Legendary Lawman "Mysterious" Dave Mather
Photo credit: Historical Archive
Quite a few readers have contacted me with names of Lawmen that they feel merit a look. This is the case with this month’s Legendary Lawman: David Allen Mather. History has taken to refer to Mr. Mather as Mysterious Dave Mather and for good reason. I’ve been looking over his history for quite some time with not much to show for it. In fact, there are so many stories out there that conflict with one another that I’m guessing Mysterious Dave was messing with the history himself. Like many men of the old west he had a rocky past and some would claim he was equally comfortable on either side of the law. This may have been a case of mistaken identity as there where cases of a Mysterious Dave involved in several crimes but not necessarily Mr. Mather.
Born August 10, 1851, the eldest son of Ulysses and Lydia Mather who dies by his sixteenth birthday. This would lead to Dave and his brother Joshua heading west, eventually landing in Las Vegas, New Mexico (circa 1870) where he would become acquainted with Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. There are several references of Dave and Wyatt in regards to a “gold brick scheme” where they were accused of selling fake gold bricks to native citizens in Mobeetie, Texas. No charges were ever filed but that’s another story all together. According to his brother Josiah “Si” Mather, he and Dave attempted to work as buffalo hunters in 1874 but moved on from this pretty quickly. Some reason that this is where Dave met Earp and associates, Bat Masterson and William “Bill” Tilghman.
It is during his time in Las Vegas that David Mather secured an appointment by Governor Lew Wallace as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Shortly there after he was known to have served for a short time as Assistant Marshal in El Paso, Texas but most notable is his time spent in Dodge City. Arriving in May 1883 during the time of the “Dodge City War” he was smart or fortunate enough not to get involved, sort of. He was appointed the Assistant Town Marshal during a dispute between several saloon owners. As is usually the case, this dispute revolved around politics and favoritism by the Dodge City Mayor. Luke Short, owner of the Long Branch Saloon objected to a city ordinance banning all dance houses. This didn’t sit too well with Short’s friends the Earps or Doc Holliday and they swore to defend their friends right to do business. At this point our intrepid Assistant Town Marshal has purchased himself part ownership in the Opera House Saloon and he too wasn’t too happy with the town law. To make matters even more suspect was the fact that the town council would take absolutely no action against the dance hall owned by Thomas Nixon, a close friend of the Mayor. Seems like there is always a Politian at the center or all these troubles doesn’t it?
The obvious bad blood between Nixon and Mysterious Dave came to a head when the two men would end up in a shootout resulting in Dave killing Nixon (who coincidentally also replaced him as Assistant Town Marshal) on July 21, 1884. Mather was acquitted of the shooting and would eventually leave Dodge following another shooting and being “asked” to leave by town Marshal Bill Tilghman.
Mather would serve as a town Marshal in several small towns and eventually ended up in Vancouver. There he would serve in the Royal Mounted Police until 1920 (or 1922). No date has been found for Mather’s death, unless of course you believe the story that his body was found along the tracks of the Central Texas Railroad but was too mangled to know for sure. I guess Mysterious Dave Mather would not only live up to his moniker, he would die with it intact.
About The Author:
Charles Bennett was born in our Nation's Capital and grew up in the Maryland suburbs. Mr. Bennett has been working in all aspects of the publishing industry since the late 1980s primarily in the fields of commercial photography and magazine production. Moving to California in 1992 to attend college resulted in B.F.A and Masters degrees. California also supplied Mr. Bennett with his wife. The two of them are avid sports persons and participate in shooting, scuba diving, surfing, running and bicycling. As a long time hobby Mr. Bennett has studied the legends of American law enforcement which led to his writing these columns.