Many of the reenactors I’ve talked to credit the 1950s and 60s television shows and movies with igniting their passion for the Old West and its characters. In the case of El Paso native Jerry Eastman, he had the added incentive of family lore which claimed they were related to Bat Masterson (William Bartholomew (Barclay) Masterson), famous lawman, gambler, and “dandy.” Now Jerry performs living history as Bat Masterson.
“My great grandmother, on my mother’s side, was raised on the Masterson ranch in the Weed/Sacramento area of New Mexico. Her name was Minnie Jane Elizabeth Masterson and my grandmother was born on the ranch, in 1893,” Jerry says. “Now, after researching and doing Bat for so long, it appears everyone with the name of Masterson is related to Bat,” he jokes, although his research points to possibly being a third cousin. “I do have a very close resemblance to Bat. Although I have not been able to prove we are related, I believe the thrill of the Old West was born into me.”
Jerry has been reenacting and doing living history since 1994. He began portraying Bat Masterson in 1996 when he joined the Old Dallas Gunfighters and Reenactment Society. He is currently a member of the Texas Western Legends and the Legends of the West. These organizations participate in historical and living history events. As part of his research, Jerry south out Bat Masterson expert Robert K. DeArment, who has written numerous articles and two books on Mr. Masterson. “His books and phone conversations have been a great help,” Jerry says.
Portraying a famous historical figure through living history is an art and an obsession. Jerry has done extensive research into Bat Masterson’s life and times. From contacting experts on the subject to studying everything he can get his hands on to traveling to the places Bat Masterson spent time, Jerry has tried to ensure there is no part of the man’s life left untouched. This research informs and refines his living history performances.
Read about Jerry’s research and about Bat Masterson at his interesting and informative website: http://www.freewebs.com/wmbatmasterson/
Jerry says there is a fine line between reenacting in first person and living history. “When you portray a fictional person, you still have to know what is happening in that time period, who is president, what did the person read, if they had siblings, their mother’s and father’s birthdays,” Jerry says. “Doing a fictional person is easier in some ways, as you are making up your family and dates.”
Jerry sometimes portrays fictional characters, such as a cattle drover, but he feels living history is more demanding, especially when you are ambushed by other experts on your persona. This can happen, especially when you are portraying an actual person who is widely known. Despite the occasional challenges, Jerry says he prefers to do living history because he becomes that person. “It’s like stepping out of a time machine and into the 21st century.”
“I enjoy making it possible for others to talk with and touch a person who is real, as compared to being on a TV screen or in a movie,” Jerry says. “I enjoy the looks in the eyes of the children when they see a ‘real’ cowboy.”
Do you have a famous ancestor? Someone to brag about or a skeleton in the closet? Leave a comment and tell me about it!