Friends Call Me Bat (Five Star Western)

Written by Paul Colt
Review by Thomas j. Howley

In 1919, William Barclay “Bat” Masterson is a slightly plump, older, gray-haired NYC sportswriter who covers boxing. Bat is sought out by younger newsman and acclaimed future playwright, Damon Runyon. Runyon is keen to hear stories of Bat’s younger days, when the apparently nondescript old gent was a legendary figure on the American western frontier. Over a series of retrospective conversations, frequently in some New York deli, Bat’s impressive story unfolds.

Born in Canada, Bat later moves to the West seeking adventure and wealth. Starting out by earning valuable experience as a buffalo hunter, he eventually moves about both geographically and experientially, fighting Indians, scouting for the army, and as a lawman, gambler and occasional businessman. Famous western historical venues like wild cow-town Dodge City, Adobe Walls, and Sweetwater are well-known to him. A gunfight over a woman leaves him with a slight limp but provides him with the opportunity to carry his later famous cane along with his guns, which only adds to his allure. After losing an election for Dodge City sheriff, Bat is awakened to the local media’s “fake news” of his day.

Short little tales, one after the other, captivate the reader in rapid succession. One of Bat’s overriding and interesting themes is that Wild West fame should not always be confused with the truth. Exaggeration can lead to a fearful reputation, and that reputation can have its advantages as well as its dangers. Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Teddy Roosevelt, and Judge Roy Bean, along with other famous notables, were all in Bat’s circle at one time. Riveting right up to its bittersweet and melancholy ending, this splendid little book will hopefully elevate Bat Masterson higher in the pantheon of fascinating characters of the old West. Decidedly recommended.