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Three Guardsmen

Bill Tilghman, posing with his Winchester.

Henry Andrew Thomas ("Heck")

Heck's parents intended that he become a Methodist minister, but the impetuous boy ran away during the Civil War and served in Stonewall Jackson's brigade as a courier. In 1871 Thomas married an Atlanta preacher's daughter and began raising a family, and soon he migrated to Texas and worked as a railroad guard. By 1879 he had been promoted to chief agent for the Texas Express Company in Fort Worth, where he learned a great deal about law enforcement from the local chief of police, Longhaired Jim Courtright.

At the age of thirty-five Heck left his job to run for the vacant office of chief of police, but after a narrow defeat he was employed by the Fort Worth Detective Association. Soon he tracked down a pair of long-sought fugitives, and shortly thereafter he was appointed a deputy U.S. marshal.

Thomas moved his wife and children to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and began scouring Indian Territory for wanted men under the jurisdiction of Judge Isaac Parker.

Within less than two years Thomas' wife, disgusted with frontier life in general and, specifically, with her husband's long absences and dangerous occupation (during this period fifteen Indian Territory officers were killed), took their five children back to Georgia and divorced him. But in 1888, while Thomas was in Tulsa recuperating from wounds, he met a schoolmarm and preacher's daughter named Mattie Mowbray, and three years later the couple married and Heck began siring a second family.

By this time Thomas was headquartered in Oklahoma, and he was highly active in trailing and hounding the Dalton and Doolin gangs. One of Thomas'greater accomplishments came late in 1893, when he was assigned to help Bill Tilghman tame "Hell's Half Acre," the tempestuous boom town of Perry, which boasted 110 saloons and twenty-five thousand vigorous citizens. During a threeyear period, 1893-1896, Thomas was responsible for the arrest of more than three hundred wanted men, and he became noted as one of the "Three Guardsmen" - himself. Tilghman, and Chris Madsen. Later Thomas spent seven years as chief of police in Lawton, but he lost the job in 1909 when his health began to fail. He died within three years at the age of sixty-two.

Christian Madsen

Madsen was born in Schleswig, Denmark, on February 25, 1851. As a boy, he heard of the Civil War in America, the Archduke Maximilian's audacious acceptance of the throne of the Montezumas, Napoleon's inept namesake in France, and the thundering of the Iron Chancellor in Berlin. The son of a professional soldier, at the age of fourteen Chris fought with the Danish army against the Germans. When the Franco-Prussian War flared in 1870, young Madsen marched away in the Danish army and at the Battle of Sedan, where Chris was wounded, he was captured by the Germans. He escaped confinement and after several skirmishes made his way back to a detachment whose officers had been killed and led it in a sortie against the Germans to celebrate his successful dash for freedom. He fought with irregulars until hostilities ended. After the war, he went to Algiers with the French Foreign Legion, and while riding the sultry Saharan plains of Sudan, heard stories of gold strikes and Indian fights in the United States.

At the end of his enlistment, he sailed for America. Landing in New York in 1875, he joined the U.S. Army as a scout and soon was promoted to the rank of quartermaster sergeant with the Old Fightin' Fifth Cavalry. He was a close friend of William F. ("Buffalo Bill") Cody, plumed knight of the Wild West epic, and saw Cody kill and scalp Cheyenne warrior Yellow Hand at Hat Creek. A short time later he was detailed to help bury dead troopers at the Little Big Horn. (In the first newspaper accounts of the Custer massacre Madsen was erroneously listed among the dead.) Hairbreadth escapes from roving bands of warriors were common experiences for Madsen until 1889. He campaigned continuously against hostile Indians through 1890.

In 1887 he was married while stationed at Fort Reno, Indian Territory, and he soon produced two sons. When Oklahoma was opened, he took a claim near El Reno, but this gesture toward a quiet life was forgotten when William Grimes appointed him chief deputy marshal.

He possessed keen eyesight, an uncanny ability with firearms, and an unruffled temperament, and as his frontier experience ripened, he became one of the chief scouts in Wyoming and the Southwest. He took part in campaigns against the Arapahos and Cheyennes in western Kansas and Indian Territory, fought the powerful Sioux in Nebraska, Dakota, and Montana, and accompanied expeditions against the Nez Perces, Bannocks and Utes.

In 1891, having served fifteen years and having acquired sergeant's stripes and a Silver Star, Madsen resigned from the service and accepted an appointment as a deputy U.S. marshal operating from El Reno, Oklahoma. Madsen and Nix disagreed violently in politics, but the new marshal saw his value and offered him a deputy's commission. Chris accepted. Immediately upon the opening, he would take charge at Enid, Alva, Woodward, and other points west and north. Heck Thomas congratulated Nix for "signing Chris up before his saddle cooled." At the same time, Nix commissioned another of Heck's close friends, Bill Tilghman. He was highly active arresting fugitives until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, when he joined the Rough Riders.

After returning from Cuba, Madsen reentered law enforcement and in 1911 was appointed United States marshal for Oklahoma. In 1916 he resigned and helped promote Bill Tilghman's motion picture on Oklahoma outlaws. From 1918 until 1922 he was a special investigator for Oklahoma Governor J. B. A. Robertson. His death came at the Masonic Home in Guthrie when he was nearly ninety-three years of age.

William Matthew Tilghman, Jr.

William Matthew Tilghman was born at Fort Dodge, Iowa, on July 4, 1854. When he was three, his parents moved to Atchison, Kansas, where Bill grew up. His father was a freighter, and Bill accompanied him on numerous trips across the plains. Bill Tilghman moved with his family to a farm near Atchison, Kansas, in 1856. At fifteen he had visited most of the forts on the frontier. At sixteen he began hunting buffalo and became well known among frontiersmen. At eighteen he became a scout for the Army, taking part in the Cheyenne-Arapaho War of i874 and the campaign against Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife when he and his followers fled the reservation.

Operating out of Fort Dodge, Kansas, Tilghman scouted for the army until 1877, when he was appointed deputy sheriff of Ford County. At the age of twenty-three, Tilghman was a deputy under Dodge City sheriff Charlie Bassett. In 1877, Tilghman settled at Dodge City, where he became the intimate friend of such border peace officers as Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. He remained there fourteen years, serving one term as deputy and one term as undersheriff of Ford County. For three years he was city marshal when Dodge was known as "the toughest cowtown in the West".

In 1878 Tilghman was twice arrested for theft, but that same year his reputation quickly improved when he married and began raising children and livestock near Dodge City. Tilghman was appointed city marshal of Dodge City in 1884, serving two years, and he helped to establish and enforce the no-guns-in-Dodge rule. In 1892, Tilghman accepted an appointment as deputy U.S. marshal and brought in several Kansas outlaws alive. Over the years he also operated two saloons in Dodge, and in 1884 he was appointed city marshal. Friends presented Tilghman a unique badge made of a pair of twenty-dollar gold pieces, and he served Dodge well for two years. In the late 1880's he saw action in two of Kansas' county seat wars, and on both occasions he was involved in killings.

Tilghman was attracted to the spectacular Oklahoma District Land Rush in 1889, and he managed to locate a claim near Guthrie. Oklahoma. In the Sac and Fox opening of 1891, he took a claim near Chandler. One-hundred eighty pounds of bone and muscle, with kindly blue eyes and a handsome, open countenance that reflected good will and friendliness to all he met, Tilghman became Nix's choice as deputy to take charge at Wharton (destined to become the most important town in the Outlet on the Santa Fe and later renamed Perry). For a time he was city marshal of Perry, then in 1892 he was appointed deputy U.S. marshal and moved his family to a stud farm near Chandler.

Tilghman also served stints as sheriff of Lincoln County and as chief of police of Oklahoma City. A lawman who held several positions in Dodge City, Kan., Lincoln County, Oklahoma Territory, and Oklahoma City, Okla., Bill Tilghman was credited with bringing in several outlaws, including Bill Raidler, Kid Donnor, John Braya, and Bill Doolin. In 1893, Tilghman, Chris Madsen, and Henry "Heck" Thomas brought law to the town of Perry, where the three became known as the "Three Guardsmen:" Tilghman also tangled with Jennie "Little Britches" Stevens and "Cattle" Annie McDougal. The Three Guardsmen tracked the Doolin gang, capturing several members.

Tilghman earned a reputation for never killing unnecessarily. In one instance, on Sept. 6, 1895, he shot and severely wounded Doolin gang member Bill Raider, but nursed him back to health so he could travel. Tilghman also captured Bill Doolin in Eureka Springs, Ark., and locked him up in the wooden jailhouse in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. Doolin escaped, and was later apprehended by Henry Thomas.

Over the next two decades Tilghman was instrumental in exterminating the outlaw gangs of Oklahoma, and in 1910 he was elected to the state senate. By that time he was rearing a second family: his first wife had died, having borne four children, and in 1903 Bill remarried and sired three more offspring. In 1911 he resigned his legislative position to head Oklahoma City's police force. He supervised the production of a motion picture, The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws. which was released in 1915 and exhibited by Tilghman for several years.

Tilghman served as sheriff of Lincoln County, Oklahoma Territory, in 1900, and eleven years later as chief of police of Oklahoma City, retiring three years later at the age of sixty. He was persuaded to come out of retirement in 1924 and become city marshal, and clean up Cromwell, Okla., a booming Oklahoma oil town. There, a shady and very drunk prohibition officer, Wiley Lynn, shot and killed in the street the 70-year-old Tilghman as he led Lynn to jail.

Jay Robert Nash. Encyclopedia Of Western Lawmen & Outlaws . Da Capo Press. 1989.


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