Bill Tilghman – Thirty Years a Lawman

Slaughtered Buffalo, 1874

Slaughtered Buffalo, 1874

“I think we ought to go about twenty miles farther north over on Mule Creek,” said the other. “Besides the hunting is as good there as it is here. And the Indians hardly ever get that far away from the Reservation.”

“We will move away from here,” said Billy Tilghman in his characteristically deliberate manner, “after I get even with those red thieves for the damage they have done us.”

Billy Tilghman, although a mere boy at the time. was the master-mind of that camp, and what he said was law.

“Ed,” said Billy to one of the partners, “go and hitch up the team and drive to Griffin’s Ranch and get a sack of flour, some coffee and sugar and a sack of grain for the horses and get back here before daylight in the morning, and Henry and I will unload those hides and peg them out to dry. Don’t forget to feed the team when you get there and let them rest up for an hour or two, as you will have plenty of time to do that and get back here by daybreak.”

Griffin’s Ranch was fifteen miles north of Tilghman’s camp on the Medicine Lodge River and the only place nearer than Wichita, which was one hundred and fifty miles farther east, where hunting supplies and provisions could be obtained.

Ed was soon on his way to Griffin’s Ranch, which only took about three hours to reach. While Tilghman and Henry were busily engaged in fleshing and staking out the green hides, Billy remarked that if those thieving Cheyenne came again around his camp for the purpose of destroying things. There would likely be a big pow-wow take place among the Indians as soon as the news of what occurred reached the, “for,” said he with some emphasis, “I don’t intend to stop shooting as long as there is one of them in sight.”

” But supposing,” said Henry, “that there is a dozen or so of them when they come, what then?”

“Kill the entire outfit,” replied Billy, “if they don’t run away.”

There was little else said on the subject before bedtime, but as Henry afterwards told me, it was not a hard matter to understand by Tilghman’s actions, that the only thing that seemed to worry him was the fear that the Indians would fail to pay the camp another visit.

Before daylight the following morning, Ed was back in camp, having carried out his instructions to the letter. After breakfast that morning, Tilghman informed Ed and Henry that they would have to hunt without him that day, as he intended to conceal himself nearby the camp, so as to be in a position to extend a cordial welcome to the pillaging red-skins when they showed up.

Billy, as a precaution, planted himself before the other boys left for the hunting ground, so that in case the camp was being watched by the Indians, they could not tell but what they had all left camp as they had done the previous day. About noon, and just as Billy was commencing to despair, one lone Indian made his appearance. He rode up very leisurely to the top of a little knoll where he could get a good view of the camp, and, after a careful survey of the surroundings, and discovering nothing to cause alarm, proceeded to make the usual Indian signals, which is done by circling the pony around in different ways.

Tilghman, who was crouched down in his little cache, was intently watching the Indian, understanding as well as the red-skin did, the meaning of the pony’s gyrations. Directly, six other Indians rode up alongside of the first and proceeded to carefully make a mental note of everything in sight.

They soon concluded that there was no lurking danger and all rode down to the camp and dismounted. This was exactly what Billy had been hoping they would finally conclude to do. Now if they will only all dismount, said Billy to himself, as he saw the Indians riding down to camp, I will kill the last one in the outfit before they can remount. He got his wish, for they all hopped off as soon as camp was reached. Billy; however, waited for a while to see if they intended mischief, before opening up on them with his Sharp’s big fifty buffalo gun that burned 120 grains of powder every time it exploded a shell. He did not have long to wait, for no sooner had one big buck hit the ground than he ran over to the sack of flour and picked it up and threw it across his pony’s back, while some of the others started out, as Billy supposed, to cut up the freshly staked hides.

The big Indian who had swiped the sack of flour had scarcely turned around before Tilghman dropped him in his tracks with his rifle. This, as might be supposed, caused a panic among the other Indians, who little suspected that there was an enemy nearer than the hunting ground, until they heard the crack of the gun. In an instant Billy had in another cartridge, and another thieving Cheyenne was sent to the happy hunting-ground. The first Indian that succeeded in reaching his pony had no sooner mounted him than he was knocked off by another bullet from Billy’s big fifty. This made three out of the original seven already killed, and what was an unusual thing for a Southern Plains Indian to do, the remaining four abandoned their ponies and took it on the run for a nearby clump of timber, which all but one reached in safety. Billy managed to nail one more of the fleeing marauders before he could reach the sheltering protection of the woods. The shooting attracted the attention of his partners, who were not more than two miles away, causing them to hurry to camp, where they expected to have to take a hand in a fight with Indians, whom they had reason to believe were responsible for the shooting they had heard.

“The scrap is over,” said Billy, when the boys got near enough to hear him, “and three of the hounds have made their escape. I told you last night, didn’t I, Henry, that I would kill all that came if they stood their ground and didn’t run away. Well,” he said, in a rather disconsolate tone of voice, “I fell down somewhat on my calculations, as seven came and I only succeeded in getting four, but then that wasn’t so bad, considering that they left us their ponies.”

“What’s to be done now?” inquired Henry, who was not hankering for a run in with the Indians at that time.

“Don’t get frightened.” said Billy; “and remember that we are in Kansas and that those dead Indians were nothing more than thieving outlaws who had no right off their reservation and if any more of them come around before we are ready to leave, we will start right in killing them.”

There was nevertheless little time wasted in getting away from that locality. The camp dunnage was loaded into the wagon in a hurry, and the team headed towards the north, and Ed, who was driving, told to keep up a lively trot whenever possible. Billy brought up the rear mounted on one of the Indian
ponies and driving the others.

“Look here, Billy,” said Henry, as they were about to pull out of camp, “don’t you think we ought to bury those dead Indians before leaving?”

“Never mind those dead Indians,” replied Tilghman, “the buzzards will attend to their funeral; go ahead.”

When dark overtook the party that night they were on Mule Creek, twenty-five miles from where they had pulled up camp at noon. The Indians reported the occurrence of the killing to their agent at the Cheyenne Agency, but received no satisfaction, and were informed that they were liable to be killed every time they left their reservation without permission.

That was Tilghman’s first mix-up with the Indians, but it was not his last. He continued to hunt in that country, and as the Indians persisted in crossing over into Kansas, there were many clashes between them, which invariably resulted in the Indians getting the worst of the encounter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *