William Matthew Tilghman Jr. was a career lawman, gunfighter, and politician in Kansas and Oklahoma.
Bill was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa on July 4, 1854, to William and Amanda Shepherd Tilghman. 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 Indians, resulting in a skirmish in September 1872, in which he killed seven Cheyenne braves. In 1874, he narrowly escaped being lynched after he was falsely accused of murdering a man in Granada, Colorado. Though a lifelong 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.
© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated April 2021.
Adventures in the American West
Bill Tilghman – Thirty Years a Lawman by Bat Masterson
Lawmen & Gunfighters Photo Gallery