Sherman McMaster’s origins were not in Tombstone Arizona. Before Tombstone, in Galena Illinois, Sherman McMasters was born in 1853. Raised in Rock Island, Illinois. His father was a business owner. Sherman didn’t want for anything in his youth. He had a good education1 through high school.3 Was it then he learned to speak fluent Spanish?1 When he was old enough to leave home, sometime from 1870 to 1878, he went West.3
He was in Dodge City Kansas sometime between 1876 to 1878. It’s been reported McMaster shot a man in self defense while in Dodge. This was when Wyatt Earp was there, as well as Doc Holliday. It’s when he first made their acquaintance.
Working as a Lawman
In August of 1878 he’s now in El Paso Texas.3 Until the Spring of the next year, McMaster was working as a Texas Ranger, a Scout for the 9th Cavalry. He was excellent in his accuracy and speed with firearms use.1 Likely that impressed the Ranger’s into his hire.
During this stint he met Curly Bill Brocius. Curly Bill was held by the Rangers there for a government wagon hold-up. He escaped (under suspicious circumstances) in November of 1878, and then next surfaced in Southeastern Arizona.
It has been thought that Sherman McMaster was an aid to his escape. They had struck up a friendship. So that brought suspicion McMaster’s way.
Next: New Mexico
After leaving the Texas Rangers, Sherman McMasters is next in Northern New Mexico: Las Vegas. There McMaster got with Hoodoo Brown. Hoodoo became a corrupt town leader, as a Justice of the Peace, Mayor and Coroner. He recruited others from Kansas. They all became known as the “Dodge City Gang.”
Some sources say McMaster went to Arkansas after that. But documentation for that is quite sketchy.
Still on the Wrong Side of the Law!
By the summer of 1880, Sherman McMaster is now in Arizona. He was in contact with Curly Bill again. That’s how he was probably introduced to Johnny Ringo.
Through Curly Bill he soon he met Pony Diehl and Johnny Barnes. Both men known to the Clantons. So now Sherman McMaster was associated with the Cochise County Cowboys – those locally known “trouble-makers.”
McMaster also at some early point was introduced to Wyatt Earp. Wyatt seemed to understand something of Sherman’s psyche. His involvement with the Cow-boy lifestyle, while having an underlying sense of justice. Wyatt was able to get Sherman McMasters to give him inside information, to be an “informer” – so to speak.4,6
Yet it wasn’t long before McMasters apparently got involved in a few robberies. One may have been the government mule rustle out of Camp Rucker.4 At least once, he collaborated with Ringo. According to one source (but known to make detail errors) Sherman was accused of a stage robbery nearby Globe Arizona.2,6
When McMasters was spotted by Virgil in Tombstone, he reported it to his superior. Before Virgil had a chance to act, McMasters apparently went to the Contention Mine. The mine’s general manager, E.B. Gage’s had his high quality horse hitched there. It disappeared. Sherman was accused of stealing it – rumor was he traded it off. Rumor also had it, that Virgil didn’t follow up.2
Sherman McMasters Divided Loyalties
On the one hand Sherman McMaster had a solid friendship with Curly Bill Brocius. Yes, a guy with a lawless past.
On the other hand he also had met Wyatt Earp, likely had met Virgil. Had developed a friendship with them.
He probably knew Doc Holliday. Because he was Wyatt’s friend, McMaster would treat him cordially also.
Probably there could be some awkward situations. He’d been acting as an informant for Wyatt Earp. In that he’d been offering some details about the Cowboy activities that Wyatt wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. After the Gunfight at the OK Corral in October 1881, the Cowboy contingent would expect he would take up their side of the issue. However – what did he do?
McMaster Chooses the Law – for the Earps
Just after Christmas 1881, Virgil Earp had an attempt on his life on Allen St. His arm was damaged for life. Sherman McMasters was still running with the Cowboy crowd enough to chance on a key conversation. The Clantons were among the prime suspects in Virgil’s attack.
Judge William Stilwell called Ike Clanton for a preliminary hearing to evaluate evidence. McMasters testified he was nearby when Ike grumbled that Virgil remained alive. He said he’d “have to go back and do the job over” – which seems to be self-incriminating!5,6 But the sum total of evidence wasn’t enough to stick. Multiple witnesses placed him in Charleston at the time of the shooting.6
In March 1882, Morgan Earp was gunned down by an assassin at the rear of Campbell & Hatch’s Saloon. Sherman McMaster was right there, talking with Wyatt. While Morgan played pool with owner, Bob Hatch. Sherman witnessed Morgan’s shooting, as the gunfire came through the back of the Saloon. Hatch and McMasters dashed through the back door into the alley, attempting to find the assassins.6 They were gone.
Soon, within the hour, Morgan was dead.6 Wyatt was full of raging vengeance.
Wyatt Earp organized a posse to find those responsible. Especially for Morgan’s murder, but also for Virgil’s attack. It’s known as Wyatt’s Vendetta Ride. He asked Sherman McMaster to come along. Wyatt made him a federal deputy.1
On Monday, March 20, 1882, Sherman was with Wyatt and Warren Earp. Also recruited was Doc Holliday and Turkey Creek Jack Johnson. Their purpose was to accompany Virgil and Allie Earp, standing guard as they traveled to Contention, getting the train to Tucson. Word was cowboys were planning a Tucson attack.6
In Tucson they met for dinner in a restaurant. After Virgil and Allie boarded the train to Colton for Morgan’s funeral, Wyatt spotted Frank Stilwell, likely with Ike Clanton. Wyatt’s vendetta begins right then – he chased them down, killing Frank, who was probably culpable in Morgan’s murder. Resulting in a warrant for Wyatt’s arrest. Plus Warren, Doc, Johnson and Sherman McMasters.5
Returning to Tombstone, County Sheriff John Behan unsuccessfully attempted to arrest Wyatt.5 Wyatt rode off with his posse, recruiting two others: Dan Tipton and Charlie Smith. Behan rounded up his own posse, including Cowboy associates, to hunt them down.6 Followed them throughout Southern Arizona for days.
Wyatt’s vendetta posse hunted down Florentino Cruz (Indian Charlie).5 Wyatt’s description was that he killed him after he confessed to killing Morgan. The coroner’s jury contradicted that, finding multiple gunshot wounds.6
As they roamed the Territory looking for other culprits, Wyatt arranged a meeting to receive needed funds to finance his posse. With him now was Doc, Texas Jack Vermillion, Turkey Creek Jack Johnson and Sherman McMasters. That’s when they were ambushed by Cowboys at a springs in the Whetstone Mountains. In the gunfire, cowboy Johnny Barnes was hit – succumbing later on. According to Wyatt, he spotted Curly Bill Brocius and shot him dead.6 That’s never been verified.
Thus the posse was only partially successful, according to Wyatt’s purposes.
The Legend Afterwards
With these killings:
- Justice was taken into their own hands, because of Wyatt Earp’s vengeance desire, via Federal Badge.
- Vigilante justice according to the local County Sheriff, resulted in warrants out for Wyatt’s posse members.
The “Earp Party” left Arizona by April 21st, to avoid being subject to the warrant. Sherman McMasters along with them, heading into New Mexico.
After that, where did McMaster go? Investigators are onto it still.
There are stories around that are just that. Will McLaury, older brother of Tom and Frank, wrote that he was killed in a Cowboy shootout in 1884. Wyatt later claimed McMasters was in the Spanish-American War, and died in the Philippines. There’s no evidence of that either.
There is a sibling account, he had six. That is the probate record, which lists his death in Colorado in 1892.
Sherman McMasters was a very intriguing character. Two sides to him: good upbringing, to lawman, to law-breaker, to law-abiding/law-supporter (sort-of??).
McMasters Info Sequel
There are many reports of his life – many quite inaccurate and fanciful. Others ensure they do more accurate research, with documentation.
Even his name has been transformed, an “s” added to the end! Reading different accounts of Sherman McMasters, we see that sometimes there’s no “s” at the end of his last name, for “McMaster.” So which is it? Early census data show it correctly as McMaster.3 However the “s’ has often been added, even back through records in the 1880s. We’ve used an “s” here ourselves, to accommodate the many who search to find information on him that way.
1 Brand, P. (2019). Wyatt Earp’s vendetta posse. As told in A Wyatt Earp anthology: Long may his story be told. Editors: R.B. Young, G.L. Roberts, C. Tefertiller. Denton TX: University of North Texas Press.
2 Breckenridge, W.M. (1928). Helldorado: Bringing law to the mesquite. Lincoln NB: University of Nebraska Press.
3 Brand, P. (2006). Sherman McMaster. Tombstone Vendetta. Retrieved from tombstonevendetta.com/shermanmcmaster.html
4 Stephens, J.R. (2013). Kindle Edition, Footnotes of Editor In Wyatt Earp speaks; Written by Earp, W., et al. Cambria, CA: Fern Canyon Press.
5 Lubet, S. (2004). Murder in Tombstone: The forgotten trial of Wyatt Earp. New Haven CT: Yale University Press.
6 Guinn, J. (2011) The last gunfight: The real story of the shootout at the O.K. Corral and how it changed the American west. New York: Simon & Schuster.