He came from a family of seafaring lawmen in Massachusetts, and a long line of English sailors of the Seven Seas. Nevertheless, David Allen Mather was known as Mysterious Dave, because people weren’t sure if he was a lawman or a killer. Mather was born on August 10, 1851, to Ulysses and Lycia Mather. Mysterious Dave could often be found wearing royal blue and red, as a proud display of his English heritage…even as he got older. Because some of his family members were lawmen in Massachusetts, Mysterious Dave decided that he wanted to become a lawman himself, but he was a small man with square but weak shoulders, dark eyes, and a mustache. Mather was not a talkative man, earning him the nickname of “Mysterious Dave.”
While Mather wanted to be a lawman, he wasn’t always true to his chosen profession. Like so many other lawmen of the Old West, sometimes necessity caused him to operate on both sides of the fence. Sometimes he was on the side of the law, and other times he could be found riding with outlaws. It didn’t instill much confidence in the law. The townspeople might find themselves with out protection, because the local sheriff is part of the gang that is robbing the local bank.
Mather’s parents died before he was 16, so he and his brother, Josiah headed west. By 1873, Mather was cattle rustling in Sharp County, Arkansas. A year later, Mather discovered Dodge City, Kansas, a town he would return to frequently…both as a lawman and an outlaw. He also loved to head into Denver, Colorado, always with twin Colts bulging under his coat, to frequent the saloons there. He was interested in watching the gamblers at the faro, blackjack, and poker tables, but strangely, he never gambled himself.
Mather had made his way to Mobeetie, Texas by 1878, and began hanging out with Wyatt Earp. Before long a suspicious story emerged placing the two men running a con game peddling “gold” bricks to the naïve citizens of Mobeetie. Mather hooked up with outlaw Dutch Henry Born in 1879. Born was the leader of a horse-stealing ring operating in a huge area from Kansas, to eastern Colorado and New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. Before long Mather was arrested with Henry Born, but was later released…somehow beating the rap. Next, Mather was picked up for complicity in a train robbery near Las Vegas, New Mexico, but somehow dodged a bullet there too, when he was acquitted. Somehow the people of Las Vegas decided that Mather would make a great Deputy Marshal. Apparently he had mixed emotions on that score, because soon, he became part of the notorious Dodge City Gang that was terrorizing the city of Las Vegas New Mexico. What??? I thought he was supposed to be protecting them!!
On January 22, 1880, T.J. House, James West, John Dorsey, and William Randall terrorizing the town, laughing and looking for trouble. When they entered the Close and Patterson Variety Hall, Marshal Joe Carson asked them to check their guns but they refused. In the ensuing gunfight, Carson was killed immediately, while Deputy “Mysterious” Dave Mather killed Randall and dropped West. John Dorsey, though wounded, and T.J. House managed to escape. The whereabouts of Dorsey and House was learned on February 5. They were at the home of Juan Antonio Dominguez in Buena Vista, thirty miles north of Las Vegas. They formed a posse including J.J. Webb, Dave Rudabaugh, and five other men. They surrounded the home and told the men to surrender. Dorsey and House complied after assurance of protection from the citizens of Las Vegas were given. The assurance wouldn’t mean much, because within hours of the men being placed in the Old Town Jail, local vigilantes charged the jailers, taking the men to the windmill on the Plaza, where they were to be hanged. Mrs Carson opened fire on the men, and the opportunity was lost.
After Marshal Carson’s death, the people decided to appoint Mather as the Las Vegas Marshal, but he couldn’t keep to one side of the law, and soon moved on again after being accused of “promiscuous shooting” in his capacity as marshal. He served a short stint as Assistant Marshal in El Paso, Texas, but an altercation in a brothel caused Mather to be slightly wounded. He decided to return to Dodge City where he was hired as Assistant City Marshal.
By the time Mather returned to Dodge City, gambling, drinking, prostitution, and dance halls, often in open violation of the law, had all but taken over the town. The “Dodge City War” in the spring of 1883 was followed by pressure from the Santa Fe Railroad to clean up the town. David Mather was still at odds with the good people, but accepted the position of Dodge City Assistant Marshal. Before long, he was also the co-owner of the Opera House Saloon on Front Street.
Then a man named Thomas Nixon enter the picture. 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, mostly because of its prominent downtown location. Still, the council took no action whatsoever against another dance hall owned by Nixon, allegedly because of its remote location. This didn’t set well with Mather, and for several months, he and Nixon battled to put each other out of business. In 1884, the city government replaced Mysterious Dave with Nixon as the Assistant Marshal. With this action, the fight was on. The evening of July 18, 1884 found Nixon firing a gun 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. Mather was later heard to say, “I ought to have killed him six months ago.”
Mather was acquitted of Nixon’s murder, but he killed another man the following year, and was run out of town by Marshal Bill Tilghman. After serving as city marshal in a couple of small towns in Kansas and Nebraska, Mysterious Dave moved on San Francisco, 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. Little is known about what happened to Mysterious Dave after that. I guess he, like old soldiers, old lawmen, they simply fade away.