Bat Masterson: gun-slinger turned sports reporter

January 17, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: reporters, reporting, sports, writers, writing.

The world today knows him as one of the Old West’s most famous gunslingers, fearless associate of the famous lawman, Wyatt Earp.

But in 1921, the world knew Bat Masterson as a world-class sports writer for the New York Morning Telegraph and one of the foremost experts on the second most popular sport of the day, boxing. (Baseball was the most popular sport, and professional football was hardly thought about.)

Bat Masterson was indeed a gunfighter in Dodge City and elsewhere in the West during his younger days. He was also a buffalo hunter, Indian fighter, and scout for the U.S. Army. But that phase of his life was finished by the mid-1880s when he was in his thirties. Moving to Denver, he became a “sporting man” and gambler and developed himself as a leading authority on prizefighting, which was growing in popularity with the public and with newspaper sports writers.

Masterson was a personal friend of people such as Gentleman Jim Corbett, Jack Johnson, John L. Sullivan, and Jack Dempsey, all legends of the boxing ring. He attended just about every major fight of that era, and his expertise on the sport was unsurpassed.

In 1902 he moved to New York to become a sports reporter and columnist for the Morning Telegraph and did that until his death in 1921. On the way, he became a personal friend of President Theodore Roosevelt and accepted a federal appointment as a U.S. marshal from him. He died at his sports writing desk of a massive heart attack on October 25, 1921. In the late 1950s, a television series loosely based on his life and starring Gene Barry was broadcast for several seasons.

He was writing a column when he died as his desk, and his final written words were: 

“There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us. I have observed, for example, that we get about the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summer—and the poor get it in the winter.” New-York Historical Society

Masterson’s friend, Damon Runyan, named his lead character in Guys and Dolls Sky Masterson after the old gunfighter.

See also:

DeArment, Robert K. Gunfighter in Gotham: Bat Masterson’s New York City Years. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2013.

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