The Old Colts

Donald I. Fine Books. ISBN 0-917657-18-7

Trade paperback by same publisher ISBN 0-917657-70-5

Glendon Swarthout’s The Old Colts, purported to be the gospel about the last misadventures of frontier legend Bat Masterson, and his long-time pal, the equally legendary Wyatt Earp.

When Glendon Swarthout's barber introduces him to a retired journalist in the local OK Tonsorial Corral, the one, the only Walter Winchell, he is stunned to learn that the old-timer is in possession of a remarkable document: the true story of Bat Masterson's final years, written in the legendary shootist's own hand. Passed on from Damon Runyon in 1945, the four holograph pages, if genuine, are pure dynamite. For here we learn how Masterson meets up with the one, the only Wyatt Earp in New York City and these two aging gunslingers, a couple of old Colts, turn their backs on their reputations and start raising hell in the late afternoon of their lives.

Wine, women, song and -- if you can believe it -- a life of crime by two of the most respected heroes of the Wild West. Truth or fiction, the author leaves the reader to decide in this masterfully handled comic Western.

Optioned 3 times for films or TV-Movies. Film rights have now reverted to the Swarthout estate. Screenplay available from Hoodwinks Productions (310-578-5404).


"Swarthout easily weaves the facts about Earp's and Masterson's actual careers into his fiction, and his engaging yarn spins along at the brisk pace of a well-tuned Model T. The slang reads right, the laughs are real, and the pay-off is deserved. The Old Colts is a knee-slapper, a jaw-dropper and a comic delight." Los Angeles Times

"Go beyond any question of authenticity and there remains a barn-burner story written by a fast and exciting scribbler . . . You won't want to miss it. You'll ride through this wooly tale with no saddle sores, it's fast-paced and smooth. Anyone who can smell the dusty trails and doesn't mind imbibing a little hair-of-the-dog will be sorry when there's no more of it to read." Wayne M. Anderson, Fort Worth Star Telegram

"It's fast and funny. One admires not only Swarthout's ability to handle the language of the period, but also his inventiveness with scene and incident . . . it's a marvel of a tall tale." Rex Burns, Denver Post

"Is there a movie here? Who else but Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster? They would be just about perfect, those two, as Bat and Wyatt in this romp through history as it might have happened. Or should have happened." Don Freeman, San Diego Union

". . . the book ends with an action-packed episode that will make every Western buff cheer." Phil Thomas, Associated Press Books Editor

"Catchy dialogue and a flavorful portrayal of the Old West mindset are the hallmarks of this novel, which will be enjoyed by both genre buffs and general readers." Booklist

"If ever a book were entitled to the description "ripsnorter," this is it . . . Glendon Swarthout has a filmmaker's eye and sense of pace, a poet's love of language . . . Swarthout takes Wyatt Earp and us for quite a ride. One hopes they make a movie out of this latest ragtag brawler of a book. Lee Marvin and George Kennedy could do it. So who cares if The Old Colts isn't exactly history? We can always wish it were." William Ruehlmann, the Virginian-Pilot

"This is a fast-paced, wry story, heavy with atmospheric flavor and packed with a cameo cast that ranges from George M. Cohan to Teddy Roosevelt. A dandy entertainment." Charles Michaud, Library Journal

"In a yarn highly reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Glendon Swarthout has put together an extremely entertaining tale of the latter days of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp . . . Swarthout has a most realistic touch and the two characters come winningly to life from his pages . . . Entertaining reading for a hot summer night, it certainly is. And with all, a look at the Old West far more realistic and candid than has appeared in a long time." Bruce Lawrason, Indianapolis Star

"Among the many good things going for this novel, Swarthout knows the Old West as well as any writer around. He has a certain reverence, even, for the old colts like Wyatt and Bat. He has a flair for the comic, and he has the wit and gift to bring off a spoof like this in such a way that the old colts, far from being tarnished in the telling, gain a humanness that is missing in their biographies. The Old Colts is a wonderful romp." Dale L. Walker, El Paso Times

"This is a sprightly, hilarious romp through western history crafted by a master . . . It provides a much-needed glimpse of how Kansas might actually have been midway through the second decade of this century. Most (and best) of all, it's fun, from first page to last -- lean, fast-moving, insightful and authentically written pure entertainment." Gene Smith, Topeka, Kansas Capital-Journal

"Written in the first person, this book not only will generate smiles but also will provoke good old-fashioned guffaws." John Neely Davis, Amarillo, Texas News

"Wyatt and Bat surely will join the brotherhood of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as well as their latter-day counterparts, "the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," in this riotous gallop over the wild American past." Paul C. Day, Tulsa, Oklahoma Tribune

"It's an amusing tale that Swarthout handles with just enough tongue-in-cheek to make it entertaining." Chicago Tribune

"The Old Colts is a wildly funny story of a reunion between the famous gunfighters, when they were in their sixties, and their last great adventure together . . . Swarthout has resurrected with affection and humor a pair of American legends who deserve never to be forgotten." James M. Tarbox, St. Paul, Minnesota Morning Pioneer Press Dispatch

"A genuinely humorous novel that is frequently exciting due to its inventive use of language. Most of all it is great fun. Let me add that there is a passage in which Wyatt and Bat go out on a date with a couple of Dodge City girls. The scene back at the hotel is, in my opinion, a minor classic. Warning: reading it may be hazardous to your ability to keep a straight face for hours afterward." Dennis Beck, McAllen, Texas Monitor

"Swarthout has done a good job of illustrating the rapid changes the country went through from the late 1800's, when Bat, Wyatt, and the six-shooters were the law, to the modern automobile-filled cities of the early 1900's, where the pair had to apply for permits just to carry their famous 'six-shooters' . . . The dialogue between the two tight-lipped cowboys is especially good, their few short words containing the hopes, fears, regrets and love shared between tow men whose business it had been -- as gamblers and lawmen -- to conceal emotion . . . Swarthout has done an excellent job of portraying two genuine American folk heroes, and the difficulties they face once history and progress leave them behind." Richard Turner, Springfield, Missouri News-Leader

"A MARVELOUS tongue-in-cheek adventure that reunites two legends of the Wild West, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, in the bustling New York of the early 1900's . . . Masterson, who in fact moved to New York and became a respected sports columnist, and Earp, who retired to California, are brought charmingly to life in this outrageous tale. It is obviously untrue, but Swarthout's style makes you imagine it just MIGHT have happened." Jim Elrick, Aberdeen, Scotland Evening Express

"In any other hands but those of the accomplished writer, it would have become farce, but not with Mr. Swarthout in charge. It's a book to enjoy, completely at variance with his more serious preceding novels. If you like good writing -- read. If you like Westerns -- read. If you like both -- then you're in for a treat. I guarantee." Jewish Gazette, British Isles

Excerpt from The Old Colts

“Mr. Masterson?”

Bat cocks an eye.

“Guy to see you.”


“You can smell ‘em a mile away – so I set him up.” The copy boy is sixteen and Lower East Side and is name is Sammy Taub. “Told him you’d never sell it–not for love or lucre.”


“Say, Mr. Masterson, would you put in a good word for me with Mr. Lewis? I don’t want to be a copy boy all my life.”

“What do you want?”

“A beat. City Hall, PD, maybe sports, like you.”

“Okeh. You get a little fur on your upper lip and we’ll see. Send the gink in.”

“Yessir. Same split?”

“You got it.”

Sammy’s had snaps from the doorway as though by rubber band and Bat opens a deep drawer in his pigeon-hole desk. It contains an arsenal of old Colt revolvers. Taking the one on top, closing the drawer, checking the grip for notches, he lays the Peacemaker on the desk in museum view and resumes, with Parker pen on yellow copy pad, his journalistic labors.

“Mr. Masterson?”

Bat cocks an eye.

“Bat Masterson?”

They came to the offices of the Telegraph, once a carbarn at West 50th and Eighth Avenue, every week or so the year round, and for the same reason. This one was a dressy, flashy, wheezy gent down from Waltham, Mass., who played with a pearl stickpin and popped sweat the second he had a gander at the weapon on the desk. A seat was proffered. He settled into it. Said it was an honor and a privilege to meet Bat Masterson. Said he was a student of the West, regretful he never had an opportunity to partake of its adventure and romance. Said he would like to “palaver” a little about the old days. Bat said shoot. They talked about Dodge and Wyatt Earp and the killing of Sergeant King in Sweetwater, Texas, when Molly Brennan gave her life for Bat’s, and the scrap at Adobe Walls where Bat and a handful of buffalo hunters held off a horde of redskins and the rescue of the Germain sisters from the Cheyenne while Bat was a scout for General Miles.

“Earp was your friend.”

“My best.”

“He’s the other one I’d like to meet. Saw somewhere he lives in California.”

“I heard he does.”

The gent glanced at the gun on the desk, glanced away.

“Don’t you miss those times, Mr. Masterson?”

“Not a damn. I’m a New Yorker now.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Fourteen years.”

“I declare, I don’t know how a rough customer like you--begging your pardon--a man with a past like yours winds up on a newspaper in New York.”

“Luck and talent.”

“Pretty tame though, ain’t it? I mean, compared to the wide open spaces?”

“I hope I never see those dreary old prairies again.”

“Er, uh, is that your gun?”

“It is.”

“Mind if I have a look?”

Bat passed it over.

The hands trembled. The cylinder was turned, the weapon hefted. A fat index finger worked its way down the grip, counting the notches.

“Twenty-three,” Bat supplied.

A wheeze, of pleasure and confirmation. “You killed twenty-three men!”

Bat shrugged.

“I must tell you, sir, I collect a few guns. On an amateur basis, of course. Mr. Masterson, I will give you fifty dollars for this gun.”

“Not that one, you won’t.”

“But I can buy one like it–identical--in any pawnshop for ten.”

“Not that one, you can’t.”

“Why not?”

Bat set the hook. “That was the gun killed Walker and Wagner after they killed my brother Ed.”

“Is that a fact?” The listener was all ears, including lobes. He knew the story by rote, but hungered for it first-hand.

Bat reeled the line in slowly but succinctly: how Ed Masterson, serving as deputy Marshal, had been surrounded by six Texans outside the Lady Gay in Dodge one drunken night in ’78 and gutshot by Walker or Wagner at such close range that his coat was set ablaze; how Bat came on the run and fired four rounds from sixty feet in semi-darkness; how one shot felled Wagner, who died the next day, and three into Wagner, who lingered a month with a hole in his lung before expiring; and how--here the narrator lowered the brim of his hat to half-mast and let his voice break ever so slightly--Ed passed on within half an hour, in the arms of his younger brother, who wept like a child. By this grand finale the gun collector had out a silk handkerchief and was bailing both cheeks.

“Mr. Masterson,” said he, “I will give you a hundred dollars for this weapon.”

Derby down, Bat sat for a spell as though whipsawed by emotion and economics. “I am a little low on funds at the moment,” he muttered at length. “Let’s see the color of your money.”


Sir Waltham of Mass. extricated ass from chair and wallet from hip. Licking a thumb, he laid two fifties on the desk like aces, back-to-back.

“Mr. Masterson, I can’t say--“

“Good day.”

“I assure you, I will never part with this historic weapon. It will be handed down--“

“Get the hell on your horse.”

“Yes, sir!”

Exit the gink.

Enter Sammy Taub. He was given a fiver, his usual cut of the take. He tucked it away, sucked a jujube, and contemplated his future.

“You won’t forget about Mr. Lewis, sir?”

“Not me.”

“How many guns you got left?”

“As many as you’ve got suckers.”

Exit the youth, grinning, while Bat attended to the completion of his column. It ran daily, required two hours to write on average, and was called “Masterson’s Views on Timely Topics”--which topics were invariably pugilistic. Bat had promoted fights and refereed fights and seconded fighters. He knew everyone in the game, from Jess Willard, the then heavyweight champ, to Tex Rickard, to the blind and pitiful pug who sold pencils outside Grupp’s Gym on 116th St. When he pulled his editorial pistol he meant to use it, and did, to the woe of fakers and fixers and the glee of readers, so that his column was scripture in the city and widely quoted on the sports pages of other papers nationally. His subject this afternoon was the Sailor White vs. Victor McLaglen–billed as “The Actor Heavyweight”–fracus upcoming at the Garden. He finished, scrawled a “30,” pushed up from the desk, left his office, strolled through the rivet of telephones and clack of typewriters and roar of reportorial brains that was the newsroom, dropped the pages into a wire basket on the city desk, reversed himself and would have departed for the day had he not been waved into a glassed-in office by the arm of W.E. Lewis, editor of the Morning Telegraph.

“You hooked another one.”

“Why not?”

“How much?”

“A hundred.”

“Bat, you have a larcenous heart.”

“Look, he’ll sell it tomorrow for two hundred.”

W.E. tilted his chair. “I thought I should tell you. Reception called a few minutes ago. Some guy was asking if Bat Masterson really works here. She said you do and did he want an appointment? But he just walked out on her. Odd.”

“What’d he look like?”

“An outlander. Tall, she said. Lean. Your age, maybe a little older. She used the word “grim”--said she wouldn’t care to meet him in a dark alley.”

They were old friends, Bat and W. E. Lewis. They had met in Dodge way back when. Lewis, then a newsman in Kansas City, had been prospecting the West for “color” for articles and wanted Bat to introduce him to the James brothers, who had just raided Northfield, Minnesota and had ridden away with bloody noses and empty saddlebags. “I better not,” Bat told him. “They’ll be meaner then ever now. They’d eat you alive.” It was good advice. Later, as editor and columnist, each was in the other’s debt. It was Lewis who helped spring Bat from jail on his arrival in New York in 1902, and eventually gave him a crack at covering the fight game. In return, Bat lent Lewis’s sheet, besides the renown of his name, an honesty and a dignity in exceedingly short supply.

W.E. locked hands behind head and studied the other over the rims of his specs. “Something’s been eating you lately. Money? You can have an advance of salary anytime.”

“I’m having a bum streak. I’ll get lucky again. You know--feathers today, chicken tomorrow.”

“That’s what they all say.”

“Listen,” said Bat. “Once out in Dodge I had a badger in a barrel on Front Street and I put up a sign. I bet anybody with a dog their dog couldn’t get my badger out of that barrel. Somebody’d come along nearly every day and put up ten bucks and drop their dog in the barrel. Well, they’d go at it, tooth and claw, and tip over the barrel and my animal would take off with the dog after him and I won’t say how much I lost. But I had faith and finally got lucky.”


Bat grinned, tipped his hat, turned to go, and said, over his shoulder, “Shot the damned badger.”