Lake Texoma

Because Life is Better at the Lake

Part 1: From Hunting Buffalo to Oklahoma's Last Shootout In Madill

Lumini Services
Kendall Davis is well-versed in the English language. She has 20 years experience as a published author and writing for clients. Her published works include historical articles in museums, magazines, newspaper articles, columns, content marketing, advertising copy, blogging, and academic papers. Kendall also makes her way in the literary world as a copyeditor. Writing about history is her first love interest. If you have editing or content needs on your website or for your books, articles, blogs, or columns, please visit her website to see details and more examples of her work, the services she offers, and contact information.

William Matthew "Bill" Tilghman

Fort Dodge, Iowa may not have felt the full impact of Bill Tilghman’s birth in 1854 when he was born there. His family moved to Kansas two years later, and Bill left Dodge City as a teenager to hunt buffalo carrying his father’s army-issue Sharp’s rifle used in Civil War service. Bill forged close ties in Dodge City, Kansas, with Bat, Ed, and Jim Masterson, Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp, and Doc Holiday throughout the years.

Bat Masterson, sheriff of Ford County, Kansas, in 1878, chose Bill as his undersheriff. Bill served under Bat until 1884 when he became marshal of Dodge City. During Bill’s terms as undersheriff and marshal, hundreds of herds of Texas cattle waited for the trains headed east in Dodge City, Indians burned out his ranch in 1876, the Great Blizzard of 1886 wiped out his ranch for good, and historical accounts credit him with stabilizing the city, welcoming churches, and supporting family life.

In 1889, Bill and Jim Masterson literally forced land-rush squatters off the main street in Guthrie, Oklahoma, by dragging logs chained together and hitched to mules on opposite sides of the street. Bill rode in front welding a 12-gauge shotgun. (1) Bill lived and worked in Oklahoma for the rest of his life.

Bill donned a Deputy U.S. Marshal badge in May of 1892. From 1893 to 1895, the Doolin-Dalton gang, known as the Wild Bunch, terrorized Oklahoma Territory. The only Dalton member of this gang, Bill Dalton, had recently survived the Dalton Gang’s attempted robbery of two banks at the same time in Coffeeville, Kansas, in 1892. Four Coffeeville citizens and four of six Dalton men died in that attempt. Bill Dalton escaped, and Emmet Dalton, badly wounded, served 14 years in prison. (2)

Lawless 1890s to the Lawless 1920s

The Doolin-Dalton gang consisted of Ol Yantis, Arkansas Tom Jones, Bill Dalton, Tulsa Jack Blake, Bitter Creek Newcomb, Charley Pierce, Little Bill Raidler, and Bill Doolin. Deputy U.S. Marshals Heck Thomas and Bill Tilghman shot and captured Little Bill Raidler. Bill Tighlman, all by himself, captured Bill Doolin in a Eureka Springs, Arkansas, bathhouse early in 1896, but Doolin later escaped from the Guthrie jail. (3) Little by little, Oklahoma, Territory, officials eradicated the Doolin-Dalton gang.

Bill moved onto more adventurous occupations after his deputy days including the production of two movies, The Bank Robbery and The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws. Teddy Roosevelt asked him to go to Mexico to capture a railroad embezzler, and the people elected him Oklahoma State Senator in 1910. From 1913 to 1924, Bill paid attention to his champion bloodline horses. One of Bill’s horses named Chant won the Kentucky Derby.

In 1924 for $400 a month, Oklahoma Governor Martin E. Trapp persuaded seventy-year-old Bill to tame Cromwell, known as the wickedest town in Oklahoma, because gambling, drinking, drugs, and bawdy houses ruled the boomtown. Cromwell businessman W. E. Sirmans had written and begged Governor Trapp to send Bill Tilghman to clean out the town’s lawless and tarnished elements. Cromwell grew up overnight as an oil field boomtown, and by August of 1924, 62,391 barrels of oil flowed out of 75 wells around Cromwell.

Wiley Ulysses Lynn

Wiley Lynn, born in Madill, Oklahoma, in 1888, grew up to become a belligerent alcoholic and an allegedly corrupt U.S. Prohibition agent. Wiley worked in the oilfields, registered for the draft in 1918, and once served as deputy sheriff of Marshall County. That being written, we cannot document much of Wiley’s early life. 

By October of 1924, Bill had been hard at work cleaning up Cromwell for six months. Wiley had found a legitimate reason to work Cromwell. Bill suspected Wiley of bribing bootleggers, liquor dealers, and saloon owners. Bill arrested people on Prohibition violations, Wiley ordered their releases, and Tilghman found no conclusive evidence that Wiley bribed anyone but had linked Wiley to a wise guy named Arnold Killian. (4)

Cromwell’s oil field workers had to sleep on roofs because not enough flophouses, rooms, or tents existed. The last one to climb to the roof for the evening pulled up the ladder so no thieves could join them. Jazz bands attracted rowdy and out of control partiers into Cromwell’s dance halls. Ma Murphy’s cafe sat adjacent to the most famous of Cromwell’s dance halls and bawdy houses which reputedly enslaved its dancing girls. (5)

For a dime, many enterprising doctors wrote prescriptions for whiskey outside of Cromwell’s numerous drug stores. Organized crime moved in and forced business owners to pay them protection money. Local moonshiners picked up drugs outside of Cromwell flown in from Mexico. (6)

November 1, 1924, Wiley Shoots Bill

Bill Tilghman’s cancer hurt badly enough that he could not wear a gun belt, so he tucked his .32 Colt pistol in his vest pocket. He was drinking coffee with Deputy Hugh Sawyer and Mr. Sirrmans at Ma Murphy’s Cafe when they heard a gunshot from the street outside.

Marshal Tilghman drew his pistol and walked out followed by Deputy Sawyer. Wiley had just driven into Cromwell and parked across the street from Ma Murphy’s Cafe. (7) Allegedly drunk, Wiley stood outside with Rose Lutke, a lady of the night, next to his car which contained Eve Canton and an army sergeant from Ft. Sill named Thompson.

Tilghman grabbed Wiley’s gun arm, stuck his Colt in Wiley’s ribs, and yelled at Sawyer to disarm him. As Sawyer dashed to follow orders, two gunshots resonated from the two rivals. Sawyer took the gun in Lynn’s hand, but Lynn pulled a second pistol. The night was dark, and Sawyer did not see what happened, but he shouted that Wiley shot the marshal.

The famous Oklahoma lawman collapsed in the street while Wiley and Rose took off in the car. An undocumented account reports that the inexperienced Sawyer froze and could not fire his gun while he watched Wiley flee. Bill died on a sofa in the used furniture store next to Ma Murphy’s Cafe from two shots to his lungs and internal bleeding.

The Aftermath

Bill Tilghman lay in state at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Wiley Lynn surrendered at the Federal District Headquarters in Holdenville, Oklahoma. Unknown arsonists burned every flophouse, bawdyhouse, and saloon in Cromwell a month later. Authorities did not investigate the fires or arrest any arsonists. Most of the people involved suspected close friends of Bill’s, Crockett Long from Madill and Charles Madsen, as the culprits. The arsonists spared family homes, and Cromwell’s population quickly sank to 300 residents.

Wiley’s Trial

A jury acquitted Wiley of the murder of Tilghman. W. E. Sirmans fled to Florida and did not appear at the trial. Sawyer testified that he did not see Wiley shoot Bill. Rose Lutke vanished. Two authors, Johnny D. Boggs, in his book Great Murder Trials of the Old West, and Nancy B. Samuelson, in her book Shoot From the Lip: The Lives, Legends, and Lies of the Three Guardsmen of Oklahoma, agreed with the jury. (8) Wiley’s well-publicized trial proceedings uncovered surprising truths about Tilghman, and you can quickly check them out in this short article by Dave Farris:

The Three Guardians and the Hanging Judge

Bill Tilghman belonged to a group of deputy U.S. marshals known as the Three Guardians with Charles Madsen and Heck Thomas. Their U.S. Marshal was Evett "Ed" Nix. These men rooted out and locked up more outlaws than the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Their tenacity to catch and send outlaws who committed heinous crimes to their justice and belief in their values earned them national fame.

In 1875, the Western Judicial District of Arkansas comprised the counties on the north and south side of the western Arkansas border, a 50-mile wide track of land on the southern Kansas border, and the more than 70,000 square miles of Oklahoma and Indian Territory. The Native Americans maintained their own jails and ran their own courts. Judge Isaac Parker ruled over this district in his court from 1875 to 1896. (9)

In his first eight weeks in office, Judge Parker tried 91 defendants and sentenced eight of them to hang. During his 20 years in office, of the 160 men he sentenced to hang, 79 walked up the gallows steps to their death. Judge Parker skewered killers and rapists, but he followed the letter of the law. His contemporaries and citizens considered him fair. He granted retrials at times, and modern activists call him the first advocate of victim’s rights. The U.S. Congress retired Judge Parker’s office in 1896. (10)

Oklahoma State Bureau of Identification and Investigation

As history reports, outlaws continued robbing banks, terrorizing citizens, and running wild in Oklahoma. In 1925, Oklahoma Governor M. E. Trapp proposed the creation of a special agency to the state legislature to combat the lawlessness in Oklahoma and provide state jurisdiction so gangsters could not simply run across county lines. The legislature appropriated $78,000 for the creation of the State Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (OSBII). (11)

Somewhere along Bill’s long life of busting outlaws, he became close friends with OSBII agent Crockett Long before his untimely death and the creation of the OSBII. An Oklahombres* forum post states that “Crockett was the traditional “Cowboy” type lawman who proved himself plenty “Game” on several occasions . . .” Crockett was 32 years old when Wiley killed Bill.

*U.S. Marshal Evett "Ed" Nix coined the term Oklahombres in his book, Oklahombres: Particularly the Wilder was founded in 1989. At one time, published a quarterly journal, held events around the state at museums and locations where famous altercations between lawmen and outlaws took place, and conducted wreath-laying ceremonies at the graves of fallen Oklahoma lawmen. Their members included an impressive group of lawmen and historians. Founding member Dee Cordry continues to maintain the forums. 

I contacted Mr. Cordry, and he wrote the following:

Sad to say, the Oklahombres activities are no more, participation dropped off and the group folded. I still maintain the website. It is interesting to see the amount of information and responses on the website. It shows that people have a huge amount of interest in this area of Oklahoma history. Almost everywhere you go, somebody has a story they want to tell. The Oklahoma History Center archives has copies of the back issues of our Oklahombres Journal, plus a few other libraries around the state. Please feel free to share the website address. forums contain extremely credible unpublished facts that support the historical stories that did not make it into the media due to their connections with the cases, interviews, family, and research.

Stay Tuned for the Rest of the Story November 22, 2017













Bill Tilghman: The life and times of Oklahoma's most famous cop


Bill Tilghman: The buffalo hunter (on left)

Bill Tilghman: The deputy marshal

Wiley Lynn: Woodberry Forest Cemetary Madill, OK

Judge Parker

Governor Martin Edwin Trapp by Leonard McMurray

The Three Guardsmen

Evett Nix

Bill Doolin’s Body

Nix with Tulsa Jack’s Body (on right)

The Four Dalton’s Killed at Coffeeville, Kansas

Tell us what you think!

Your Lake Texoma Vacation Specialists

Lake Texoma Email Updates


Visit our Lake Texoma Sponsors!

Lake Texoma Current Weather Alerts

There are no active watches, warnings or advisories.


Lake Texoma Weather Forecast



Hi: 89

Tuesday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 69


Partly Sunny

Hi: 92

Wednesday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 69


Partly Sunny

Hi: 96

Thursday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 66


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 92

Friday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 74

Lake Texoma Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 8/21: 616.96 (-0.04)

Lake Texoma Fishing Report from TPWD (Aug. 15)

Water lightly stained; 83–86 degrees; 0.20’ low. Black bass are slow on Texas rigged craws, spinnerbaits and shallow crankbaits. Crappie are good on minnows. Striped bass are good on slabs and topwaters. Catfish are fair on trotlines.