HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Dodge City’s Long Branch saloon, was a notorious location in its day, serving as the center of activity for gamblers and gunfighters in the legendary Old West town.

Long before the Long Branch became famous on the television show “Gunsmoke,” the man who established the saloon made a new home in central Arkansas, but unlike his friends and western legends Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, Charlie Basset’s story was never made into a bestselling book or a Hollywood blockbuster.

Maybe it should have been, though, because he surely is a unique Arkansas treasure.

In a section of a quiet Hot Springs cemetery, a lone white marker stands out from the rest. It is where Bassett is buried.

He died in Hot Springs at the young age of only 48, though he lived a legendary life in that short time. It was said in the Kansas City Star that, “Bassett had several notches on his revolver, each of which stood for a human life.”

When Bassett opened the establishment in the historic Kansas town that would become the famed Long Branch Saloon, cowboys, cattlemen and outlaws swarmed it like moths to a flame. Another report from the Star was critical of clientele.

“The town was overrun with a lawless element. Desperadoes were as numerous as flies in summertime and murders were of a nightly occurrence.”

The Kansas City Star

If the Long Branch drew the swarm, high-stakes poker games kept the flame white hot. The games could often end with a fight, bringing fists, knives and many times guns.

“It was a wide-open town with all that the name implies. Peace loving citizens were alarmed at the condition of affairs.”

The Kansas City Star

Soon Bassett saw a need in all of that lawlessness, and he moved from behind the bar to behind a star.  Along with friends Earp and Masterson, Bassett set out to settle the town down.

For the trio, it was do or die. Newspaper writers with the Star noted at the time that, “Marshals who had attempted to quell the desperadoes had either been killed or driven from the town.”

Hot Springs historian Robert Raines said that even though Masterson and Earp may hold bigger places in popular culture, the two men trusted the bar owner based on what he had accomplished.

“Not that they worshipped him, but they trusted his judgment on a lot of things because Dodge City was the center of activity, about as far west as you could go without getting into Indian territory,“ Raines said.

When Bassett was the first elected sheriff overseeing Dodge City, he made Masterson his chief deputy. Then when he was term-limited out, Masterson became sheriff and he made Bassett his chief deputy.  When Bassett eventually became marshal, he tapped Earp as his deputy.

The threesome was a flesh-and-blood circle of trust and justice, and the men would die before they would see that break. When the law was broken, and the lawless ran from Dodge City, Basset’s posse was never far behind, running them down, even if their methods may raise modern eyebrows.

“Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Charlie didn’t always follow law,” Raines said. “There was a lot of bending, it had to be back in those days to get along and not get killed.”

Earp was known to slug a man’s head to stop a fight, and Masterton would put a slug in their chest. Bassett was also a skilled gunman, but he would often reach for reason before his gun to calm tensions.

In fact, a phrase that is still common the hear this day was first credited to Bassett. To this day people say “it’s time to get out of Dodge” when they need to leave a sticky situation. When he was a sheriff, those words were the last suggestion Bassett would give a criminal before reaching for his gun.

Raines, who also owns the Gangster Museum of America, knows well that Hot Springs was home to generations of gangsters. Before the mob, though, he explained Wild West lawmen and outlaws were drawn to the springs, too.

Raines said when things were quiet in Dodge City, the men would take off their star and retreat to Hot Springs.

“It’s almost like the lawmen would come here to lay low,” he explained. “It’s just a unique city or territory, which is what it was back in Charlie’s day.”

Eventually, their days in Dodge City came to an end and the men went their separate ways. Earp and Masterson moved on to infamy, becoming legends in books, on the radio, in movies and on TV, remaining Hollywood heroes to this day.

So, why not Charlie Bassett? That may have been by his own design, according to the Kansas City Star.

“Concerning his life in Dodge he never spoke, even to his most intimate friends, and he rarely referred to the exciting times when he was Sheriff and Marshal in Dodge City.”

Eventually, Bassett had no choice but to come and stay near the waters of Hot Springs.

“Charlie moved here with arthritis to take the baths and fell in love with it like most people do,” Raines said.

The baths only did so much, though, and in time Masterson and Earp would be back to say goodbye to their friend. Charlie Bassett quietly drifted off and became a footnote in the lives of his friends’ exploits.

Bassett was always leading the way, and while he may have not reached the same heights as his famous friends, he actually made it to “Hollywood” first. In 1896, in a quiet section of the Hollywood Cemetery in Hot Springs, a lone white marker was placed that still stands out from the rest.