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Bill Tilghman: 1854-I924

U. S. Marshal

A U.S. marshal in hot pursuit of outlaws
Although he was a crack shot and had dealt successfully with a lot of vicious outlaws, Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman didn't believe in unnecessary gunplay. In that respect, he typified the great lawmen of the West far more than legend might lead one to believe. Most successful lawmen realized the futility of trying to match wits and skills with a trigger-happy outlaw. A good reputation as an accurate marksman, backed by the awesome power of a shotgun, were often the best and only allies of a Western sheriff.  

Before he became a U. S. marshal, Tilghman - who was born in 1854 at Fort Dodge, Iowa - worked as a buffalo hunter, a saloon owner, and a police officer in Dodge City, Kansas. In 1889 he was hired as a deputy U.S. marshal for the Oklahoma Territory, which soon became the hangout of the deadly Bill Doolin gang of bank and train robbers. Doolin was a member of the infamous Dalton gang, which he had reorganized after the 1892 Coffeyville bank raid.  

Among the deputy U.S. marshals that were put on the trail of the Doolin gang were Tilghman, Heck Thomas, and Chris Madsen, who soon became famous throughout the West as the Three Guardsmen. In 1893 Madsen  
and another lawman caught up with gang member Ole Yountis and killed him when he resisted arrest. Deputy marshals then killed Bill Dalton at Ardmore, Oklahoma Territory, in 1895, and the next year Tilghman surprised and singlehandedly captured Bill Doolin himself at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, without firing a shot. While awaiting trial, Doolin escaped from the federal jail at Guthrie, Oklahoma, in July 1896, but within a month Heck Thomas and a posse tracked him down. Ordered to surrender, Doolin fired off a shot that went wild and he was instantly killed by a blast from Thomas's shotgun. In 1898 Tilghman and Thomas cornered "Little Dick" West, probably the last of the Doolin gang. When West came out shooting, he too was killed by the lawmen.  

After Oklahoma was admitted to the Union in 1907, Bill Tilghman was elected a state senator and later served as police chief of Oklahoma City. Upon retirement he agreed to become marshal of the oil-boom town of Cromwell, Oklahoma. And so, in 1924, the 70-year-old Tilghman once again pinned on his badge and strapped on his gun. Three months later he was gunned down in the street by an unknown assassin.