Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier

Author: Bat Masterson
Published: 1907

Mood: If you’re mentally drained and can’t handle holding a big book in bed and just want Bat Masterson to tell you Western bedtime stories.

This is the shortest Western review I’ve ever written, but this is also the shortest Western book I’ve ever read.

Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier is a collection of W. B. (Bat) Masterson’s personal stories about those aforementioned gunfighters. They were originally published in Human Life magazine, a vintage publication that you can occasionally spot on eBay. 

There’s nothing new here, unless you’ve never read a single story about these famous figures: Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bill Tilghman, and Luke Short. What’s cool about it is that it’s written by BAT F*CKING MASTERSON, himself a fascinating character of the Old West. 

Masterson was at various times a gunfighter, lawman, scout, hunter, sporting man, and, finally, a New York City newspaper columnist. The man literally died face-down on his desk while writing, which is how I spend most weeks expecting to go myself. 

What this book is: a series of short personal stories about the gunfighters, all of whom Bat knew quite well. 

What this book is not: serious non-fiction. 

The quality of writing is exceptional, especially given the time. Bat’s stories are rich with descriptions, and as entertaining as a good piece of old-timey fiction. But he narrates entire conversations during which he wasn’t present, and he showers personal compliments on each gunfighter’s character

That’s why every man in Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier happens to be unmatched as the quickest, the most courageous, and the most proficient gunfighter of their time (even though they were all alive at the same time). 

Well, all except Doc Holliday. Bat paints an UGLY picture of Doc:

  • Selfish
  • Perverse
  • Had no friends
  • Mean disposition
  • Ungovernable temper
  • “Very much disliked”

But it doesn’t matter that it’s just a bunch of personal opinions. You aren’t buying his book as a resource for a research paper. You’re buying it so the next time you see Bat portrayed in movies like Tombstone you can go, “Hey, I have that guy’s book!” 

It’s an awesome collector’s item, with 46 pages of historic photos including the men, buildings, guns, documents, and Bat himself.  

But it’s not the size of the book that counts (otherwise the bloated Unicorn Western: Full Saga would be a classic and not a steaming pile of unicorn shit). Bat Masterson was a great writer, so this little nugget is worth a read.