Cops Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad
Dave A. Mather Lawman/Outlaw

Dave A. Mather

David Allen Mather, better known as Mysterious Dave, was born on August 10, 1851, to Ulysses and Lycia Mather. Dave had come from a family of seafaring lawmen in Massachusetts, and his ancestors had been rugged English sailormen of the Seven Seas.

Mather was proud of his English heritage, and it was common to see him dressed in royal blue and red, even when he got older. Some of his immediate family members were also lawmen in Massachusetts, from whom Mather acquired the desire to become a lawman himself.

A smallish man with square but frail shoulders, dark eyes, and a mustache, Mather was a man of few words, which gained him the nickname “Mysterious Dave.”

Though Mather had aspirations to be a lawman, he, like so many other officers of the Old West, rode both sides of the fence, sometimes on the side of the law and, just as often, riding with outlaws.

By the time Mather was 16, his parents were dead, so he and his brother, Josiah, headed west. Around 1873, Mather became involved in cattle rustling in Sharp County, Arkansas. In 1874, Mather made his first appearance in Dodge City, Kansas, where he frequently returned as a lawman and an outlaw.

About this same time, Mather was often seen about the saloons of DenverColorado, always with twin Colts bulging under his coat. He keenly watched the players at the faro, blackjack, and poker tables, but he never gambled himself.

Mobeetie, Texas, early 1900s

Mobeetie, Texas, early 1900s

By 1878, Mather had found his way to MobeetieTexas, and into the company of Wyatt Earp, where one suspiciousness account related that the two ran a con game peddling “gold” bricks to the naïve citizens of Mobeetie.

In 1879, Mather hooked up with outlaw Dutch Henry Born, the leader of a horse-stealing ring operating in a vast area from Kansas to eastern Colorado and New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. Mather was arrested with Henry Born but was later released. He was soon picked up for complicity in a train robbery near Las Vegas, New Mexico, but was acquitted. Afterward, Mather was appointed as a Deputy Las Vegas Marshal, becoming part of the notorious Dodge City Gang terrorizing Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Las Vegas, New Mexico Saloon

Las Vegas, New Mexico Saloon

On January 22, 1880, T.J. House, James West, John Dorsey, and William Randall were parading about town, sneering, laughing, and looking for trouble. When they entered the Close & Patterson Variety Hall, Marshal Joe Carson asked them to check their guns, but they refused. A wild gunfight ensued, and Carson was killed immediately, while Deputy Dave Mather killed Randall and dropped West. John Dorsey, though wounded, and T.J. House managed to escape.

On February 5, the whereabouts of Dorsey and House were learned; they were at the home of Juan Antonio Dominguez in Buena Vista, 30 miles north of Las Vegas. A posse comprised of J.J. WebbDave Rudabaugh, and five other men surrounded the home and called for the men to surrender. Dorsey and House complied after assurance of protection from the citizens of Las Vegas was given. However, this assurance would mean very little, as, within hours of the men being placed in the Old Town Jail, vigilantes relieved the jailers of the prisoners. Taking them to the windmill on the Plaza to hang, Mrs. Carson opened fire on the men, depriving the lynchers of their opportunity.

After Marshal Carson’s death, Mather was appointed the Las Vegas Marshal. However, Mather soon moved on again after being accused of “promiscuous shooting” in his capacity as marshal. Next, he was known to have served for a short time as Assistant Marshal in El Paso, Texas. However, after an altercation in a brothel in which Mather was slightly wounded, he returned to Dodge City, where he was hired as Assistant City Marshal.

Dodge City in the late 1800's

Dodge City in the late 1800s

By the time Mather returned to Dodge City, the existence of gambling, drinking, prostitution, and dance halls, often in open violation of the law, had heated up as a major town issue. The “Dodge City War” in the spring of 1883 was followed by pressure from the Santa Fe Railroad to clean up their town. The reform-minded and status quo factions were still feuding when David Mather accepted the Dodge City Assistant Marshal position. Before long, Mather also became the co-owner of the Opera House Saloon on Front Street.

Thomas Nixon

Thomas Nixon

Because of its prominent downtown location, the city council objected to Mather’s decision to turn the Opera House Saloon into a dance hall and soon passed an ordinance banning all dance houses. However, the council took no action against another dance hall owned by Thomas Nixon, allegedly because of its remote location. For several months, Nixon and Mather battled to put each other out of business.

In 1884, the city government replaced Mysterious Dave with Nixon as the Assistant Marshal, and the feud brewing for several months came to a head. On the evening of July 18, 1884, Nixon drew a gun and fired at Mather but only sprayed him with a few splinters. Three days later, Mather approached Nixon from behind and fired four bullets into his back, killing him instantly. Later, Mather was heard to say, “I ought to have killed him six months ago.”

Although Mather was acquitted of Nixon’s murder, he killed another man the following year and was run out of town by Marshal Bill Tilghman. After serving as city marshal in a few small towns in Kansas and Nebraska, Mysterious Dave moved to San FranciscoCalifornia, where he took a ship to Vancouver.

Some reports say he soon enlisted in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, proving his prowess by showing what he could do with a pair of six guns and a horse. Allegedly he was still seen in the royal blue and red as late as 1922, but those reports have been refuted, and his true fate is unknown.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *