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Legendary "Mysterious Dave Mather"

Updated on August 11, 2015

Dodge City 1874

Little is known about Dave Allen Mather, AKA “Mysterious Dave Mather.” There are many gaps punctuating his life where all one can do is speculate. It’s not even certain exactly where he was born or when and how he died. He was sometimes a lawman and at other times an outlaw, not uncommon in those days.

Mather, was born in August of 1851, probably in Connecticut. His father, a sea captain, descended from a family of noted New England lawmen. However, by the time he reached 16 he was an orphan. Not long after he headed for Dodge City, Kansas.

Mather was a man of relatively small stature and spoke little about himself. He sported a dark moustache, wore twin Colt revolvers and was a lawman in both Dodge City and Las Vegas, New Mexico. Mysterious Dave was frequently seen in the company of Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman.

Facts about Mather’s Life are sketchy, but records indicate he was a cattle rustler in cahoots with Dave Rudabaugh and Milton Yarberry in Arkansas. It’s thought the three were also responsible for robbing and murdering a prominent rancher. When a warrant was issued for their arrest in 1873, they high tailed it to Texas.

There are many tales told about Mather. But, it's hard to separate fact from fiction. One example involves an alleged scheme hatched by him and Wyatt Earp to sell phony gold bricks in Texas. According to the legend they were both run out of town by authorities before the operation got off the ground.

But history does record Mysterious Dave participating in the Railroad Wars of 1879 along with gunfighters Ben Thompson, Doc Holliday, Dave Rudabaugh and John Joshua Webb. Following that, most of them settled in Las Vegas, NM and became known as the legendary “Dodge City Gang” headed by Hoodoo Brown. See:

While still in Las Vegas, Marshal Joe Carson and Mather became involved in a shootout with 4 cowboys in what became known as the Variety Hall Shootout. It’s not known whether Mather was his deputy or not and details of the tale vary. But, most accounts say the cowboys were drunk, disorderly and in violation of the town’s “no guns” policy. When Carson and Mather demanded they relinquish their firearms, the troublemakers refused and went for their guns.

During the ensuing gun battle, Carson was shot and killed, but when the smoke cleared Mather was still standing. He had mortally wounded one and injured another badly enough he couldn’t make a run for it. The other two were injured, but managed to escape.

However, they were tracked down and arrested about 2 weeks later. After Carson’s death, Mather was appointed as marshal. The incident was immediately pounced upon by newspapers and dime novels eager for stories of daring exploits in the Wild West. This catapulted Mather into the national spotlight as a famed gun fighter.

Mysterious Dave returned to Kansas in the early 1880s and became a deputy in Dodge City. At the time tensions had been brewing between saloon owners who were friends of the mayor and Luke Short, owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Apparently, city ordinances had been made favoring Short’s competition and was forcing him out of business. Short happened to be friends with Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp who came to his aid. The show of force prompted the opposition to back off. D

While in Dodge City, Mather also became co-proprietor of the Opera House Saloon and soon got caught up in a feud with rival saloon owner Tom Nixon. The city council objected to Mather's decision to turn his establishment into a dance hall and banned all dance houses…except for Nixon’s. Bad blood between the two grew even more when Nixon replaced him as deputy.

Things came to a head when they exchanged words and Nixon fired at Mather barely missing him. Nixon was arrested for assault with intent to kill. But, because of his ties with the mayor he was almost immediately back on the street. Three days later, Mather shot Nixon in the back killing him. Mather turned himself into authorities but he was never convicted of murder. People considered it more an act of self defense than anything else.

Mather was arrested again several years later. He was accused of killing a gambler named Dave Jones during a card game. During the fray Mather's head was grazed by a bullet. However, it was later revealed by witnesses Jones had fired on Mather first.

There are several colorful legends told about Mysterious Dave, none of which can be confirmed or denied. One story tells about Mather attending a traveling revival meeting in Dodge City. Supposedly, the preacher recognized Mather from his outlaw days and publicly lambasted him declaring he should repent of his evil ways. When Mather had all he could take from the big windbag he drew his pistols and began firing. Some accounts say he shot and killed the preacher outright while other versions say he merely shot out the lights scattering the parishioners.

Reliable details about Mather’s life following his exploits in Dodge City are few. One newspaper reported he was a Deputy Marshal in Kansas. There are other documents indicating he may have moved to Vancouver and joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


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