Mysterious Dave Mather

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Mysterious Dave Mather
David Allen "Mysterious Dave" Mather posed for his only known photograph sometime during his term as Assistant Marshal of Dodge City (June 1, 1883 – April 10, 1884)
Born August 10, 1851
Saybrook, Connecticut, USA
Died Unknown - but prior to Nov. 1887
Possibly Texas
Occupation Lawman
Buffalo Hunter
Hired Gun
Years active 1870s – 1885

David Allen Mather, known as "Mysterious Dave" Mather, was an American lawman and gunfighter in the American Old West. His taciturn personality may have been what earned him the sobriquet "Mysterious Dave." Historical records show that he was a lawman in Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Vegas, New Mexico

Early life[edit]

Dave Mather

Captain Ulysses W. Mather married Lydia E. Wright on July 16, 1848 at Westbrook, Connecticut. They settled in the neighboring town of Saybrook where David Allen "Mysterious Dave" Mather was born on August 10, 1851. A second son, Josiah Wright Mather, was born on October 11, 1854, followed by George Conway Mather, who was born in 1855 and died the following year.[1]:14–15 Mather's father abandoned the family in 1856, and was later murdered in Shanghai, China aboard his ship the Ellen on September 13, 1864. The news of his death didn't reach Connecticut until two months later when reports were printed in the Hartford press.[2][3]

Mather said he was descended from Cotton Mather,[4] but research on the lineage of Cotton Mather performed by Horace E. Mather indicates that this claim was likely incorrect.[5]

By 1860, Mather was living with his maternal grandfather, Josiah Wright.[6] By 1870, he was working as a laborer and living as a boarder with a cousin.[7] In 1870 Mather and his brother Josiah (then 19 and 15, respectively) went to nearby Clinton, Connecticut and signed on as part of the crew of a cargo ship, eventually making their way to New Orleans.[1]:22

Early life[edit]

Mather's early life after leaving Connecticut is the subject of much lore and legend, but little documented fact. He is known to have been in Dodge City, Kansas, in 1872, where family lore claims that he and his brother Josiah reunited to try their hand at buffalo hunting.[1]:25–26 Another legend reported that Mather partnered with Wyatt Earp in 1878 in a scheme to sell fake gold bricks in the town of Mobeetie, Texas.[8][9]

The first documented evidence of Mather's career occurred in 1879 when he was recruited by Bat Masterson to serve in a posse to enforce the claims of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway in the Royal Gorge Railroad War.[10] The posse was never called to action as the "war" was settled in court.

Becomes lawman[edit]

Mather relocated to East Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he found work as a U.S. Deputy Marshal for the Territory of New Mexico. In October 1879, he was arraigned and tried for being an accessory to a train robbery, but was acquitted.[11] He also served on the East Las Vegas police force.[12]

Mather's reputation as a gunman originated in East Las Vegas when he got into a gunfight on January 22, 1880 while serving as assistant marshal. He and his boss, Marshal Joe Carson, got into a shoot out with four men at Close & Patterson's Variety Hall on Main Street.[13] Carson was killed and Mather killed William Randall and gravely injured James West. He also wounded Thomas Jefferson House and John Dorsey, but their wounds were minor and they fled the scene.[14]

On January 25, 1880, three days after the gunfight at Close & Patterson's Variety Hall, Acting Marshal Mather was summoned to an altercation involving Joseph Castello, who, in the heat of an argument with his employees, drew his revolver on them. When Mather arrived, Castello warned him not to approach or he would shoot. Newspaper reports of the incident report that Mather drew his weapon and fired a single lethal shot before Castello could return fire. The coroner's jury ruled that Mather's "shooting was justifiable and in self protection."[15]

Mather's career as in East Las Vegas was short-lived. In February 1880, the two men who had escaped the January gunfight with minor wounds, House and Dorsey, were captured and returned to the San Miguel County Jail. Under Mather's watch, a lynch mob broke them and their fellow gunman West out of jail and hung them. During the next month, there were two murders on the same day. The public began to suspect Mather had ties to the town mob boss, and Mather resigned on March 3, 1880.[16] Mysterious Dave did not leave East Las Vegas immediately. He was still there as late as March 19, 1880 when he signed his name to a court document intended to help John Joshua Webb, who had been charged with murder.[17]

Turns outlaw[edit]

Records indicate that Mather spent the next several years drifting around Texas and having various minor skirmishes with the law, including a stint in a Texas jail for counterfeiting,[18] and a three month stretch in Dallas awaiting trial on charges of stealing a silk dress from a woman named Georgia Morgan with whom he had operated a brothel. In three separate counts, Dave was also charged with the theft of two diamond rings and a watch from Georgia Morgan. Dave was acquitted of all three charges on April 13, 1882.[19]

Feud with Tom Nixon[edit]

On June 1, 1883, Mather was hired as an Assistant City Marshal in Dodge City.[20] He served only 9 months and was replaced on April 10, 1884 by Tom Nixon,[21][22] sparking a feud between the two. The feud was further stoked when the city passed "Ordinance No. 83", outlawing dance halls within Dodge City. The ordinance was enforced against Mather's Opera House Saloon, preventing it from operating as a dance hall, but not against Nixon's Lady Gay Saloon, which also featured dancing. In retaliation, Mather began a price war on beer. He charged only five cents a glass, half the price of his competitors. Nixon and the other Dodge City saloon owners pressured the beer wholesalers to cut off Mather's supply. The feud resulted in gunfire on July 18, 1884, when Nixon shot Mather, but only wounded him slightly.[23] Nixon posted bond on charges of attempted murder.[23]

Three days later on July 21, Mather and Nixon got into another confrontation and Mather shot and killed Nixon.[24] Despite supporting testimony from Bat Masterson and Dodge City Sheriff Patrick Shugrue, Mather's case was sent to trial.[25] His attorney obtained a change of venue to Ford County and the trial began on December 29, 1884. It lasted only three days and on December 31, 1884 the jury deliberated only seven minutes before declaring Mather not guilty. The Kinsley Mercury wrote that "the verdict was a proper one, as the weight of the testimony showed that Nixon was the aggressor in the affray and that Mather was justified in the shooting."[26][notes 1] The Dodge City Times noted that "the reading of the verdict, by the court, was interrupted by demonstrations of approval from the audience."[27]

Kills David Barnes[edit]

After Mather's brother Josiah learned about his brother's acquittal in the Nixon trial, he rejoined Dave in Dodge City in early 1885.[28] On May 10, 1885 both Dave and Josiah Mather were in the Junction Saloon in Dodge City, where. Dave was playing cards with a man named David Barnes. An argument and gunfire broke out and Barnes was killed.

Sheriff Pat Sughrue arrested both brothers. During testimony before a coroner's jury, Sheriff Sughrue testified that Dave Mather's pistol "was loaded and had no empty shells in it." Nonetheless, the jury ruled that "the deceased D. Barnes came to his death ... from a gun shot wound received at the hands of David Mathers [sic] and Josiah Mathers [sic] by means of revolvers by them fired, and that the said shooting was feloniously done." [29]

A preliminary examination for the brothers was held in Dodge City 12 days later on May 22. Both brothers were bound over for trial without bail. They immediately petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus. On June 2, 1885, Judge Strang allowed the defendants to post a bond of $3,000 and they were released. Their attorneys got their cases postponed until the December, 1885 court term. The two defendants jumped bail and were never tried.[1]:162–165


Mather's late life was the subject of much rumor and speculation. Because of his notoriety, newspapers often reported rumors of his appearances, often unsubstantiated.
On August 14, 1885 it was reported that Mather became the Town Marshal of New Kiowa, Kansas;[30]
The last substantiated knowledge of Mather's whereabouts occurred in New Kiowa, Kansas, in September 1885, where he is known to have raised a $300 legal defense fund for his longtime friend and partner Dave Black, accused of a murdering a soldier. {Black had shot and mortally wounded Bugler Julius Schmitz of Co K 18th Infantry Regiment (United States) August 27, 1885[31][32][33]} Mather fled New Kiowa on September 6, 1885 when he heard rumors that the soldier's company might come after him for defending the murderer of their comrade.[34]

In November 1887, Mather's bail bondsmen were called before the court to make retribution for Mather's failure to appear for trial in the case of the Dave Barnes murder. At that time, the bondsmen filed a petition to set aside the bail, claiming that Mather was dead, although they were unable to produce the body.[35] The County Attorney agreed with the petition and moved to dismiss the charges against the bondsmen,[35] which the trial judge approved on November 9, 1887.

No other record of Mather's death exists, and rumors abound as to his possible fate. In an article in the November 1902 issue of Everybody's Magazine, author Edward Campbell Little claimed that Mather had gone to the British Northwest Territories where he "enlisted as one of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), looted the stage he was sent to guard, and escaped with twenty thousand pounds. His brother Cy [Josiah] reports that he was killed by moonshiners in the mountains of Tennessee."[36] This report contradicts Josiah Mather's own version of events, as told to his children, that he never saw nor heard from David after they parted company at Dodge City following the Barnes incident.[1]:175–176

Writing later in 1954, author William Waters wrote that Mather was employed with the RCMP as late as 1922,[37] a claim that was refuted by the RCMP.[9]


  1. ^ The Kinsley Mercury was published by Robert McCanse, the prosecuting attorney in Mather's case, and edited by McCanse's legal partner Samuel W. Vandivert, two men who had a vested interest in seeing Mather convicted.


  1. ^ a b c d e DeMattos, Jack (1992). Mysterious Gunfighter: The Story of Dave Mather (1st ed.). College Station, Texas: Creative Publishing Company. ISBN 0-932702-95-3. 
  2. ^ Hartford Evening Press, November 18, 1864
  3. ^ Hartford Courant, November 19, 1864
  4. ^ Dodge City Kansas Cowboy, August 18, 1884.
  5. ^ Mather, Horace E. (1890). Lineage of Rev. Richard Mather. Lockwood & Brainard, Hartford, Connecticut,. All persons in this country by the name of Mather, who descended from the New England Mathers, can be traced directly to Timothy Mather, as the names cease in all other lines with Samuel Mather, the grandson of Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather. Samuel Mather died in 1818. Many Mathers in this country claim descent from Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather, but they are mistaken. 
  6. ^ 1860 United States Federal Census, Westbrook, Connecticut, June 14, 1860
  7. ^ 1870 United States Federal Census, Westbrook, Connecticut, June 23, 1870
  8. ^ McIntire, James (1902). Early Days in Texas. McIntire ublishing. 
  9. ^ a b Rickards, Colin (1968). Mysterious Dave Mather. Press of the Territorian. 
  10. ^ Ford County Globe (Dodge City, Kansas) - July 8, 1879.
  11. ^ Las Vegas Daily Optic, November 5, 1879
  12. ^ Las Vegas Gazette, November 22, 1879
  13. ^ ODMP memorial for J. Carson
  14. ^ Las Vegas Daily Optic, January 24, 1880
  15. ^ Las Vegas Daily Optic, January 26, 1880
  16. ^ Santa Fe Daily New Mexican - March 3, 1880
  17. ^ Criminal Cases 1024, 1026 and 1029, The Territory of New Mexico vs. John Joshua Webb, San Miguel County District Court Records, New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe.
  18. ^ Las Vegas Daily Optic - February 16, 1881
  19. ^ Dallas Herald, April 14, 1882
  20. ^ Ford County Globe - July 24, 1883
  21. ^ Ford County Globe, April 15, 1884
  22. ^ Dodge City Times, April 17, 1884.
  23. ^ a b Dodge City Democrat, July 19, 1884
  24. ^ ODMP memorial for T.Nixon
  25. ^ Criminal Action No. 473, The State of Kansas vs. Dave Mather - Preliminary Examination of David Mather, in the Records of the District Court for Edwards County, Kansas.
  26. ^ Kinsley Mercury - January 3, 1885
  27. ^ Dodge City Times - January 8, 1885.
  28. ^ 1885 Kansas State Census, "Inhabitants in the city of Dodge in the County of Ford in the State of Kansas, on the first day of March, 1885," p. 19, No. 28, in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka.
  29. ^ Coroner's jury statement as printed in the Dodge City Globe Live Stock Journal, May 19, 1885.
  30. ^ Dodge City times., August 20, 1885, Image 4, {two Notices including a remark "Dave makes a good officer."
  31. ^ Dodge City times., September 03, 1885, Image 1
  32. ^ Barbour County index., September 04, 1885, Image 3
  33. ^ Julius Schmitz at Find a grave
  34. ^ New Kiowa Herald - September 10, 1885.
  35. ^ a b Cause No. 841, The State of Kansas vs. David Mather et al, in the records of the District Court, Ford County, Kansas.
  36. ^ Little, Edward Campbell (November 1902). "The Round Table of Dodge City". Everybody's Magazine VII (4). 
  37. ^ Waters, William (1954). A Gallery of Western Badmen. Covington, Kentucky: Americana Publications. p. 15. 


  • Bryan, Howard. Wildest of the Wild West: True Tales of a Frontier Town on the Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 1988. ISBN 0-940666-08-1
  • DeMattos, Jack. Mysterious Gunfighter: the Story of Dave Mather. Creative Publishing Company, College Station, TX 1992 ISBN 0-932702-95-3
  • DeMattos, Jack. "Mysterious Dave Mather – A View from 1902." Wild West History Association Journal ( Vol. IV, No. 5), Oct. 2011.
  • DeMattos, Jack. "The Unmysterious Mather," Wild West History Association Journal (Vol. V, No. 4), August 2012.
  • DeMattos, Jack. "The Boyhood of Mysterious Dave Mather," Wild West History Association Journal (Vol. VIII, No. 2), April 2015.
  • Mather, Horace E. Lineage of Rev. Richard Mather, Hartford, CT: Lockwood & Brainard, 1890.
  • Miller, Nyle H. and Snell, Joseph W. Why the West Was Wild: A Contemporary Look at the Antics of Some Highly Publicized Cowtown Personalities. Topeka, KS: Kansas State Historical Society, 1963.
  • Perrigo, Lynn. Gateway to Glorieta: A History of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87108-597-6
  • Rickards, Colin. "Mysterious Dave Mather," The English Westerners Brand Book (Vol. 1, No. 3), January 1959.
  • Shillingberg, Wm. B. Dodge City: The Early Years, 1872-1886. Norman, OK: The Arthur H. Clark, Co., 2009 ISBN 978-0-87062-378-3