Did 'Bat' Masterson have Irish Heritage?

You probably know the wild west part, some fact and some fiction, depending upon which movie you watch. 

William Barclay "Bat" Masterson (1853 –  1921) was a figure of the American "old west" known as a buffalo hunter, U.S. Marshal and Army scout, avid fisherman, gambler, frontier lawman, and sports editor and columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph.

He was the brother of lawmen James and Ed Masterson. Born at Henryville, Canada East, in what is Quebec today, and baptized as Bartholomew Masterson. He later used the name "William Barclay Masterson." His father, Thomas Masterson, was born in Canada of an Irish family; and his mother, Catherine McGurk or McGureth was born in Ireland. In his late teens, he and two of his four brothers, Ed and James, left their family's farm to become buffalo hunters. Bat Masterson lived in the American west during a violent and frequently lawless period. Indian-fighting aside, he used a firearm against a fellow man on just six occasions, far less than some.

In June 1874, he was in the Texas Panhandle and was one of the buffalo hunters who took part in the Battle of Adobe Walls, Texas, starting in June, Bat was one of twenty-eight men and one lone woman in the ill-protected settlement of Adobe Walls. They faced 800-1000 Native Americans, headed by Chief Quanah Parker, who led the Comanches; Lone Wolf, the Kiowas; Stone Calf and White Shield, the Cheyennes against the white hunters. By March 1875, Bat was back in Dodge City, where he was listed in the Kansas census as a "teamster." On March 1, 1885, he was listed in the Kansas census as a 30-year-old Dodge City farmer. (Omitted here – his wanderings, sheriffing, gambling, and marriage in Denver to a showgirl – go to the movies.) He kept diaries, wrote short stories and enjoyed writing and recording the events of the newly formed western life. Masterson left the West and went to New York City by 1902 and was almost immediately arrested for conducting a crooked faro game and carrying a concealed weapon. The crooked gaming charges were dismissed and he was fined $10 for carrying the gun.

Between 1902 and 1905 he was a frequent visitor to the White House. President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Masterson to the position of deputy to U.S. Marshal for the southern district of New York. Roosevelt had met Masterson on several occasions and had become friendly with him. Masterson split his time between his writing and keeping the peace in the grand jury room whenever the U.S. Attorney in New York held session. He performed this service for about $2,000 per year from early 1908 until 1912. Bat Masterson worked as a sports writer and editor, and as a columnist. His career as a writer started around 1883 and ended upon his death in New York City in 1921. 

His ancestor:  Sir Thomas Masterson, born 1520 in Cheshire, England, died 2 Aug 1590 in Ferns, Wexford, Ireland.

Ferns Castle, an Anglo-Norman fortress, was built in the 13th century by William, Earl Marshall. Sir Thomas Masterson took occupation in 1583. Coming from Cheshire in England Sir Thomas Masterson was granted lands in county Wexford by Queen Elizabeth; in 1583 he was seneschal of the county and liberties of Wexford and constable of the castle of Ferns. His descendants married Catholics and less than a century later they are found defending the castle on behalf of the Confederate Catholics. In the Cromwellian confiscation the family lost their vast estates, which had been greatly increased by a grant of 10,000 acres to Sir Richard Masterson in 1613. The Mastersons held the castle from 1583 until 1649, when it was surrendered to Cromwellian soldiers. It is likely these troops were responsible for demolishing much of its structure. 

Then there is a lineage problem where several researchers have a five-generation gap and no one has proved true descendancy from Sir Thomas Masterson, father of  several sons. The consensus of opinion is that Thomas Masterson born 1688 in Castletown, Kilkenny, Ireland and immigrated to Virginia and died in 1754 is the continuation. From his arrival in Virginia to Bat’s father in Canada, researchers appear to be correct. 


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Tags: Ancestry, Diaspora History, Genealogy, History of Ireland

Comment by Brian Nolan on April 9, 2015 at 9:33am

Yes, I always wondered about Bat Masterson...and his undoubted Irish roots. While Masterson was a Wexford name, a branch of the family cast up on Achill Island a long time ago and Mayo has had Masterson's there since before 1798, so it is very possible that Bat was a really a Mayoman, and not from the sunny south-east at all. You know from tracing other peoples family histories that certain christian names are associated with specific families. You mention that Bat's first name was William. In the 1824 Piggotts Directory (the old-time 'yellow pages' as it were) there is a William Masterson, Cabinet Maker in Castlebar, County Mayo. There is also a William Masterson listed in the Tithe Applotment books of the same year at Mountgordon, Aglish, in County Mayo. Finally a book was published in 2000 by William G Masterson, titled County Mayo parish Records, 1824-1901. Curiously he is from Cincinatti, Ohio, which was a major centre of emigration for Achill-islanders all through the 19th and 20th centuries. So, my hypothesis is that Bat aka William Masterson was probably a grandson or great-grandson of an Achill, or at least a Mayo Masterson who likely emigrated after the 1798 rebellion, which was a big deal in Mayo, with a French army landing at Kilalla and defeating the British in two battles before surrendering. A Masterson very likely left with them, or after them, to escape the British pogroms against the Irish rebels, and ended up in the French part of Canada, from where Bat and his two brothers left to make their fortune in the USA. There you have my tuppence-hapenny! worth Thanks for posting!


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