Bill Tilghman

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Bill Tilghman
Bill Tilghman 1912.jpg
Tilghman in 1912.
Born William Matthew Tilghman, Jr.
(1854-07-04)July 4, 1854
Fort Dodge, Iowa
Died November 1, 1924(1924-11-01) (aged 70)
Cromwell, Oklahoma
Cause of death Firearm discharge
Resting place Oak Park Cemetery in Chandler, Oklahoma
35°42′01″N 96°54′16″W / 35.700278°N 96.904444°W / 35.700278; -96.904444
Residence Chandler, Oklahoma
Citizenship USA
Education No formal education
Occupation Buffalo hunter, saloon owner, Deputy U.S. Marshal, Oklahoma state senator, Oklahoma City police chief, film director and actor
Years active 1869-1924
Known for
  • Apprehension of Bill Doolin
  • Member of The Three Guardsmen of Oklahoma
  • Oklahoma state senator
  • Oklahoma City police chief
  • Marshal in Cromwell, Oklahoma
  • Eagle Film Company created with E.D. Nix and produced the documentary, "The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws"
Political party Democratic
  • (1) Flora F. Kendall (divorced)
  • (2) Zoe Agnes Stratton
Bill Tilghman

William Matthew "Bill" Tilghman, Jr. (July 4, 1854 – November 1, 1924) was a lawman and gunfighter in the American Old West.


Early life[edit]

The fact that Bill Tilghman never achieved the household=word status of his friends, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, was not due for a lack of trying on his part. Tilghman was never shy about blowing his own horn. Tilghman didn't write his memoirs - he filmed them in a movie he directed and starred in.

William Matthew Tilghman, Jr. was born on July 4, 1854 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. He was the third of six children born to William Matthew Tilghman, Sr. (1820-1908) and his wife Amanda Shepherd (1830-1915).[1] During 1857, the Tilghman family relocated to Kansas and settled on a farm near Atchison. At the age of seventeen, Bill Tilghman won a contract to supply buffalo meat to the men building the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. From September 1, 1871 to April 1, 1872, Tilghman was supposed to have killed 3,300 buffalo. He would claim this was the "all time record" in later years. Apparently, Tilghman had forgotten that Orlano A. "Brick" Bond (who Tilghman would know very well in Dodge City) had received wide publicity for killing 6,183 buffalo between November 1874 and January 1875.As a buffalo hunter was supposed to have had several encounters with Indians. During June 1872, he was alleged to killewd two Cheyenne braves - one with a shotgun and the other in hand-to-hand combat with a knife.

First marriage[edit]

According to his second wife, Tilghman first became a lawman during September 1874, when he signed on as a deputy under Sheriff Charles E. Bassett (1847-1896) of Ford County, Kansas.[2] Despite his second wife's claim, there is no record of Tilghman serving as Bassett's deputy. Sometime during the summer 1877, 23 year-old Bill Tilghman married [3] a 16-year-old widow named Flora (Kendall) Jefferson (1861-1900).[4] The marriage was an unhappy one almost from the start, but nonetheless produced four children named Charles,.[5] Dorothy,[6] William [7] and Viona.[8]

Crystal Palace Saloon[edit]

Early in 1877 Tilghman and Henry Garris opened the Crystal Palace Saloon in Dodge City. A local paper reported during the summer that "Garris and Tilghman's Crystal Palace is receiving a new front and an awning, which will tend to create a new attraction towards the never ceasing fountains of refreshment flowing within." [9] During the spring of 1878, Tilghman and his partner, Henry Garris, sold the Crystal Palace Saloon.[10]

Deputy Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas[edit]

Bill Tilghman's first documented service as a lawman began on January 1, 1878 when he became a deputy under Sheriff Bat Masterson. Within a month of his appointment, Tilghman was charged with being an accessory to an attempted train robbery.[11] On February 12, 1878 the charges against Tilghman were dropped for lack of evidence.[12] Tilghman was again suspected of a crime only two months later, on April 16, 1878, when he was arrested by his boss, Bat Masterson, on a charge of horse theft. Once again the charges were dismissed.[13] Troubles of a different sort came up on March 8, 1879 when Sheriff Bat Masterson had to sell his deputy's Dodge City house, at auction, to satisfy a judgement.[14]

City Marshal of Dodge City[edit]

On November 6, 1883 Patrick F. Sughrue (1844-1906) was elected sheriff of Ford Conty, Kansas and Bill Tilghman became his deputy. During this period, Tilghman also owned a Dodge City saloon called the Oasis, which he sold to his brother Frank during early April 1884. According to a local paper "William Tilghman, Esq, proprietor of the 'Oasis,' has sold out to his brother Frank, who will refit and fix up and make everything smooth and harmonious to the visitor." [15] Tilghman gained his first important lawman's position on April 10, 1884 when he was appointed city marshal of Dodge City.[16] Apparently he was a popular choice. On May 2, 1884 admiring citizens of Dodge presented Tilghman with a solid gold badge.[17] Bill Tilghman's widow, in her biography of her husband, wrote that City Marshal Bill Tilghman and Assistant Marshal Ben Daniels ran "Mysterious Dave Mather" out of Dodge during late July 1885.[18] As Mather's 1992 biographer pointed out, the story doesn't add up for many reasons. The most obvious is that Mather was scheduled to stand trial for murder - so why would Dodge City's marshal and assistant marshal run an indicted man out of Dodge, who was scheduled to stand trial there? [19] On March 9, 1886 Tilghman resigned as city marshal of Dodge City to tend to his ranch. The great blizzard of 1886 wiped out the livestock on many ranches in the area, including a ranch that Tilghman owned.

The killing of Ed Prather[edit]

Tilghman still held a commission as a Ford County deputy sheriff. Law enforcement duties brought him to Farmer City, Kansas on his thirty-fourth birthday - July 4, 1888 - when he shot and killed a man named Ed Prather. According to the local paper reported that Prather "made frequent threats against Wm. Tilghman, the deputy sheriff, who took all the abuse from the excited man without offering any retaliation ... in conversation with Mr. Tilghman, he became very abusive and threatened to put an end to him right there, and suiting action to his words, he threw his hand upon his revolver; but Mr. Tilghman was too quick for him and held a revolver in his face. Mr. T. ordered him three times to take his hand off his gun, and would have disarmed him if he had been near enough; but Prather sought a better position, but Tilghman pulled the trigger and Prather was a dead man. A coroner's jury ... after a thorough examination of the circumstances, returned a verdict of justifiable killing." [20]

County seat warrior[edit]

During January 1889, Bill Tilghman was one of several Dodge City gunfighters involved in the "County Seat War" fought between the rival Kansas towns of Ingalls and Cimarron. During a pitched battle between the two factions, one man was killed and five were wounded. Tilghman escaped with nothing more serious than a sprained ankle.

Oklahoma lawman[edit]

On April 22, 1889 the first of the celebrated Oklahoma land rushes took place. The city of Guthrie, which hadn't existed the day before, had an instant population of 15,000. One member of that population was Bill Tilghman, who built a commercial structure on his Oklahoma Avenue lot and used the rent from it to help re-establish himself as a rancher. For the remaining thirty-five years of his life, Tilghman would be an Oklahoman. Another land rush was held on September 22, 1891 and Bill Tilghman was one of the participants. He staked a claim on Bell Cow Creek and established a ranch that would, in time, boast prosperous crops of corn and alfalfa, as well as a good supply of cattle and hogs. During this period, Oklahoma was suffering from the depredations of numerous outlaws - most notably the Bill Doolin gang. During May 1892, Tighman was appointed a deputy U.S. marshal. Tilhman joined forces with fellow deputy marshals such as Heck Thomas, Chris Madsen, Frank Canton and Bud Ledbetter to wage total war on the outlaws that infested the territory.

The famous Cherokee Strip land rush happened on September 16, 1893. The new town of Perry, Oklahoma was created and Bill Tilghman was appointed city marshal of Perry on October 21, 1893. Heck Thomas was hired as assistant marshal. Both Tilghman and Thomas retained their commissions as deputy U.S. marshals. Once law and order was established in Perry, Tilghman went back on the trail of the Doolin gang. There is a famous - and totally fictional - story told about how Tilghman entered a "dugout" on January 8, 1895. Tilghman supposedly detected the tips of several rifles pointed at him, from hidden positions in the dugout. According to this yarn, one of the hidden outlaws attempted to shoot Tilghman in the back, but was prevented from doing so by Bill Doolin himself, who stated: "Bill Tilghman is too good a man to shoot in the back." [21] Slow but sure, the Doolin gang was exterminated. Chris Madsen's posse killed "Tulsa Jack" Blake on April 4, 1895. George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb and Charley Pierce were killed on May 2. Then on September 6, 1895, Tilghman and two other deputy marshals tracked down William F. "Little Bill" Raidler. After being ordered to surrender, Raidler opened fire and was brought down by a blast from Tilghman's shotgun. The outlaw survived his wounds and was sentenced to ten years.

The capture of Bill Doolin[edit]

The high point of Tilghman's career came on January 15, 1896 when he single-handedly captured the notious Bill Doolin. Tilghman had trailed Doolin to the health resort of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Tilghman entered a bath house, and spotted Bill Doolin seated in the lobby. Doolin failed to recognize Tilghman, who suddenly began wrestling with the outlaw. After a brief struggle, Tilghman subdued Doolin without a shot being fired. Once Doolin was in custody, Tilghman wired U.S. Marshal Evett Dumas Nix at Guthrie, Oklahoma: "I have him. We will be there tomorrow. Tilghman." The following, some 2,000 people jammed the Guthrie railroad station to see Tilghman bring in the notorious outlaw. The remainder of the Doolin gang was soon killed or captured. A posse killed George "Red Buck" Waightman on March 4, 1896 and "Dynamite Dick" Clifton was rounded up shortly afterward. Tilghman's glory for capturing Bill Doolin quickly evaporated on July 5, when Doolin escaped from jail. Doolin was finally tracked down by Heck Thomas and his posse and was shot to death on August 24, 1896. Tilghman never received the reward money for Doolin's capture, which Oklahoma refused to pay after Doolin escaped. The last two members of the Doolin gang were accounted for when "Dynamite Dick" Clifton was killed on November 7, 1897, followed by the death of "Little Dick" West on April 8, 1898.[22]

Sheriff of Lincoln County, Oklahoma[edit]

During 1899, Tilghman established the Oakland Stock Farm which bred thoroughbred horses. Bill traveled to Kentucky for two of his studs. One of them was "Chant," the winner of the 1894 Kentucky Derby. Prosperous and popular, Tilghman won an easy election as sheriff of Lincoln County, Oklahoma in 1900. He was re-elected two years later. Flora Kendall Tilghman died at the age of thirty-nine on October 12, 1900.[23] Bill and Flora Tilghman had an unhappy marriage, and were living apart at the time of her death. Contrary to latter day reports, there is no evidence that they were divorced at the time of her death. On July 15, 1903 the 49 year-old Bill Tilghman married for a second time. The bride, Zoe Aganes Stratton (1880-1964), was twenty-six years younger and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. Bill's second wife would present him with three more sons named Tench,[24] Richard [25] and Woodrow.[26]


The 19th Democratic Party Convention was held in St. Louis between July 6–9, 1904. Alton Brooks Parker (1852-1926) received the nomination for President. Tilghman was part of the Oklahoma delegation, and was part of a group of Democrats who journeyed to Parker's home to inform him of his nomination. While in New York, Tilghman looked up his old friend Bat Masterson, who was now a journalist working for the New York Morning Telegraph. Bat introduced Tilghman to President Theodore Roosevelt, who defeated Alton Brooks Parker in the 1904 election. Tilghman's being a Democrat probably accounted for his failure to receive the appointment from Roosevelt that he coveted above all others - United States Marshal of Oklahoma. Roosevelt had offered the position to Bat Masterson, who turned it down. For a while Roosevelt considered Chris Madsen (who had served with the Rough Riders), but the appointment finally went to someone else. Tilghman was never in the running. President Roosevelt remained fond of Tilghman, however, and invited him to be his special guest at the inauguration of William Howard Taft on March 4, 1909. With his powerful political connections, Tilghman easily won election as an Oklahoma state senator in 1910. Following his term in the senate, Tilghman became chief of police in Oklahoma City on May 8, 1911. He served two years and helped rid Oklahoma City of much of its criminal element.

Movie Star[edit]

Bill Tilghman posing with his Winchester rifle in a scene from 1915 movie "The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws"

While other surviving gunfighters were content to merely pen their memoirs, Bill Tilghman decide to recount his Oklahoma adventures in the form of a movie. On January 18, 1915, Tilghman, Evett Dumas Nix and Chris Madsen formed the Eagle Film Company. Nix had the title of president, Tilghman was vice-president and treasurer and Chris Madsen was designated as secretary. After a screenwriter, cameraman and cast were hired, filming began on The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws. The film had its premier in Chandler, Oklahoma on May 25, 1915. Tilghman took the movie on the road for several years, during which he appeared on stage and gave lectures. The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws originally ran for about 96 minutes.[27] Today, only thirteen minutes of the film survive.[28] The film credits for The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws were as follows: Production Company: Eagle Film Company. Producers: William Tilghman, Evett Dumas Nix and Chris Madsen. Directors: William Tilghman and James Bennie Kent. Writers: Lute P. Stover and William Tilghman. Photographer: James Bennie Kent. Cast: William Tilghman, Evett Dumas Nix, Chris Madsen, Roy Daugherty ["Arkansas Tom Jones"] (as themselves).


At the age of seventy, Bill Tilghman was called on to perform his last service as a peace officer. In 1924, the man who had ridden in posses with Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Heck Thomas, now drove into the oil-rich boom town of Cromwell, Oklahoma in a Model T Ford. Routinely described as being Cromwell's "marshal," Tilghman's actual status was that of a "special state officer" with a deputy sheriff's commission. On October 31, 1924 Tilghman received word that an airplane was going to make a narcotics drop. Tilghman and his deputies waited for the plane, but the men who were to pick up the drugs spotted Tilghman's posse and got away. Deeply implicated in the dope ring was a U.S. prohibition agent named Wiley Lynn (1888-1932). The following night, November 1, 1924, Tilghman was shot dead on the streets of Cromwell by Wiley Lynn. Tilghman had heard shots, drew his handgun, and confronted drunken Wiley Lynn standing in the street 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 United States Army sergeant. Tilghman clasped Lynn's gun hand and called for Deputy Sawyer to come assist.[29] 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.[29] Wiley Lynn was acqutted at his trial for the murder of Bill Tilghman,[30] but was latter killed in a gunfight.[31]

A stunned Governor Martin E. Trapp (1877-1951) directed that Tilghman's body lie in state in the rotunda of the Oklahoma capitol building, and be attended by an honor guard. The governor lauded Tilghman as one who "had died for Oklahoma." Tilghman's pall bearers included Governor Trapp, former Governor J.B.A Robertson, Oklahoma Attorney General George Short and U.S. Marshal Alva McDonald. No other Oklahoma, who wasn't a high state official, had ever received such honors. Burial was in Chandler. Oklahoma.

Film and television portrayals[edit]

On February 13, 1960, actor Brad Johnson (1924-1981) played "Bill Tilghman" in an episode called "The Wedding Dress" on the syndicated television series Death Valley Days (Season 8, Episode 18). An actress named Mary Webster was cast as "Mrs. Tilghman."

In 1981 Tilghman was portrayed by Rod Steiger (1925-2002) in Cattle Annie and Little Britches, a 97-minute film which also starred Burt Lancaster (1913-1994) as Bill Doolin.

On August 22, 1999 TNT broadcast the made-for-television movie You Know My Name which starred Sam Elliott (1944- ) as Bill Tilghman, Carolyn McCormick (1959- )as Zoe Tilgman and Arliss Howard (1954- ) as Wiley Lynn. The movie was a highly fictionalized account of the final months of Tilghman's life and his 1924 death in Cromwell, Oklahoma.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bill Tighman's five siblings were Richard Lloyd Tilghman (1847-1900), Mary Tilghman (1851-1900), Franklin Tilghman (1856-1929), Harriet "Hattie"Tilghman (1860-1905) and Josephine "Josie" Tilghman (1861-1944).
  2. ^ Tilghman, Zoe A. Marshal of the Last Frontier - pp. 21-23.
  3. ^ The exact date is unknown, since no wedding certificate has been found.
  4. ^ Flora F. Kendall was born in Doniphan, Kansas on May 26, 1861. She married John Jefferson (1851-1877) on April 5, 1877. He died shortly after the wedding from an unknown cause.
  5. ^ Charles Augustus Tilghman was born on November 22, 1878. He married Ione Conklin (1884-1973), with whom he had two children. He died on March 13, 1972 at the age of 93
  6. ^ Dorothy "Dot" Tilghman was born on May 22, 1881. She married Daniel J. Norton, with whom she had three children. She died on October 20, 1973 at the age of 92.
  7. ^ William Tilghman was born on April 3, 1886 in Dodge City. He died on July 29, 1952 at the age of 66.
  8. ^ Viona "Vonie" Tilghman was born on December 14, 1890. She married Frederick Lee Sikes (1888-1967), with whom she had a daughter. She died on July 7, 1927 at the age of 36.
  9. ^ Dodge City Times, July 21, 1877.
  10. ^ Dodge City Times, May 11, 1878.
  11. ^ Dodge City Times, February 9, 1878.
  12. ^ Dodge City Times, February 16, 1878.
  13. ^ Ford County Globe, April 23, 1878.
  14. ^ Dodge City Times, March 8, 1879.
  15. ^ Dodge City Democrat, April 5, 1884.
  16. ^ Dodge City Times, April 17, 1884.
  17. ^ Ford County Globe, May 6, 1884.
  18. ^ Tilghman, Zoe A. Marshal of the Last Frontier pp. 163- 165.
  19. ^ DeMattos, Jack. Mysterious Gunfighter: The Story of Dave Mather. College Station, TX: Creative Publishing Company, 1992 pp. 156-157. ISBN 0-932702-95-3
  20. ^ Farmer City Western Farmer, July 5, 1888.
  21. ^ This much-repeated tale had its origin in a 1915 pamphlet, sold in conjunction with Tilghman's motion picture The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws. In 1937, Chris Madsen, Tilghman's fellow marshal, commented on the yarn as follows: "I like Bill Tilghman ... but Bill, when he got into the moving picture business, had to make a record whether it was right or not ... Bill was a little inclined to be romantic."
  22. ^ West had been cornered by a posse consisting of Tilghman, Heck Thomas, Albert Thomas (Heck's son), Ben Miller, Frank Rinehart and William D. Fossett. When ordered to surrender, West fired three shots from his revolver. Both Rinehart and Fossett returned fire. A coroner's jury ruled that West came to his death "at the hands of officer Fossett while resisting arrest."
  23. ^ Guthrie Leader, October 13, 1900.
  24. ^ Mayo Tench Tilghman was born on September 26, 1905. He married Doris Roselyn Tucker (1910-1992) on July 15, 1939. They had one daughter. He died on August 13, 1970 at the age of sixty-four.
  25. ^ Richard Lloyd "Dick" Tilghman was born on September 20, 1907 and died at the age of twenty-two on October 28, 1929. He had attempted to hold up a dice game, and suffered a fatal wound when he was shot through the liver.
  26. ^ Woodrow Wilson "Woodie" Tilghman was born on October 23, 1912. He was a career criminal, who spent most of his life behind bars. He was shot and wounded at Oklahoma City during a fight with his girlfriend. He died on March 1, 1981 at the age of sixty-eight.
  27. ^ Surviving posters and newspaper advertising for the film describe it as being "Complete in Six Parts" - meaning it contained six reels. With the hand-cranked cameras of the silent movie era, a reel of film usually ran for about 16 minutes, meaning that the six reels of Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws probably ran about 96 minutes.
  28. ^ The 35mm negative of the surviving 13 minutes has been preserved by the Library of Congress (AFI/Claire Conrad Collection), with video tinting approximating the original print colors.
  29. ^ a b Tilghman at Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  30. ^ Wiley Lynn's trial for the murder of Tilghman opened in Wewoka, Oklahoma on May 21, 1925. W.E. Sirmans, potentionally the most damaging witness against Lynn, received death threats and fled to Florida. Had Sirmans been present to testify, the trials outcome might have been different. Lynn was acquitted on a versict of "self-defense." The judge gave the jury a scathing rebuke, calling the verdict a "great tragedy in American justice."
  31. ^ The end came for Wiley Lynn on July 17, 1932 at Madrill, Oklahoma. Lynn opened fire on Crockett Long, a state policeman who had once arrested him. Long fired back and when the exchange of shots ended, both men were dead, as was 17 year-old Rody Watkins, a bystander who took a ricochet bullet in the heart.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bird, Roy. "Bill Tilghman's Day in Jail." True West, November 1991.
  • DeArment, Robert K. Ballots and Bullets: The Bloody County Seat Wars of Kansas. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8061-3784-3
  • DeMattos, Jack. "Gunfighters of the Real West: Bill Tilghman." Real West, November 1979.
  • Masterson, W.B. (Bat) "Famous Gun Fighters of the Western Frontier: 'Billy' Tilghman." Human Life Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 4. July 1907.
  • Miller, Floyd. Bill Tilghman: Marshal of the Last Frontier. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1968.
  • Miller, Nyle H. and Snell, Joseph W. Why the West Was Wild. Topeka: Kansas State Historical Society, 1963.
  • Parsons, Chuck. "James Elder Was Close Friend of Bill Tilghman." NOLA Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 1, Summer 1977.
  • Samuelson, Nancy B. Shoot From the Lip: The Lives, Legends and Lies of the Three Guardsmen of Oklahoma and U.S. Marshal Nix. Sacramento, CA: Shooting Star Press, 1998. ISBN 0-9633362-1-5
  • Shirley, Glenn. West of Hell's Fringe: Crime, Criminals, and the Federal Peace Officer in Oklahoma Territory, 1889-1907. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978. ISBN 0-8061-1444-4
  • Shirley, Glenn. Guardian of the Law: The Life and Times of William Matthew Tilghman (1854-1924). Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1988.
  • Tilghman, Zoe A. Outlaw Days: A True History of Early-Day Oklahoma Characters, Revised and Enlarged From the Records of Wm. Tilghman. Oklahoma City: Harlow Publishing Company, 1926.
  • Tilghman, Zoe. A. Marshal of the Last Frontier: Life and Services of William Matthew (Bill) Tilghman. Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1964.
  • Tilghman, Zoe A. "My Husband Helped Tame the West: Lawman's Wife is Living Link With Past" Life, April 27, 1959. (Pages 105, 106, 109, 110, 111 and 112).
  • Zoe Tilghman, "Marshal of the Last Frontier" at Amazon (not consulted)