The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959)




Director:      Joseph M. Newman.

Starring:      Joel McCrea (Bat Masterson), Julie Adams (love interest Pauline), John McIntire (Doc), Nancy Gates (second love interest Lily), Richard Anderson (Dave), James Westerfield (Rev. Howard), Walter Coy (Ben), Don Haggerty (Regan), Wright King (Billy), Harry Lauter (Ed), Myron Healey (Forbes), Mauritz Hugo (Purley) , Henry Kulky (Bartender).

Very loosely based on the life of Ford County sheriff, Bat Masterson.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Bat Masterson sees young Billy handling his revolver.  Bat goes over to him and takes it away, saying he doesn't want Billy to even touch it, much less fire it.  Billy asks Bat what it feels like to kill a man?  Bat says it doesn't feel so good.  Bat hears someone coming on a horse and grabs his rifle.  A guy named Dave comes slowly riding into their camp.  Dave is a friend of Bat's.  Dave tells Bat that he shouldn't sell his buffalo hides in Hays City, but rather in Dodge City.  Dave also has a message for Bat.  A Sgt. King does not want Bat returning to Hays City because he intends to kill Bat if he does.  Bat doesn't know the sergeant, but it seems Molly Day told him a lot about Bat.  Bat says he's still coming into Hays City the day after tomorrow. 

Dave refers to Billy as a half-wit. During the conversation, Billy picks up the pistol and fires it scaring Dave a bit.  Bat takes the weapon from Billy again. 

Dave and Billy come into Hays City.  Molly Day sees them from an upstairs room.  The two fellows go to the saloon.  Bat and Billy are greeted by Ben, Billy's older brother.  Molly comes into the saloon to tell Bat that he shouldn't have come into town.  A couple of soldiers leave the saloon to go tell Sgt. Ernie King about Molly being with Bat in the saloon. 

Sgt. King comes busting into the saloon and quickly starts shooting. He shoots once and wounds Bat in the left arm.  His next shot hits Molly who ran to stop him from hurting Bat.  Bat shoots the sergeant and he goes down.  Poor Molly just lays dead on the floor of the saloon, while the soldiers take the sergeant out of the saloon and Ben takes a look at Bat's arm.  Now Dave comes in to fight Bat, but Ben, with a gun in his hand, tells him to get out. 

In Dodge City Sheriff Regan is running for reelection as sheriff. Bat sees one of the sheriff's henchmen politicking to a small crowd, but keeps on riding.  He goes over to the Marshal's Office.  Ed Masterson, Bat's brother, is running to be elected sheriff of Ford County.  A medical doctor comes along and tells Bat that Ed should be back soon.  He invites Bat over to his place next door to wait for Ed.  The doc bandages up Bat's arm wound.  Ed, the reverend and his pretty daughter named Pauline come into the doctor's office.  Ed says hello to his brother, who is still being treated by the doc.  Ed introduces Pauline to Bat saying she is his fiancé.  The doctor tells Bat his name is Sam Tremaine. 

Bat asks about his brother running for sheriff.  Ed says that Sheriff Regan and his deputies are ex-outlaws and gunmen.  Because of Regan, anything goes in Dodge City.  Ed says he doesn't have much power here because everyone he arrests as marshal gets let go by order of the sheriff. 

Bat says he wants to settle in Dodge City and buy a saloon.  (The reverend is not enthused about that idea.) 

At night Bat and Ed walk along the main street of town.  Bat goes into the saloon while Ed has to do his rounds.  In the saloon Bat sees the doc again.  They sit down at a table and have some drinks together.   The doc says he doesn't think Pauline will marry Ed because she is just not sure of him.  The saloon owner Lily comes over saying that's right.  Ed is too much of a dreamer.  Lily lost her husband because he wouldn't play along with the crooks in town.  When he stayed defiant, they murdered him.  She says Regan is now just waiting for her to have to close the doors of her saloon because she doesn't do enough business to survive economically. 

Bat tells Lily that he has $6,000 dollars.  He would like to use the money to fix up the Lady Gay and increase the number of her patrons for a half interest in the saloon.   The doc tells Lily that it sounds good to him.  So Lily accepts the deal and Bat and she shake hands. 

The saloon has its gala opening.  The sheriff and his deputies come into the place.  Regan wants to talk to Bat, but Bat says he's the only dealer in here and has to say.  So Regan tells his deputy Purley to take over for Bat.  Bat, Regan and deputy Forbes go upstairs.  Bat and Regan go into a room, but Bat closes the door in Forbes's face.  Forbes tries to force his way in.  Bat tells Regan that if Forbes knocks the door down, Regan will get the first bullet.  So Regan tells Forbes to just wait outside quietly. 

Regan says he wants to buy the Lady Gay.  Bat says he'll sell his 50% share for $50,000 dollars.  He ups it to $75,000 dollars.  And, finally, he says it would be foolish of him to sell a money-making place like this.  Regan says he's not going to bargain with Bat, because the man will be dead by tomorrow.  Bat tells Regan that he's not much like the previous proprietor (who was murdered).  If any of Regan's men even make a move, the first bullet will go to the sheriff.    

Ed Masterson makes his rounds.  Someone is following him around and it looks like Dave.  Ed comes into the Lady Gay to see how things went.  Things went very well.  The Saturday night shoot-out begins as usual with drunken cowboys shooting off their weapons in town.   During all the ruckus, Dave goes down the alley a short ways to a window.  From there he can see Ed and Bat Masterson in the saloon.  Dave shoots through the window hitting Ed in the back. Now Forbes and Purley come in trying to kill Bat.  Lily warns Bat and Bat shoots both deputies.  Ed dies. 

Doc, Lily and Bat return from Ed's funeral.  Regan wasn't at the funeral.  Doc says Regan took off until things blow over.  Bat says:  "It's not going to blow over."

Dave yells to Bat.  Bat thinks the guy wants to shoot it out, but as Bat gets ready, Dave says there's no need for that.  He says he's sorry to hear about Ed and that he just got back to Dodge City this morning.  Bat asks Dave if he wants to be a dealer for the Lady Gay and Dave happily accepts.  Now Bat goes into the saloon.  The doc doesn't like the looks of that guy Dave and asks why do they need that man?  Bat says he is going away for awhile.  He's not waiting for Sheriff Regan to return. 

When Bat goes up to his room, Pauline is waiting for him inside.  She says that she holds him personally responsible for what happened to Ed.  Bat says he holds himself responsible.  He then tells Pauline that she is in part responsible also.  She wasn't sure enough of her feelings for herto actually marry Ed.  So maybe they are both responsible and should stop blaming themselves.  He asks Pauline to leave his room as he has to do something.  She tells him she knows what he is going to do and that it's all wrong. 

Bat rides to Hays City and awakens Ben.  Ben comes down from his room and opens the doors.  Bat tells Ben he's been looking for the man who paid the men to kill Ed.  And that man is Sheriff Regan.  Ben warns Bat that if he kills a county sheriff he is going to be in a whole passel of trouble.  He says the election in Dodge City is next week and Regan has to come back for that. 

Back in Dodge City the reverend and his daughter Pauline drive down the main street.  She tells her father she wishes he would reconsider (but we are not told what he should be reconsidering). Bat goes into Lady Gay and talks with Lily, who tells him that Regan is back in town.  Lily asks Bat not to kill Regan, because Bat could be killed himself.  The doc and the reverend go up the steps to talk to Bat.  They come in and Lily goes out.  The reverend tells Bat that the committee that chose Ed to run for county sheriff has now chosen Bat to take his place in the election.  Bat doesn't want to run for country sheriff.  He says the reverend won't have to worry about Regan because tomorrow he won't be around.  The reverend stands up and tells Bat that's not the proper way to handle the murder of his brother.  Murdering the sheriff doesn't honor Ed who was for law and order.  The reverend asks Bat to ask himself:  Am I doing this for my brother or because I am a wild animal? 

Regan comes to the open door.  He says they can settle this anyway Bat wants.  Bat says that if Regan had stepped in his office five minutes earlier, he would have killed him.  But now, he's only going to half-kill the sheriff.  He socks Regan and the fight is on.  The fight moves to the ground floor where Bat knocks out the sheriff.  And now Bat says he will run for sheriff. 

Bat is elected county sheriff.  It was a landslide victory.  Bat says a few words to the people who support him.  He says there will be law and there will be enforcement. 

Regan may be planning to get even with Bat.  The cowboys all can hardly wait for the new sheriff to try to stop their Saturday night shoot-em up.  They don't think he has a chance at stopping the loud festivities.  The cowboys try to test Bat and Bat knocks two of them over the head with his pistol and then shoots another cowboy riding into town.  The shoot 'em up is squashed. 

Pauline and Bat go out for a picnic.  She says she is still a little scared of him, perhaps because she doesn't understand him.  They kiss, but then Pauline says she shouldn't have because she is a minister's daughter and he is a saloon owner.  Bat doesn't think that the difference is such a big deal, but Pauline does. 

At night Bat goes to speak to Lily.  He tells her that he is going to give her his half of the Lady Gay.  He says he's already earned a lot of money from the business and thinks it's time to give it back to Lily.  Lily says this is probably Pauline's idea.  She is obviously upset and asks Bat to just please go.  Bat goes and Lily throws herself on her bed and cries. 

Bat goes to his room.  Ben is there waiting for him.  It seems that Billy shot a deputy in Hays City and the man has died.  Another man shot Billy in the shoulder.  They are planning on hanging Billy in a couple of days.  Bat says they can't do that.  Billy is sick and needs help.  Ben says he has decided to grab Billy from the authorities by force and he wants Bat to help him.  Bat says Ben can't do this.  The proper way is to appeal and get a stay on the execution.  Ben says there's no time for that.  They are going to take Billy up to Wichita and hang him there. 

Dave hears Lily crying.  He opens her door and comes in.  Lily tells him to get out of her room, but Dave is going to take what he wants from her by force.  He tells her to cooperate, other wise Bat will be coming in here and he'll have to kill Bat just like he killed Ed.  Lily is shocked to her Dave's revelation about Ed.  Dave struggles with Lily, who screams bloody murder.  Ben and Bat hear her and come running.   Dave starts to leave but Ben and Bat are almost on him.  Dave shoots Ben and then Bat shoots Dave twice.  Lily runs to Bat and tells him that Dave admitted to her that he was the one who killed Ed. 

Bat tells Ben he is going to go to Culpepper station.   Ben is relieved.  Doc goes with Bat.  Doc says they should turn around, but Bat tells him to get into the coach to keep Billy quiet.  The doc follows his orders and Bat gets into the driver's seat of the coach and takes off.  They race to where three horses wait for them.  They transfer to the horses and take off.  Ben comes riding up to get Billy.  Ben and Billy hug each other and the doc tells Ben that when he gets to Fort Leavenworth he is to go right to the commandant and show him this form the doc is giving him.  The document will get Billy placed in a government hospital where no one will be able to get at him until Billy has been properly examined.

Ben has bad news for Bat.  The town council has voted to take away Bat's badge and arrest him.  Bat's still glad he is helping Ben and Billy. 

A new election is going to be held for the vacant office of Ford County sheriff.   It looks like Regan is going to get back his power and influence. 

Bat and doc are heading back to town.  Bat asks doc to go ahead and go into the town, but he first wants to attend to some unfinished business.  He goes to see Pauline.  She is as cold as ice to Bat and denounces him for his terrible deeds.  Bat says he figured that's what Pauline would say.  He says the two of them are just too different.  He leaves. 

Regan is informed that Bat is back in town.  The one-time sheriff says he's going to face Masterson by himself.  Bat goes into the Lady Gay.  He tells Lily that all he has done is make things worse for her.  Lily tells him to shut up and hugs and kisses.  Bat immediately does the same.  Someone comes to tell Bat that Regan is in the street waiting for him.  The street is empty of people.  The two men walk closer to each other.  Bat shoots Regan dead.  Lily and doc rush out to bring Bat back into the Lady Gay. 


The film is okay, but like so many other westerns, there is little actual history here.  Bat was elected Ford County sheriff in 1877 before the death of his brother in 1878 at the hands of a cowboy who was then killed by Bat.   In 1879 Masterson lost reelection for the office of Ford County sheriff.  He then returned to being a gambler and is also a lawman at times.  In 1891 he marries actress Mary Walters.  He finally ended up in New York City where he died.  He is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx borough of New York City.  In other words, the actual history is quite different from this Hollywood film.  But I guess that's not really a surprise for anyone.

Both Joel McCrea (as Bat Masterson) and John McIntire (as Doc) were good in their roles. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

Bat Masterson

1853  -- born in Canada East.  In all, the family had 7 members, 5 brothers and 2 sisters.

They moved to farms in Quebec, New York and Illinois. 

They finally settled in Wichita, Kansas. 

The brothers Bat, Ed and James became buffalo hunters.

1874 (June 27)  --  Bat was at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, Texas where 28 buffalo hunters held off more than 700 Comanche, Cheyenne and Kiowa.  The Comanche leaders were Isa-tai and Quanah Parker.  Later he became a scout for the U.S. Army fighting the Comanche and Kiowa.   

1876  --  Bat got into his first gunfight in Sweetwater, Texas (now Mobeetie).  It was over a girl.  Bat was hit in the pelvis, but recovered.  Bat's opponent died. 

1877 – Bat joins his brothers Ed and Jim, who are lawmen, in Dodge City, Kansas.

He becomes the sheriff’s deputy and worked alongside Wyatt Earp.

Within a few months he is elected county sheriff of Ford County, Kansas.

As sheriff, Bat captures four members of the Mike Roark gang who were unsuccessful in holding up a train at nearby Kinsley.

He leads the posse that captures Jim Kennedy who inadvertently killed entertainer Dora Han in Dodge City.

1878 (April 9) – Marshal of Dodge City Ed Masterson is killed in the line of duty, shot by cowboy Jack Wagner. Bat Masterson fires on Wagner and the man’s boss. Alf Walker. Walker recovers but Wagner dies the next day.

1879  --   Bat loses reelection as Ford County sheriff. 

the next several years – Bat is a gambler. He visits Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. He leaves shortly before the "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral".

Bat is the marshal of Trinidad, Colorado for a year.

He serves as the sheriff of South Pueblo, Colorado.

1881  --  someone plays a trick on a reporter saying that Bat Masterson is a mankiller with 26 kills.  The story gets into newspapers  around the country, but the story was false.

1882  --  Bat starts writing a sports column.

1889  --   Bat lives in Denver, Colorado.  He buys the Palace Variety Theater. 

1891  -- he marries actress Emma Walters.

1892  -- he is back to being a gambler going around the various boomtowns.  He also promotes prize fights. 

1902  --  goes to New York City.

1998-1912  --  in New York City Bat works to keep peace and order in the grand jury room.

1921  --  death of Bat Masterson at age 67. 




Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)