Bill Tilghman Celebration Day
Oklahoma Oilfield Boom
Of The 1920'
Tilghman Committee Meeting
We will meet the first Thursday of each month at 8:PM.
in the Community Building next to City Hall.
2001 Bill Tilghman Scholarship Recipients Are
Sammie Whisnant and Ashley Green
Thanks everyone for making our day a huge success!!!
Robert Tilghman and Lynn Lightman
Honorary Grand Marshal's this year are Robert Tilghman and
Lynn Lightman, great grandson and great great granddaughter of
Bill Tilghman. We are very honored to have them participate in our festivities.
Wayne Tilman, a
distant cousin of Bill Tilghman who lives in Florida will also
be attending. Wayne is very knowledgeable on Bill Tilghman. We appreciate
the effort of these relatives to come and participate in our Bill Tilghman Day.
Wayne is now the Western History Editor for
Cowboy Sports & Entertainment Magazineat
The Passing Of The Oklahoma Outlaws
From Oklahoma Hombres
Tilghman Day Committee
P. O. Box 21
Cromwell, Oklahoma 74837
New Officers for 2001
Vice President: Tilden Dotson
Secretary: June Ives
Treasurer: Linda Groves
Communications: Phyllis Curry
Bill Tilghman Related Links
Places to Purchase Movie
You Know My Name
Our Most Famous Person
I want to express my gratitude to Wayne Tilman for providing this history of Bill Tilgham for my Cromwell page. If you are wondering why there is no (g) in his name, his father didn't think it was necessary and omitted it. Wayne is a distant cousin of Bill Tilghman and is in the process of getting this book published. Wayne came to Cromwell gathering information for his book.. We also met Bill Tilghman's great granddaughter.
has written a very interesting story about Wiley Lynn &
This can be found in the Cowboy Sports magazine.
The Long Trail that ended in Cromwell: the Life and Death of legendary lawman Bill Tilghman, By G. Wayne Tilman, Copyright, July, 1999
Bill Tilghman was born on the 4th of July in 1854. His father served as a sharpshooter in Mr. Lincoln's army during the War Between the States and came back partially blinded. As time passed, the elder Tilghman's vision improved and the family moved from one frontier outpost to another as he plied his trade as a sutler for the army.
As a teenager, Bill Tilghman, armed with his father's army-issue Sharps rifle, partnered with another young man named Jim Elder and left Dodge City to become a buffalo hunter. Over the next several years, his group grew to one of the largest on the frontier. Tilghman killed over seven thousand buffalo, almost doubling Buffalo Bill Cody's record.
In the mid-1870's, Tilghman's older brother Richard joined the team and was subsequently killed by a passing war party.
Tilghman met and fell in love with Flora Kendall. He went off to scout for the army and she married another man. Her husband was killed in a horse-related accident, and the pregnant Flora moved back to Dodge with her family. Tilghman found out about this and returned and married her. They partnered with Neal Brown and bought a ranch on Bluff Creek, outside Dodge City. The baby, James, was born and he was sickly. He died as an infant.
Many of Tilghman's buffalo hunting friends became famous in their own right, once the buffalo hunting had ceased. They all headquartered around Dodge City and the group influenced one another as they all drifted towards law enforcement. One was a Canadian who had to use a cane due to having been caught in flagrante delicto with another man's wife. In the bedroom gunfight, the former buffalo hunter killed the husband, but only after the man had shot through the woman (killing her) and hitting the hunter in the rear end. His name was Bat Masterson. His brothers, Jim and Ed were part of the group.
Another set of three brothers were buffalo hunters who settled, albeit briefly, in Dodge. They were Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp. They were in Dodge until 1882, when they drifted down to Tombstone and the ultimate confrontation with the Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral.
Not a peace officer, the Earps friend, Doc Holliday was also in Dodge. He was a tubercular dentist whose coughing scared away patients. So, he turned to gambling and drinking. His consort, Big Nose Kate, a member of Hungarian nobility, was the only woman allowed in the all-male Long Branch Saloon (sorry, Miss Kitty.) The only reason she was allowed was because nobody had the nerve to ask the possibly psychotic dentist's girlfriend to leave.
Bat Masterson became Sheriff of Ford County, Kansas in 1878. He named Bill Tilghman his undersheriff. Tilghman served in this role until 1884, when he took the higher paying, less travelling position as Marshal of Dodge City.
Tilghman had bad luck with his ranching endeavors in Kansas. Indians burned his ranch in 1879; Neal Brown saved Flora and baby Charles. They rebuilt, but were cleaned out once again by the Great Blizzard of 1886.
By the late 1880's, the Texas herds ceased being driven up the Chisholm Trail to Dodge and the town was calm and civilized. Tilghman could claim part of the responsibility for this, though he probably was more the steadying influence that allowed for the real taming of Dodge: the arrival of wives and ministers.
1889 saw the entire Tilghman clan at the land rush at Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. It was Tilghman who, with friend Jim Masterson, cleared squatters off the main street with mules on either side dragging logs chained together down the middle. Tilghman riding at the front with a twelve gauge probably helped move people
His fame as a lawman now established, Tilghman was asked by Marshal Bill Grimes to be a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Deputies had no salary--they were paid a couple of dollars for each warrant served, six cents a mile for travel and rewards. The average deputy marshal in the 1880's and '90's made about $500/year.
Tilghman and Flora now had four children. She had grown bitter over his absences as a lawman and ultimately contracted consumption (tuberculosis), which did not help her moods.
From 1893-5, the scourge of the Oklahoma and Indian Territories was the Doolin-Dalton gang. Bill Doolin later became the subject of the Eagle's song "Desperado."
Tilghman, ex-French Foreign Legionnaire Chris Madsen, and Heck Thomas were assigned to capture the gang dead or alive. After a robbery in Southwest City, Missouri, where a prominent politician was killed, the "alive" was deleted from the judge's orders.
On January 15, 1895, Bill Tilghman single-handedly captured Bill Doolin in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. The award, $5000, was one of the largest ever offered.
In August, Doolin escaped. The reward was "capture and conviction." Tilghman did not get a penny for his three years of work. Heck Thomas later killed Doolin near Lawson (Quay), O.T.
The Three Guardsmen, Tilghman, Thomas and Madsen eventually killed or led posses that killed or captured the rest of the gang.
In 1900, Tilghman was elected Sheriff of Lincoln County, based out of Chandler. Flora died that year.
Three years later, he married twenty-two year old Zoe Stratton of Ingalls. He was 49.
In the ensuing years, he made two movies--"The Bank Robbery" with inept bank robber and gubernatorial hopeful Al Jennings and "The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws."
His friend Teddy Roosevelt asked him to go to Mexico--remember, there was no F.B.I. at the time--and capture and bring back a railroad embezzler. He accomplished that task with aplomb. Tilghman, Madsen and lawman Crockett Long all held special, statewide jurisdiction deputy commissions from each of the early governors of the new state of Oklahoma. Tilghman was called out several times to quell KKK and Indian (Chitto Harjo--"Crazy Snake") uprisings.
He was elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 1910, resigning after a year to accept a two-year appointment as Chief of Police of Oklahoma City.
Tilghman spent the years between 1913 and 1924 running Champion Stock Farm in Chandler (his horse Chant, was a Kentucky Derby winner and the source for his thorobred bloodlines) and traveling with his "Oklahoma Outlaws" movie.
Governor Trapp asked Tilghman to go to Cromwell in the spring of 1924 to tame "the wickedest town in Oklahoma." No one knew, including his wife, but he was dying of cancer and in dire pain. He accepted.
Cromwell in 1924 is depicted best by the panoramic photo taken in August of that year and on display in the Cromwell Post Office. Most of the buildings were related to drinking, gambling and prurient concerns. Layabouts hung around outside of pool halls and bars. Naked prostitutes lounged in windows and doorways. Murders went unsolved; bodies often lay in the street for hours. Drugs, even more than the then-prohibited alcohol, were the main cause for the malaise. A man named Killian reputedly ran organized crime, though he was a puppet for unknown Oklahoma City crime bosses. Even the local federal prohibition agent, Wiley Lynn, was generally accepted to be on the take. The Amerada oil derricks and tanks gave the rough and tumble town a perpetual smell of oil. The wooden buildings were soaked with oil.
Tilghman spent about six months a town marshal and made inroads into cleaning up the town. He had little or no help from the county sheriff. And Lynn, from the federal government, was a hindrance. He released more than one Tilghman arrestee before the seventy-year old marshal found out.
On Halloween night,1924, Tilghman, Deputy Hugh Sawyer, and businessman W.E. Sirmans were having coffee at Ma Murphy's cafÈ (adjacent to her reputed brothel) when a shot rang out.
Tilghman, whose cancer had made wearing a gunbelt intolerable, drew his Colt's .32 automatic from a vest pocket and went into the street to investigate. A drunken Wiley Lynn stood there, gun in hand. Brothel madam Rose Lutke was standing next to him. Another known prostitute, Eva Caton was sitting in Lynn's car with her date, a furloughed army sergeant.
Tilghman clasped Lynn's gun hand while jamming his own automatic into Lynn's ribs. He yelled for Hugh Sawyer to disarm Lynn. Rose Lutke, Lynn and Tilghman stood body to body in the dark as the young deputy rushed towards them. Two shots rang out. Lutke started screaming. After a few seconds, Tilghman slumped against the wall. Lynn disarmed Sawyer, who had yelled "Wiley Lynn has shot the Marshal!" though he had been unable to actually see the incident.
Lynn and Lutke jumped in the car and sped off.
William Matthew Tilghman died twenty minutes later on a sofa in the used furniture store next to Ma Murphy's. He had been hit twice in the left lung and bled to death internally.
Perhaps the most interesting aspects of his death were those things that happened afterwards.
Tilghman's body lay in state at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
One month later, the town of Cromwell was torched. No family homes were set afire, but every flophouse, bar, pool hall and brothel was leveled. It is said that the fire was retribution and was set by one of the "good guys."
Had it been a Cromwell resident, the fact would have come out in the ensuing three-quarters of a century. It is more likely that it was a Tilghman lawman friend, like Madsen or Long.
As reputedly promised by organized crime bosses, Lynn got the best jury, witnesses and counsel that money could buy. He was found not guilty. Key witnesses never showed up.
Rose Lutke disappeared.
In 1932, Wiley Lynn was killed in a shoot-out in a drug store in Madill by none other than Oklahoma Crime Bureau agent Crockett Long. Long and a teen-aged bystander also died.
At the onset of WW II, skeletons were found in the Amerada Oil tanks in Cromwell. Had the mystery of the whereabouts of Rose Lutke been solved?
I leave the reader with this final question about the death of my relative: three people were standing touching. If Lynn had fired not-immediately lethal shots, would not have the tough old lawman squeezed the trigger of the automatic he held against Lynn's ribs? Or, perhaps did the third person there--one whose brothel had been closed by Tilghman--fired the shots to get the price on the lawman's head? Was that why Tilghman did not shoot Lynn? I doubt that we will ever know for sure
Marshal E.D. Nix observed that "Tilghman was the handsomest man I ever met."
Teddy Roosevelt said "Tilghman would charge Hell with a bucket."
Perhaps it was famed lawman Bat Masterson who summed it up best: "Tilghman was the greatest of us all."