Do not go where the path may lead, go where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emmerson


Mysterious Dave Mather

From High Noon

Louis L'Amour said there were three types of lawmen in the Old West:

"1. the Bat Mastersons, who were concerned with your rights and would give you a chance to surrender

"2. the Wild Bills, who would "post you" out of town, putting your name on a list on a tree in public warning you to be out of town by sundown, and after that, would shoot on sight.

"3. the Mysterious Dave type. He simply killed his enemies on sight. No warnings, no postings, no talk, just shooting. While he did not garner the publicity of other famous gunmen/lawmen of the day, he is regarded as one of the most dangerous." (Wikkipedia)

So, who was that masked man?

Dave Allen Mather was born on August 10, 1851. A descendant of Increase and Cotton Mather, he come from a family of seafaring lawmen in Massachusetts, who were themselves descended from rugged English sailors.

His date of death is unknown, but suspected to have been May of 1886. He's believed to have been shot down in Dallas, TX, his body thrown on the railroad tracks. Like Hoodoo Brown, he lived on both sides of the law, going by the names Mysterious Dave and New York Dave.

We don't know much about his life. It seems to have been not much discussed at the time, probably part of why he was called Mysterious Dave. It is known that he was a lawman in Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Vegas, New Mexico, and that he was frequently in the company of both Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

His father was a Conneticut sea captain descended from Increase and Cotton Mather, a lineage Mysterious Dave is said to have claimed proudly. Dave was the first of three sons born to the Mathers. His brother, Josiah "Sy" Mather went with him when he ventured west.

When another of Dave's brothers died and his own ship was lost, his father, Ulysseus, abandoned the family. He died soon after in Shanghai in 1864, stabbed by his ship's Chinese cook. Dave's mother remarried but died in 1868. Their family gone, Dave and Sy ran away to sea but jumped ship in New Orleans. (So it's possible Hoodoo Brown wasn't the only Hoodoo man in the Dodge City Gang...)

Not much is known about what he did in the 1870s. He's thought to have been an outlaw/cattle rustler in Arkansas. He's named on an 1873 warrant along with Dave Rudabaugh and Milton J. Yarberry for the murder and robbery of a prominent rancher. The three men fled to Decatur, Texas.

His brother, Sy, said that he and Dave had tried to work as buffalo hunters on the Llano Estacado around 1874 but that it hadn't lasted. It may have been during this time, that he met Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Bill Tilghman, who were also following the herds at that time, as was Hoodoo Brown.

Regardless, he ended up in Dodge City, Kansas in the early 1870s. He became close friends with the doctor there, Thomas L. McCartym who saved his life when he was badly wounded in a knife fight. Dr. McCarty was one of the earliest settlers of Dodge City and was about the only doctor in the area. He reports sewing up Dave’s stomach after it was slashed in a fight with a gambler on a table in the lobby of the Great Western Hotel with only whiskey for anesthetic. Unable to pay, Dave is said to have then forced other gamblers and buffalo hunters to seek treatment from him until his bill with the doctor was paid. (Wonder if he also gave them medical problems to take to the doctor too.)

In 1878, it's said, though the tale is suspect, that he went with Wyatt Earp to Mobeetie, Texas. Supposedly they'd worked up a scheme to sell phony gold bricks they claimed were from a lost mine dating back to the days of the conquistadores. They didn't get too far with that and were run out of town by a lawman named Jim McIntire.

More ominously, Mather is reported to have killed a man during a "difficulty" in the Texas Panhandle during this time as well. The next official mention of Mysterious Dave is in early 1879 when Bat Masterson was Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas. After the notorious horse thief Dutch Henry Borne in Trinidad, Colorado, Masterson found him in the company of Mysterious Dave and others.

Mather was back on the same side as Masterson when Bat was rounding up gunslingers for the Railroad Wars of 1879-80. The Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad was competing with the Denver and Rio Grande for the rights to build a track through two disputed areas. Dave Rudabaugh, John Joshua Webb, Doc Holliday, and Ben Thompson also worked with him there.

When all that died down in 1879, Mather joined John Joshua Webb, Dave Rudabaugh, and several others in the nearby city of Las Vegas, New Mexico. They became the "Dodge City Gang", led by Hoodoo Brown. The Santa Fe railroad had just turned Las Vegas into a boom town. (Tracks didn't run directly into Las Vegas, causing the formation of a separate town called "New Town," or East Las Vegas.)

The administration of this new community came under the control of Hoodoo Brown when he was appointed Justice of the Peace. The Dodge City Gang were basically a loose confederation of gamblers, pimps and confidence men who operated under his protection. They ran all the gambling and prostitution in Las Vegas and had complete political control of the town. Soon after his arrival, Dave was appointed to the police force; a "Hoodoo Feller" in good standing and an effective tool of Brown’s corrupt court. He was ultimately named deputy U.S. Marshal for the area by Governor Lew Wallace.

The reign of the "Dodge City Gang" made Las Vegas the wildest town on the frontier. "August 1879 to March 1880 was an especially bewildering parade of lynching, murder, train and stage robbery and general meanness unparalleled in the Old West. During this period the town saw the likes of Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and possibly Jesse James.

In the midst of it all stood Mysterious Dave, apparently enjoying his work as a peace officer since it was a position he sought to obtain just about anywhere he landed for the rest of his known life." (The Real Mysterious Dave). It was as a Las Vegas policeman Mysterious Dave was involved in his first documented killing. A railroad worker named Joseph Costello tried to "throw down" on Dave one night in January 1880. Costello hesitated. Dave didn’t.

The Dodge City Gang not only ran all the gambling and prostitution in Las Vegas but had complete political control of the town. Mather was ultimately named deputy U.S. Marshal for the area by Governor Lew Wallace.

On January 22, 1880, Las Vegas Marshal Joe Carson was shot and killed by four cowboys in the Close and Patterson's Variety Hall during a shootout. Whether or not Mather was actually deputized has never been confirmed. He appears to have been there with Carson, deputy or no.

What happened was this; some very rowdy cowboys, T.J. House, James West, John Dorsey, and William Randall had been going in and out of saloons making trouble all day. A "no guns in town limits" rule was in effect, (which they were ignoring), so Marshal Carson demanded that they give up their guns. Of course, they refused.

A shootout ensued and the Marshall was shot down. Myterious Dave then drew his gun and returned fire. When it died down, Mather was still standing. William "Big" Randall was mortally wounded, and James West was too badly injured to escape. The other two men, John Dorsey and T.J. House, were wounded but escaped.

The pair were captured two weeks later and brought to the Las Vegas jail to await trial. An angry mob broke into the jail, pulled them from their cell. Carson's wife opened fire on the men, killing them all before the would-be lynchers had the chance. The gunfight became known as the Variety Hall Shootout and it made Dave's reputation as a gunman. (I imagine it made Carson's wife's reputation as a gunman too.)

When the Dodge City gang broke up in March of 1880, Dave, (accused of 'promiscuous shooting' in the Variety Hall incident), seems to have spent time in various places in New Mexico and Texas before settling in Dallas, often using the alias Dave Matthews.

As with Hoodoo, there is a romance associated with Mysterious Dave. He was Assistant Marshall in El Paso, Texas and was wounded slightly in an altercation in a brothel there, after which he returned to Dodge City. I can't tell if the El Paso antecdote it is a confused account of the same incident or if these are two seperate ones, but it is also said that in Dallas he became involved with an African American woman named Georgia Morgan who worked as the madame of a brothel called the "Long Branch". It didn't last long. By 1881 he's reported to have not only left her but robbed her. She rather impressively followed him to Fort Worth, where he was working as a policeman, and tried to get her property/revenge with a butcher knife but was arrested before she could do anything much with it.

Whatever the history of Mysterious Dave's brothel injuries, in May 1883, he returned to Kansas and became Assistant Town Marshal of Dodge City during the Dodge City War. The War was a dispute between saloon owners who were friends of the mayor of Dodge City and Luke Short, owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Several gunfighters including Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp gathered to support Short. They backed their friends' enemies down without violence. Mather was also a Deputy Sheriff during this time and in 1883 led a posse in pursuit of train robbery suspects, capturing two the same day they tried to leave town. He also owned Dodge City's Opera House Saloon, became active in politics, and may even have gotten married to a woman named Josephine.

Ultimately, Mather became involved in a feud with a rival saloon, (the Lady Gay), owner named Tom Nixon. Tom was a former buffalo hunter and an early pioneer in the Dodge City area. No one knows the exact cause of their enmity but possible reasons include rivalry over Nixon’s appointment as Assistant Marshal, a "war" over the price of beer in the two competing saloons, and possibly Mather’s relationship with Nixon’s wife. Tom was friends with the mayor, and an ordinance had been passed that restricted all saloons in town, except the Lady Gay.

On July 18, 1884, the feud came to a head. Mysterious Dave and Tom Nixon had a gunfight in front of the Opera House Saloon. Nixon drew a pistol, fired once, and missed. Tensions boiled over on the night of July 18, 1884 when Nixon shot at Mysterious Dave as the latter was standing on the front steps of the Opera House Saloon. Mather's face was powder burned and his left hand injured by flying splinters. Though a bond was posted for assault with intent to kill in the sum of $800, Mather himself decided not to file a complaint. The Dodge City Democrat published an article on the shooting, saying that the situation was "by all appearances not yet at an end".

Three days later, Nixon was standing in front of the Opera House about 10 p.m. on July 21 when a voice behind him reportedly called out gently, almost sweetly "Oh, Tom."

Nixon turned to see the last thing he ever saw, Mysterious Dave pointing a Colt .45 at him. Nixon took four hits to the body, one piercing his heart. He was dead before he hit the ground. Dave then surrendered himself to authorities and was exonerated of murder. Because Nixon had tried to kill him first, he was seen as acting in self defense. Mather's said to have commented, "I ought to have killed him six months ago."

But on May 10, 1885, he was arrested again. This time he and his brother Sy were accused of killing a gambler named Dave Jones over a game of cards, inside the Junction Saloon. Mysterious Dave was wounded in the gunfight when a bullet grazed his head.

During a preliminary hearing on the shooting, it was determined that Mather never fired a shot, and that Dave Jones had fired on him only to be shot by his brother, Sy. Rumors that Sy died in the gunfight may have been circulated to exonerate him, (he's known to have lived until 1933). The shooting and the aftermath were well publicized at the time and the results of that hearing were posted in the Dodge City Democrat on May 22, 1885, along with several witness statements:

"The brothers made bail and left town, though the details of how are unclear. One account says that Marshal Bill Tilghman ran Dave out of town after an armed standoff, another says he slipped away disguised as a woman. Neither are believed to be true, and it is most likely he simply left town, and for all practical purposes disappeared from historical record."

After this, there aren't many reliable reports of Mysterious Dave's life. His friends said he left town because a vengeful mob wanted to see him hang but they wouldn't say where he went. He left town under a $3,000 bail which was never paid. One newspaper of the day reports his appointment as a Deputy Marshal in New Kiowa, Kansas, where he remained for nearly a year. Mather had moved there with a man called "Black Dave" and opened a saloon. "Black Dave"soon killed a soldier in a brawl and Mather raised money from the crowd for his defense. When some of the dead soldier’s friends threatened to come and lynch Dave just for being Black's partner, Dave took the money he had raised and left town.

No more is heard of him until the probable but sketchy report of his being found dead in Texas. When the body was found on the railroad tracks, whether it was him or not, the outstanding bond was dismissed. Did "Black Dave" get revenge on him for running out?

Other reports say he lived. Some say he became a bank-robber in New Mexico, going by the name Mysterious Dave Taylor, (though seems to me a likely name for a copy-cat to take). Others say he wound up in Vancouver and that he joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police there. Still others said he became a US Customs officer in Blaine, Washington or that he lived out his final days in Lone Pine, Nebraska. Maybe it was some combination of several of the above. However, the most plausible report remains the one of the body found on the railroad tracks in Dallas. When asked, his brother and other family members claimed not to know what happened to him but said they wished they did.

Legends about Mysterious Dave abound. Most sesem to be at least based in fact. It is impossible, however, to name at which point in his career they occurred, or to what degree they are accurate.

One frequent antecdote was of a habit he had in Dodge City of getting his pistol back from bartenders off and on while drinking to fire at a bell outside. If he missed it, it meant he'd had too much to drink and he'd go home. It's said that one night a bartender replaced his bullets with blanks. Dave missed the shot and headed home. Not knowing he was firing blanks, he shot at a coyote that crossed his path on the way and became utterly unnerved when his shots failed to kill it.

Another legend has to do with a group called The Henry Bunch, who gunned down Dodge City Marshal Tom Carson in the Long Branch Saloon. Shot down by seven members of the gang, Carson staggered outside and collapsed on the street. As he lay dying, Mather is said to have mysteriously appeared from nowhere and swore to the dying lawman that he would avenge him, then entered the saloon and gunned down all seven of the outlaws. Some sources say the story is actually a distortion of the gunfight that occurred in Las Vegas in 1880, when the Dodge City Gang were at the peak of their power.

Last but not least, it's said that Mather walked into a revival in Dodge City drunk. The pastor recognized him and began to call on him to repent of his sinful ways. Dave let him carry on for a while, then stood up and announced that he had seen the light. Drawing his pistols he announced that, being assured of Heaven, he was ready to die. He invited anyone who was certain of their salvation to die with him and began to shoot out the lights. When the preacher and the crowd fled, Dave pronounced them all hypocrites and went home.

Increase and Cotton Mather's blood in his veins indeed.

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