Dave Allen Mather (August 10, 1851, date of death unknown, most probably May 1886, but nothing confirmed), known as Mysterious Dave, or sometimes as New York Dave, was an American lawman and gunfighter in the American Old West. The date and circumstances of his death are not known with any certain facts. However the most plausible account is that he was shot to death in Dallas, Texas in 1886, and left on the tracks of a railroad. The body found matched his description, and the bondsman holding a $3,000 bond on him was released of the obligation that same year on the pretense that the client had died.
Not a great deal is known of Mather's life. The gaps in his life and his taciturn manner may have been what earned him the sobriquet "Mysterious Dave". It is known that he was a lawman in Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Vegas, New Mexico, and was a frequent associate of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.
Dave was the first of three sons born to the Mathers. His brother, Josiah "Sy" Mather was born October 11, 1854. Another brother, George Conway Mather, was born in 1855 and died in 1856. By the time that Dave was 16, both of his parents had died), and Dave and his brother, Josiah headed west, settling first in Dodge City, Kansas.
Ulysseus Mather abandoned his family following the death of his son and the loss of his ship. He died in 1864 at port in Shanghai, after being stabbed by the ship's Chinese cook. Lydia Mather remarried to a man named George H. Randle sometime in the late 1850s. When she died in 1868, Dave and Sy ran away to sea. This lasted less than a year before the boys opted for a life on dry land and jumped ship in New Orleans.
Sy reported that he and Dave tried to work as buffalo hunters on the Llano Estacado around 1874. The venture did not last long, but it is possible that Mather may have met future associates such as Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Bill Tilghman, who also tried their hand at hunting.
Dave was a resident of Dodge City, Kansas, in the early 1870s, where he befriended Dr. Thomas L. McCarty. When Dave was badly wounded in a knife fight, McCarty was able to save his life. In 1878, Mather and Wyatt Earp are said to have come into Mobeetie, Texas, with a scheme to sell phony gold bricks. The two claimed that the bricks were from a lost mine dating back to the days of the conquistadores. Before they could get far with their scam they were run out of town by a lawman named Jim McIntire. Like so many of the stories about Mather, the authenticity of this one is dubious.
What is more historically certain is that Mysterious Dave was one of the Kansas gunslingers assembled by Bat Masterson for the Railroad Wars of 1879-80. The Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad was competing with the Denver and Rio Grande for the rights to build a track through two disputed areas. Other gunfighters working with Mather for the Santa Fe line included Dave Rudabaugh, John Joshua Webb, Doc Holliday, and Ben Thompson.
The gang monopolized the gambling and prostitution in Las Vegas while they acquired political power as well. Hoodoo Brown became justice of the peace, and Dave Mather was named deputy U.S. Marshal for the area by Governor Lew Wallace. Members of the gang, including Mather, were also alleged to have been responsible for several stagecoach robberies. Mather's career during this time seems to have been a mix of law-enforcement and alleged law-breaking, a pattern common to the famous lawmen of the Old West.
On January 22, 1880, Las Vegas Marshal Joe Carson was shot and killed by four cowboys in the Close and Patterson's Variety Hall during a shootout. Whether or not Mather was actually deputized has never been confirmed. The account told most often has him going in with Carson, with some accounts listing him as Carson's deputy, while others simply say they were together that day. Cowboys T.J. House, James West, John Dorsey, and William Randall had been going around town that day, in and out of saloons, generally making trouble. A "no guns in town limits" rule was in effect, and Marshal Carson demanded that the cowboys relinquish their weapons, to which they refused. A shootout between Carson and the cowboys started, with the marshall falling dead. Dave Mather drew his gun and returned fire. When the gunfire died down Mather was still standing. William "Big" Randall was mortally wounded, and James West was too badly injured to escape. The other two men, John Dorsey and an also wounded T.J. House, managed to make their way to the stable and escape.
House and Dorsey were captured two weeks later, and brought to the Las Vegas jail to await trial. An angry mob broke into the jail and pulled House, Dorsey and West from their cell, and lynched them. The gunfight, which became known as the Variety Hall Shootout, was the first substantiated account to which Mather's name could be attached, and it launched him into western fame as a gunman.
In Dallas, Mather had his only recorded romance of any length. He was involved with an African American woman named Georgia Morgan who worked as the madame of a brothel called the "Long Branch". The romance lasted until January 1881 when Dave abandoned his lover, taking some items of property belonging to her. She pursued him with a butcher knife but was arrested before she could do anything.
In May 1883, Mysterious Dave returned to Kansas and became assistant town marshal during the so-called Dodge City War, a dispute between saloon owners who were friends of the mayor of Dodge City and Luke Short, owner of the Long Branch Saloon. Several gunfighters including Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp gathered to support their friend Short. The show of force was enough to cause Short's enemies to back down, and violence was avoided. Mather also served during this time as a Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff Patrick F. Sughrue. On September 29, 1883, Mather led a posse in pursuit of train robbery suspects, capturing two the same day in which the posse left town.
While in Dodge City, Mather became owner of the Opera House Saloon, became active in politics as a Democrat, and may even have gotten married, but that is unconfirmed. Though the evidence is marginal, he may have been married to a woman named Josephine. Mather became involved in a feud with a rival saloon owner named Tom Nixon Tom was the owner of the Lady Gay Saloon and was a friend of the mayor. An ordinance had been passed that restricted all saloons in town, except the Lady Gay. Dave's resentment grew when he was replaced as deputy by Tom Nixon.
On July 18, 1884, Mysterious Dave and Tom Nixon had an altercation in front of the Opera House Saloon. Nixon drew a pistol and fired once, missing Mather. Nixon posted a bond for assault with intent to kill in the sum of $800, but Mather himself elected not to file a complaint. The Dodge City Democrat published an article on the shooting which states plainly that by all indications, the situation was "by all appearances not yet at an end". The article could not have been more accurate. Three days later, Mysterious Dave walked up to Nixon and shot and killed Nixon. He then surrendered himself to authorities and was exonerated of murder. The common consensus at the time was that because of Nixon's previous attempt on Mather's life, Mather was acting in self defense.
On May 10, 1885, Mather was arrested again. This time he and his brother Josiah (called Sy) were accused of killing a gambler named Dave Jones over a game of cards, inside the Junction Saloon. The gunfight also resulted in Dave Mather being wounded by a bullet that grazed his head, and it has been reported that his brother was killed, but in fact he did not die until 1933. There was a preliminary hearing on the shooting, during which it was revealed that Dave Mather never fired a shot, and that Dave Jones had fired on Dave Mather, grazing him, only to be shot dead by Josiah Mather. The shooting and the aftermath was well publicized at the time, due mostly to the notoriety of Dave Mather. The results of that hearing were posted in the Dodge City Democrat on May 22, 1885. There were several witness statements included in that article.
The brothers made bail and left town, though the details of how are unclear. One account says that Marshal Bill Tilghman ran Dave out of town after an armed standoff, another says he slipped away disguised as a woman. Neither are believed to be true, and it is most likely he simply left town, and for all practical purposes disappeared from historical record.
There are several accounts of Mysterious Dave's final fate:
None of these accounts has been supported by any public records. Neither the Mounted Police nor the U.S. Customs Service, nor the vital records of any of the communities he supposedly lived in, can furnish any evidence of Dave Mather's presence. However, the most plausible report as to what happened to Mather comes out of Dallas, Texas, in May 1886, when it was reported that an unidentified body of a man matching Mather's description, with a long mustache, was found dead on the Central Texas Railroad from a bullet to the head. Although publicly there is nothing saying that dead man was Mather, that same year the bondsman company who posted his bail in Dodge City were released from their obligation under the pretense that their client had died. His brother Josiah, when asked, said that the family did not know what had happened to Dave Mather, but they wished they did know.