Historically Speaking: Mysterious Dave Mather

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
Dave Mather.

The story of Dave Mather is a tale of contradictions. Mather was a direct descendent of a Puritan preacher, yet many of those around him struggled to save his soul. And, though he served as a Dodge City lawman, he was known to shoot people down in cold blood. 

Nobody knew where he came from or what he was up to, which lead to the nickname "Mysterious Dave." 

David Allen Mather was supposedly born Aug. 10, 1851, to Ulysses and Lydia Mather in Connecticut. He was said to be a direct descendant of the Puritan preacher Cotton Mather, who figured in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. 

Dave resided in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas in the mid-1870s where he reportedly hung out with outlaws. But he was equally comfortable on either side of a lawman’s badge. 

It is believed he killed as many as six men — only some of them in the line of duty. 

In April 1880, Dave resided in Dodge City after living in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he had been both an outlaw, as an accessory to a train robbery and a lawman who made arrests. 

But by Nov. 16, 1880, Dave had returned to New Mexico and was again in trouble with the law having assisted in a jailbreak. 

The next year, Dave resided in Texas. In 1882, officials arrested him for stealing jewelry from Georgia Morgan, owner of the “Long Branch” house in Dallas, but he was never tried. 

According to the Ford County Globe of June 5, 1883, Jack Bridges, marshal of Dodge City, appointed Mather assistant marshal. At least one person contacted the governor and argued, due to his reputation, Mather should not serve in law enforcement. Even so, he also served as deputy sheriff. 

He earned the respect of Dodge City area residents during his stint as a lawman in 1883 and 1884, having participated in numerous incidents. 

In February 1884, Mather's service to Dodge City abruptly ended when George Hoover was elected mayor and replaced Mather with Tom Nixon. However, Mather retained his position as deputy sheriff. 

There was already bad blood between Mather and Nixon over business dealings. On July 19, 1884, Nixon took a shot at Dave as he was standing in the doorway of his Opera House Saloon. The shot missed causing only minor injuries to Dave. 

Although Mather didn't press charges, Nixon was arrested and was released on an $800 bond. 

Three days later, Mysterious Dave ambushed Nixon, killing him with four shots. After surrendering and posting $600 bond, the authorities released Mather. Mather obtained change of venue to Kinsley, Kansas, where he was declared not guilty on Dec. 30. 

Mather skipped bond, after being involved in another killing in 1885 in Ashland. Still, he surprisingly got a job as a lawman in New Kiowa, Kansas. From there nobody knows for sure what became of Dave Mather. 

Some reports have him killed in Texas in 1886. Another legend is he went to Canada where he served as a mounted police man. Some have even had him being abducted by extraterrestrials.