Sam’s Life Box

Hot damn, a new mystery!

In June of 1902, a journalist in Buffalo, New York decided he needed to put in a good word for his old pal, Bat Masterson. Only weeks before, Masterson had left Denver under a dark cloud, and now he was making a go of it in New York City. New bunco charges weren’t far behind, of course, and then a weapons charge that led to the confiscation of his prized pistol. Things weren’t looking good for Bat, and people were talking. They were saying he was a bad man. A con man. A killer. Twenty-eight notches! And he misses his gun, his “best friend”.

So, to answer the critics – and to have some fun at Bat’s expense — the author reprinted an article from the Butte, Montana Inter-Mountain, recounting the words of a local old timer.

Buffalo, New York Enquirer, June 18, 1902

IS NOT SUCH A BAD MAN AFTER ALL

Bat Masterson’s Western Career Reviewed by a Man Who Knows Him Well—Lives Up to the Biblical Orders and Is a Quiet, Peaceable Man.

Once upon a time, Bat had, in fact, surrendered an earlier “best friend” without nary a whimper, and that gun was still in the possession of one Jack O’Ferral. The article continues:

Bat Had A Fright.

That was back in the days when Sam Blonger was a city marshal in the Southwest, and Jack was his assistant. Sam wears smoked glasses now and can’t see half way across the street. In those days he carried his gun on a hook and Bat was one of the boys who did the curfew act as soon as the sun went down and Sam hit the main trail of the village.

It happened one day that Sam pulled another fellow’s gun down instead of pushing it up. That ’45’ is still somewhere in Sam’s life box.

While the marshal was stretched out ruminating on the folly of pulling a gun toward him, it fell to Jack O’Ferral to run the town. Though his record showed Jack looked good to the bunch, and such fellows as Masterson, Tom Cannon and Al Skelly woke up and started after suckers. Cannon’s dead, Skelly is a police captain and Bat’s in jail.

Cannon’s funeral expenses were paid by O’Ferral and Skelly was cared for by the same samaritan until he got well. Bat developed the yellow streak which has made him famous since and handed his gun to the little killer before O’Ferral could pull the trigger for the third time.

The tale goes on to describe other miscellaneous Bat stories, reffing a prize fight in Denver, killing his first man, yada, yada…

First and foremost, this story doesn’t seem to be about Albuquerque, where we know that Sam was marshal. The details are all wrong – Sam, for instance, didn’t get shot in 1882.

So what southwestern town? When he was hired, the news stated that he had experience in “official work”, though we have no more information. At any rate, identifying the town could potentially open a big new spigot.

OK, now, let’s unpack this typically cryptic summation of the “facts”.

The glasses we’ve heard about on a few occasions, always hearsay. Sunglasses, basically, to hide a disfigured eye, shot out by a bullet ricocheting off an iron stove during a bar fight. No place, no date, but still pretty cool, and mentioned in multiple sources. It’s also kind of cool he wore his gun on a hook. I don’t know how unusual that is.

I don’t know what he means by “Bat was one of the boys who did the curfew act as soon as the sun went down and Sam hit the main trail of the village” but the context suggests Bat was a local troublemaker, out and about at night doing no good.

It happened on day that Sam pulled another fellow’s gun down instead of pushing it up. That ’45’ is still somewhere in Sam’s life box.

This took a bit of parsing. Scott found one other reference to a “life box”, and it appears to mean torso. So, Sam tried to disarm someone, screwed it up, and got shot, the bullet still residing (presumably) within the confines of his skin — just like his brother Joe, who carried the minie ball he met during the siege of Atlanta in his gut for sixty years.

While the marshal was stretched out ruminating on the folly of pulling a gun toward him, it fell to Jack O’Ferral to run the town. Though his record showed Jack looked good to the bunch, and such fellows as Masterson, Tom Cannon and Al Skelly woke up and started after suckers. Cannon’s dead, Skelly is a police captain and Bat’s in jail.

Cannon’s funeral expenses were paid by O’Ferral and Skelly was cared for by the same samaritan until he got well. Bat developed the yellow streak which has made him famous since and handed his gun to the little killer before O’Ferral could pull the trigger for the third time.

Intentionally obtuse? The gist of it seems to be that, while Sam convalesced, O’Ferral attempted to arrest Masterson, Cannon and Skelly on bunco charges. Cannon ended up dead, Skelly wounded, and Bat gave up his gun without a fight. O’Ferral then paid for Cannon’s funeral and nursed Skelly back to health. What a guy!

And he still has Bat’s gun.

 

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