11/1/1924 - Little remembered by most now, the long law enforcement adventure of William "Bill" Matthew Tilghman, Jr., over fifty years, comes to an abrupt end in Cromwell, Oklahoma ... in a cloud of gunsmoke.
The third of six children born to William and Amanda Tilghman, Bill enters the world in Fort Dodge, Iowa on July 4, 1854. In 1857, the family moves to a farm near Atchison, Kansas where the boy grows into a muscled teenager, wise in the ways of horses, guns, and the wildlife of the plains ... so much so, that when he is only seventeen, he wins a contract to supply buffalo meat to the men building the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad. A master at his work, by Tilghman's count, between September 1, 1871 and April 1, 1872, he slaughters 3,300 buffalo (an "all-time" record claim) ... and kills two Indians that don't appreciate his efforts.
Buffalo Hides Awaiting Transport
Buffalo Skull Mound
Sensing there soon will not be enough buffalo around to make a livelihood off their killing, in 1874 he becomes a lawman for the first time, acting as a deputy (though no official record exists) for Sheriff Charles E. Bassett of Ford County, Kansas. In the summer of 1877, 23-year-old Tilghman embarks on an equally dangerous adventure, marrying for the first time to a 16-year-old widow named Flora Kendall Jefferson (an unhappy marriage almost from the get-go, the pairing nonetheless produces four children ... Charles, Dorothy, William, and Viona). 1877 is also the year in which he tries his hand at being a saloon keeper, opening up the Crystal Palace Saloon in Dodge City with his partner, Henry Garris.
Dodge City - Tilghman (At Left) And Friend, James B. Elder
Deciding saloon work isn't for him (he will half own another drinking establishment called the Oasis with his brother Frank, who runs the operation), after selling the Crystal Palace, Tilghman hires on as a deputy for Sheriff Bat Masterson on January 1, 1878 ... then he works for Sheriff Patrick F. Sughrue also as a deputy; well enough that by 1884, he is wearing a solid gold badge as city marshal of Dodge City, a position he holds until 1886, when he resigns to tend to the ranch he has purchased. Unfortunately for the lawman, and soon the outlaws he will pursue, his holdings are wiped out in what is known as the Great Blizzard of 1886, and he immediately goes back to getting paid for enforcing the law. In that capacity, he kills a man for the first time on his thirty-fourth birthday in 1888 ... a Farmer City, Kansas fool that gets in an argument with the lawman, is out drawn by Tilghman before he can even clear leather, and then, despite being warned three times not to complete his draw, pushes himself away from his opponent and pulls his weapon ... a bad action that results in a bullet to the head that sends the man to Boot Hill.
The Great Blizzard Of 1888 - Trapped Train
At the start of 1889, Tilghman participates in the Gray County War, a clash between the rival Kansas cities of Ingalls and Cimarron to become the county seat. Leading a group of lawmen (Bat's brother Jim is one of the gunmen) and deputized cowboys for Ingalls, Tilghman is fired upon outside the Old Gray County Courthouse in Cimarron (he is there to move the county records to Ingalls), precipitating a street battle in which seven men are wounded, one man is killed, and Tilghman sprains an ankle leaping for cover (eventually Cimarron will become the county seat).
Wichita Daily Eagle News
Courthouse Where Tilghman Was Fired On
Trying to reestablish himself as a rancher, in 1889, Tilghman participates in the Oklahoma land rush that creates the 15,000 citizen town of Guthrie in a single day and sets up a ranch when another rush takes place in 1891 ... for the rest of his life, Tilghman will be an Oklahoman. As such, his concerns for law and order in the region cause him to go into law enforcement once more, becoming a U.S Deputy Marshal while also serving as a lawman for the town of Perry, Oklahoma, with his #1 priority being the destruction of the Doolin-Dalton gang. Hunting the gang's leader, Bill Doolin, in 1895, Tilghman steps into an isolated dugout and finds rifles pointed his way from hidden positions, and then makes a quick retreat from the "too full" room as if he has decided to sleep elsewhere. Rifles belonging to the gang he is after, Red Buck Waightman wants to shoot Tilghman in the back as he leaves, but is prevented by Bill Doolin, who whispers, "Bill Tilghman is too good a man to shoot in the back." The decision soon will be regretted ... Tilghman and a posse locate gang member William "Little Bill" Raidler on September 6, 1895, and when Raidler refuses to surrender and opens fire, the lawman brings the outlaw to the ground by way of a two-barrel shotgun blast (Raidler will survive and be sentenced to 10 years in jail).
Land Grant Line - Guthrie's First Day
Waightman - 1896
Soon known as one of "The Three Guardsman of Oklahoma," along with lawmen Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas, Tilghman has better luck with going after Doolin when knowing the outlaw's aching bullet wounds are sometimes medicated by the mineral waters of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, he finds the outlaw there in 1896 and single-handily captures the man in a local bath house without firing a shot after a brief round of fisticuffs and wrestling. Wiring his boss, U.S. Marshal Evett Dumas Nix that he will be bringing his prisoner in by train the next day, Tilghman and Doolin are both surprised when they are greeted at the train station by over 2,000 citizens. The glory of the exploit quickly fades however when Doolin escapes the Guthrie jail on July 5, 1896 ... and turns to bitterness after the outlaw is gunned down by Heck Thomas and a posse on August 24, 1896, and the state refuses to pay Tilghman his reward money for the Eureka Spring capture.
Madsen, Thomas, and Tilghman - The Three Guardsmen
Doolin After Heck Thomas
Menace to the territory put down, after, Tilghman will become the Sheriff of Lincoln County Oklahoma, breed thoroughbred horses as owner of the Oakland Stock Farm (one of his studs is "Chant," the winner of the 1894 Kentucky Derby), marries again (the 26-years-younger, Zoe Agnes Stratton, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma) when his first wife dies, represents the state of Oklahoma as a Democrat member of the delegation that nominates Alton Brooks Parker for United States president in St. Louis in 1904, is a guest of President Theodore Roosevelt at the inauguration of new president William Howard Taft in 1909, wins a term as Oklahoma state senator in 1910, and after his term is over, is the Oklahoma City chief of police for two years.
Told he should turn his rich life into a autobiography, he instead once more joins forces with Chris Madsen and Evett Dumas Nix in forming the Eagle Film Company in 1915 ... a company which makes one film, a 96-minute movie (only 13 minutes of the movie still remain) about the exploits of The Three Guardsman called "The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws," starring Tilghman as himself. Completed, the film has its debut in Chandler, Oklahoma on May 25, 1915, and Tilghman will spend the next few years taking the film on the road, appearing on stage, and giving lectures on what chasing Doolin was like.
Tilghman Firing A Winchester In His
Only Movie Appearance
Letting his reputation do most of the work, at the age of seventy, coaxed out of retirement, Tilghman is drawing a paycheck in 1924 as the chief of police for the oil boom town of Cormwell, Oklahoma ... and immediately begins tangling with Federal prohibition officer Wiley Lynn, who Tilghman believes is on the take. Still Halloween night, on 11/1/1924, Tilghman is having a late meal when gunfire outside draws his attention ... a drunken Lynn is shooting up the town. Finding his adversary holding a pistol as he reels about in the street, Tilghman disarms the man and makes his last arrest, leading Lynn off to jail, a destination they never make. Not the legendary lawman he once was, Tilghman has not searched Lynn properly for other weapons and on their walk to jail, the drunk produces a second weapon and shoots police chief three times in the chest, killing him instantly (local corruption on display, at his trial for murder, Lynn is found not guilty and released). Shocked by the death, Tilghman's body will lie in state in the rotunda of the Oklahoma capital building, where it is attended by an honor guard, and at his funeral, his pallbearers include the governor, a former governor, the state attorney general, and U.S. Marshal Alva MacDonald ... only the third person, and first lawman, to be so honored.
Tilghman's Grave - Chandler, Oklahoma
Never as famous as contemporaries like Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson, Tilghman lives on beyond his death ... there is a Tilghman Park in Chandler, Oklahoma, actor Brad Johnson will play Tilghman in an episode of "Death Valley Days," Academy Award winning actor Rod Steiger will play Tilghman in the 1981 movie, "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" starring Burt Lancaster as Bill Doolin, and in a 1999 TV movie made for TNT called "You Know My Name," Sam Elliott will play Tilghman in his last days ... and maybe most importantly, the lawman is honored with an individual "Legends of the West" U.S. postal stamp in 1994.
One of the good guys goes down on this day in 1924 ... William Matthew Tighman, Jr.