace whereof was without its fellow in the memory of Dodge. The giddy and the careless paid no heed, but pessimists and ones grown old on the sunset side of the Missouri took on brows of trouble. The latter, counting on that inevitable equilibrium which nature everywhere and under all conditions maintains, looked forward to an era of extraordinary explosiveness, when bullets would fly as thick as plover in the fall. These folk of forecast could not tell when this powder-burning would take place, but they felt that it was on its smoky way.

True, that period of deep quiet was occasionally rippled by some tenderfoot who, made foolish of whiskey and the liberal lines laid down by Dodge for the guidance of visitors, was inclined to go too far. Or now and again a Mexican became boisterous beyond what a judicious public sentiment permitted to his caste, and offered a case where the dignity of Dodge required that he be moderately “buffaloed.” These slight ebuillitions, however, were as nothings, and came under the caption of child’s play. It was not until the taking place of what stirring events are to be recounted that those pessimists and ones of prophecy, being justified of their fears, gathered at the Long Branch, the Alhambra and the Alamo, and over their liquor reminded one another how they had foretold the same.

It was brown October; the fat beef herds came winding in from the lowing, horn-tossing south, and Dodge in its shirt sleeves was busy with prosperity. The genial boys of cows, their herds disposed of, were eager to dispense their impartial riches upon monte, whiskey and quadrilles, and it was the chosen duty of Dodge to provide those relaxations.

On the fateful day which this history has in mind, Mr. Walker of the Cross-K brought in a bunch of nine hundred steers. They came trooping and bellowing through the Arkansas with the first dull lights of morning, and, before Dodge sat down to its prandial meal—which with a simplicity inherited of the fathers it took at noon—had been turned over to certain purchasing gentlemen from the East, for whom they had been gathered. Their task performed, the weary riders who brought them up the trail gave themselves freely to those metropolitan delights which Dodge arranged for them. They went about with liberal hands, and Dodge rejoiced in profits staggering.

Among those who rode in with the Cross-K herd was Mr. Wagner. In moments of sobriety no danger had its source in Mr. Wagner. Endowed of strong drink and a Colt’s pistol in right proportions, he was worth the watching. Indeed, within the year Mr. Wagner, while thus equipped, had shot himself into such disrepute in the streets of Mobeetie that he defeated a popular wish to hang him only by the fleetness of his pony. It was then he came north and attached himself to Mr. Walker and the Cross-K.

Throughout those daylight hours which fell in between that transfer of the Cross-K herd and the lighting of what kerosene lamps made gay the barrooms of Dodge, nothing could have been more commendable than the deportment of Mr. Wagner. He imbibed his whiskey at intervals not too brief, and distributed his custom with an equal justice between the Alhambra with Mr. Kelly, the Alamo with Mr. Webster, and the Long Branch with Mr. Short. Also, he drifted into the outfitting bazaar of Mr. Wright and spent fifty dollars upon an eight-inch Colt’s six-shooter, calibre-45, the butt of which was enriched and made graceful with carved ivory. This furniture Mr. Wagner would later swing to his hip by means of a belt, the same corrugated of cartridges.

It was not observed that his drinks had begun to tell upon Mr. Wagner invidiously until the hour of eight in the evening when, from the family circle of the Dodge Opera House, he roped the first violin of a dramatic organisation called the Red Stocking Blondes. It was during the overture that Mr. Wagner pitched the loop of his lariat into the orchestra, and as the first violin played vilely the interruption was well received by the public.

The management, however, came before the curtain and said that the show would not proceed while Mr. Wagner remained. With that, Marshal Ed led the disturber forth, took a drink with him to prove that his removal was merely formal and nothing personal meant, and bid him return no more. Mr. Wagner, acting on the suggestion of Marshal Ed, at once surrendered every scrap of interest in the drama, as expounded by the Red Stocking Blondes. It should be remembered that at this moment Mr. Wagner, in deference to the taste of Dodge, which frowned upon pistols in places of public entertainment as superfluous and vulgar, was not wearing that brand-new Colt’s with the ivory butt.

It was roundly the hour of midnight, and Mr. Peacock’s Dance Hall shone with the beauty and the chivalry of Dodge. Marshal Ed had come over to the Dance Hall to hold the chivalry adverted to in decorous check and keep it to paths of peace.

Mr. Wagner arrived and took his place in a quadrille. It was observed that the belt of Mr. Wagner now upheld that Colt’s pistol of the ivory butt. Aroused by this solecism, Marshal Ed descended upon Mr. Wagner and captured his unlawful embellishments. He was holding the six-shooter in one hand and Mr. Wagner in the other when Mr. Walker, sober and suave, drew near.

“If you’ll give him to me, Ed,” remarked Mr. Walker, “I’ll take care of him.”

Since the proposal provided for the peace of Dodge, Marshal Ed accepted it. He made over Mr. Wagner and the weapon of ivory butt to the soft-speaking Mr. Walker. Thereupon Mr. Walker conducted Mr. Wagner outside.

Taking Mr. Wagner to the rear of the Dance Hall, where no ear might listen and no eye look on, Mr. Walker perfidiously readorned him with that ivory-butted treasure of a Colt’s-45.

“Now,” observed Mr. Walker, as he buckled the belt and its dependent ordnance where they would do the most harm, “if I was you I’d go surgin’ back into the Dance Hall an’ if any jimcrow marshal tried to pounce on my gun I’d blow his lamp out.”

Dodge City Business District 1875

Marshal Ed had emerged from the Dance Hall into the glare of light which issued from its front windows when Mr. Wagner, walking deviously, his broad-rimmed hat cocked at an insulting angle, the offensive six-shooter flapping ostentatiously against his leg, brushed by. Mr. Wagner wore a challenging glance and was snorting defiance of the law.

It was now that Marshal Ed displayed that want of caution and indifference to precedent whereof Mr. Masterson had warned Mr. Kelly. Under the conditions presented _vide licet_ the sudden, not to say warlike, return of Mr. Wagner, it was officially the business of Marshal Ed to shove the muzzle of his own gun into the face of Mr. Wagner and, to quote the words of Dodge as it digged the graves next day, “stand him up.” In case Mr. Wagner did not hold his hands above his head, Marshal Ed was to officially unhook his gun and put a period to Mr. Wagner’s career.

So far from following this rule of conduct, Marshal Ed reached out with both hands and seized Mr. Wagner by the shoulders. Thereupon Mr. Wagner yanked the Colt’s pistol of ivory butt from its scabbard; as a counter-move, Marshal Ed, while retaining a right-hand grip on Mr. Wagner’s shoulder, grabbed the pistol with his left hand and held the muzzle to one side. There the two stood, Mr. Wagner powerless to bring his weapon to bear, and Marshal Ed unable to wrest it from his grasp.

At this juncture Mr. Walker, who, in anticipation of what might occur, had privily provided himself with a pistol, came out of the darkness to the rear of the Dance Hall and thrust the weapon in the face of Marshal Ed. Mr. Walker pulled the trigger, the hammer descended, but instead of the expected report there came nothing more lethal than a sharp click. The cartridge, ashamed of the treachery in which it found itself employed, had refused to explode.

Before Mr. Walker could cock his weapon for a second trial three splitting flashes burned three holes in the night. Bang! bang! bang! The three reports were crowded as close together as the striking of a Yankee clock. Mr. Masterson, from sixty feet away, had put three bullets into Mr. Walker before the latter could fall. It was like puffing out a candle. Mr. Walker of the Cross-K was dead.

Mr. Masterson, from where he stood, would not chance a shot at Mr. Wagner; Marshal Ed was too much in the line of fire. Acting a next best part, he came up to the two on the run. But he came late. While he was still ten feet away Mr. Wagner, in the twists and turns of conflict, felt the muzzle of that new ivory-mounted Colt’s pistol press for one insignificant moment against the other’s breast; he pulled the trigger and Marshal Ed fell, shot through the lungs, his clothes afire from the burning powder. As Marshal Ed went down, Mr. Wagner followed him—dead—with a bullet in his temple from the revengeful pistol of Mr. Masterson.

Mr. Wright and Mr. Short carried Marshal Ed into the Long Branch. Mr. Masterson, who with unfluttered pulse had looked death in the eye a score of times, began to cry like a woman. Mr. Kelly, mayor, united his tears to Mr. Masterson’s.

“It was my fault, Bat,” wept Mr. Kelly; “I only wish I might have stopped that bullet myself.”

“It has turned out like I told you, Kell,” said Mr. Masterson; “those murderers out-managed him!”

Mr. Short reappeared and laid a sympathetic hand on Mr. Masterson’s shoulder.

“Bat,” said Mr. Short, “do you want to see Ed? He’s dyin’; he’s down to the last chip!”

“Poor Ed! No; I don’t want to see him!” said Mr. Masterson, tears falling like rain.