The Man Who Shot Bill Tilghman

Bill Tilghman
Bill Tilghman

You Know My Name,” is a 1999 film that glorified Oklahoma lawman Bill Tilghman.

Sam Elliott is one of my all-time favorite actors and this is certainly no reflection on him but Bill Tilghman was a flawed character.

Zoe Tilghman’s biography on her husband has a number of facts that don’t match records and much of what we know about one of The Three Guardsman comes from her.

Researchers have uncovered facts proving that many of Tilghman exploits are myths, especially his record as a peace officer. Oklahoma historian Nancy Samuelson author of “Shooting from the Lip: Lives, Legends and Lies of the Three Guardsmen” told me several years ago that Tilghman was rather corrupt and had been arrested a number of times for running a bawdy house and gambling while serving as sheriff of Lincoln County. She also said that he’d been accused of graft and corruption, sold whiskey to Indians and stolen Indian horses. In 1924 Tilghman had his last gig as a lawman, becoming chief of police in Cormwell, Oklahoma.

The politics in Oklahoma in the years following statehood was fraught with major scandals. Samuelson writes that between 1907 and 1929 impeachment proceedings had begun against five different governors.

In the film, Tilghman is shot and killed on November 21st,1924 by federal agent Wily Lynn. As is often done in Hollywood somebody has to be the bad guy and Lynn is the fall guy. Legend says Tilghman was shot by a drunken rookie probation officer because he refused to take a bribe.

There is nothing to indicate Lynn was involved in any criminal activities. On the contrary he had actually conducted a number of important raids on bootleggers. In fact, Lynn was having so much success in shutting down the brothels and bootleggers it was having an economic effect on politicians on the take. It also has it that the oil boom town Cromwell was such a lawless and corrupt town that Tilghman was brought in to clean up the town. In reality Lynn shot Tilghman in self-defense after the old lawman blocked a raid. Despite several prominent prosecuting attorneys and political friends of the governor trying to convict the federal officer.

At the trial several people involved in prostitution and liquor testified that Tighlman was extorting money from them. Witnesses also testified that Tilghman had, on more than one occasion, threatened to kill the federal officer. Lynn was acquitted but he would be known as the “Man Who Killed Bill Tilghman,”. He had survived several death threats before dying on July 17th, 1932.

Bill Tilghman

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