About William Matthew "Bill" Tilghman
Bill Tilghman's Wild West adventures began almost as soon as he was born on July 4, 1854. He was only a few weeks old when his head was grazed by an arrow during a Sioux attack.
Raised on the Kansas farm of his parents, he became an excellent shot. Bill left home when he was 16 to hunt buffalo, killing nearly 12,000 beasts during the next five years.
Tilghman married in 1878 and began ranching near Dodge City, although his place soon was burned during a Cheyenne uprising. In 1884 he was appointed city marshal of Dodge CIty, beginning a varied and distinguished law enfocement career.
During four decades as a peace officer Tilghman was involved in several shoot-outs. But his most famous exploit as an officer was his single-handed and bloodless arrest of Bill Doolin, leader of the Oklahombres gang in 1896.
In 1900 Tilghman was elected sheriff of Lincoln County, Oklahoma, where he raised four children after the death of his first wife. In 1903 Sheriff Tilghman married a 22 year old schoolteacher. Zoe Tilghman learned that "Biil habitually slept with a loaded .45 under his pillow." Undaunted by his bedroom hardware, Zoe bore him three sons.
During the first decade of the 20th century, Tilghman helped film a few Western movies and won election to the Oklahoma senate. In 1911 he accepted an appointment as police chief of Oklahoma City, and within two years he cleaned up the state capital.
In 1924, at the age of 71, Tilghman answered another call to duty in Cromwell, Oklahoma, a lawless oil boomtown. Chris Madsen prophetically advised his old friend not to take the assignment. Tilghman shrugged, "Better to die in a gunfight than in bed someday like a woman."
Sadly, Tilghman was gunned down in the street, and his killer was acquitted by a jury. The murderer was shot dead eight years later, and Zoe observed, "No jury on earth can acquit him now."
William Matthew "Bill" Tilghman (July 4, 1854 – November 1, 1924) was a lawman in the American Old West.
Bill Tilghman was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on July 4, 1854. He became a buffalo hunter at age 15 and claimed he killed over 1000 bison over his five years of activity. During this time he may have become acquainted with Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Mysterious Dave Mather, who hunted buffalo. Tilghman's older brother, Richard, hunted with him, and at one point during the mid-1870s when the hunting team was attacked by a war party of American Indians, his brother was killed.
Following his hunting career, Tilghman moved to Dodge City, Kansas, where he used the money he had saved to open a saloon in 1875. Tilghman was a teetotaler but, like so many of the famous figures of the Old West, he saw owning a saloon as an irresistible financial opportunity. He would leave Dodge City following other opportunities three years later. However, he returned briefly and he was present with Wyatt Earp, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, and others during the Dodge City War, and was pictured in one of a series of three photographs taken of those considered to be the "Dodge City Peace Commission", although only one of the photos was widely publicized. In the most famous and well circulated photo taken that day, little known businessman and small time gunman W. F. Petillon is pictured with the group, whereas in another photo Petillon is absent and Tilghman is pictured with the group.
In September 1878, he served as a scout for the U.S. Cavalry during a surge of Cheyenne raids on settlements, working alongside the likes of gunman John Joshua Webb. Later that same year, he was approached by Bat Masterson to serve as a deputy sheriff, and he accepted. He served in that capacity until 1884 and earned an excellent reputation, working at various law enforcement jobs for the rest of his life, earning the respect of Masterson, Doc Holliday, and Wyatt and Virgil Earp. By 1889 Tilghman moved on to Guthrie, Oklahoma, during the land rush. Town Marshal Bill Grimes approached him to serve as deputy marshal, and he accepted.
The territory had formerly been part of the Indian Territory and was still one of the most lawless places in the west. As a deputy US Marshal, Tilghman was one of the three men most responsible for finally bringing law and order to the area. The others were Heck Thomas and Chris Madsen. The trio were collectively known as the Three Guardsmen and were responsible for the arrest and/or killings of many of the worst criminal elements of the era, numbering by some estimates as high as 300 arrests, including the systematic elimination of the notorious Wild Bunch. On January 15, 1895, his single handed capture of Bill Doolin in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, brought him increased fame as a lawman, for which he became best known. That same year he shot and wounded Doolin gang member "Little Bill" Raidler. Raidler was sentenced to prison and was released some years later because he suffered constantly from his gunshot wounds. Raidler died in 1904 as a result of those wounds.
Retirement, return to law enforcement
Tilghman retired from his position in 1910 and was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate. He accepted the position of police chief of Oklahoma City in 1911. In 1915, he co-wrote, directed, and starred in the movie The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, which dramatized the law enforcement activities of Tilghman and the other "Guardsmen." The film is noted as an early attempt to de-glamorize the image of outlaws. In 1924, at the age of 70, Tilghman accepted a position as marshal of Cromwell, Oklahoma. During this time he lived in Chandler, Oklahoma, where he is buried. A city park in Chandler is named Tilghman Park in his honor.
Tilghman was on the job less than a year before he was killed in the line of duty. He died on November 1, 1924, after being shot by Wiley Lynn, a corrupt Prohibition Agent. Lynn and Tilghman had had numerous verbal confrontations because Lynn repeatedly released prisoners who were arrested by Tilghman. The incident began on Halloween night, when Tilghman, Deputy Marshal Hugh Sawyer, and businessman W. E. Sirmans were having coffee at a cafe called Ma Murphy's.
Shots were heard outside, and Tilghman drew his handgun and went outside. In the street stood a drunken Wiley Lynn, with a gun in his hand. Brothel madam Rose Lutke was standing beside him. Another prostitute, Eva Caton, was sitting inside Lynn's car with a date, a furloughed army sergeant. Tilghman clasped Lynn's gun hand and called for Deputy Sawyer to come assist. As Sawyer ran outside, Tilghman, Lynn and Rose Lutke stood body to body in the darkness. Two shots rang out, and Lutke screamed. As Deputy Sawyer rushed forward, Tilghman slumped forward and fell. Deputy Sawyer, inexperienced, did not fire but rather disarmed Lynn and yelled "Wiley Lynn has shot the marshal". Lynn then fled with Rose Lutke to the car and sped away.
Tilghman's body lay in state at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Wiley Lynn was acquitted after several of the witnesses to the shooting, allegedly intimidated, failed to appear, and Deputy Sawyer, whether he was coerced or merely incompetent, testified that he could not see clearly as to what actually happened. Rose Lutke disappeared, and was never heard from again. Despite his acquittal, Lynn was dismissed from the Prohibition Unit. Years later, in a shootout with another police officer, Agent Crockett Long of the Oklahoma State Crime Bureau, Lynn was killed, but not before fatally wounding Long and an innocent bystander.
The local Knights of the Ku Klux Klan demanded justice and printed fliers and warnings to criminal elements to leave town or suffer the consequences. One month after Tilghman's murder, the town of Cromwell was torched, with every brothel, bar, flophouse and pool hall burned to the ground and no arrests were ever made. The town of Cromwell never recovered its former "wild" status after that, and as of the 2000 census, its population was less than 300 residents.
In 1960, the western actor Brad Johnson played Tilghman in the episode "The Wedding Dress" of the anthology Death Valley Days.
Tilghman was portrayed by Rod Steiger in the 1981 film Cattle Annie and Little Britches.
The 1999 made-for-television movie You Know My Name dramatized Tilghman's life and final days, and was based on Matt Braun's novel One Last Town, which fictionalized Tilghman's activities in Cromwell. Veteran western movie actor Sam Elliott produced the film and starred as Tilghman.
Tilghman's widow, Agnes Stratton Tilghman, wrote about him in the book Marshal of the Last Frontier.
Quotes about Tilghman
His friend and fellow lawman Bat Masterson referred to him as "the greatest of us all."
Teddy Roosevelt said "Tilghman would charge hell with a bucket."
William "Bill" Tilghman (1854-1924) - Bill Tilghman was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa on July 4, 1854. He moved with his family later to a homestead in Atchison, Kansas. At the age of 15,he left home and became a buffalo hunter, which quickly brought him into conflict with the Indians, resulting in a skirmish in September, 1872, in which he killed seven Cheyenne brave. In 1874, he narrowly escaped being lynched after he was falsely accused of murdering a man in Granada, Colorado. Though a life long teetotaler, he opened a saloon in Dodge City, Kansas in 1875 and soon accepted an offer from Bat Masterson to become a deputy sheriff. In 1889, he established a homestead at Guthrie, Oklahoma and was soon appointed as a U.S. Deputy Marshal.
In this capacity, Tilghman, Heck Thomas and Chris Madsen became known as the Three Guardsmen, as they were instrumental in taming the lawless territory. After he retired as a U.S. Deputy Marshal in 1910, he was elected to the State Senate. However, just a year later he became the Chief of Police of Oklahoma City. At the age of 70, he was still acting as a lawman when he was appointed as the marshal of Cromwell, Oklahoma. After surviving decades of tough outlaws, he was shot and killed on November 1, 1924 while he attempted to arrest a corrupt Prohibition Officer by the name of Wiley Lynn.