THE THREE GUARDSMEN

Year Inducted: 2009

The Three Guardsmen describes three lawmen who became legendary in their pursuit of outlaws in the old West. Deputy US Marshals Bill Tilghman, Heck Thomas, and Chris Madsen (pictured left to right) began "cleaning up" part of what became the state of Oklahoma in 1889.

Widely considered honest, dutiful, and capable, they were responsible for suppressing much of the outlaw element in the Indian Territory, reporting arresting in excess of some 300 desperadoes during the next decade, and killing many others. All three had the reputation of being dauntless in their pursuit and each was known for their unique tracking abilities. Ironically it was from outlaws pursued by them that the nickname "Three Guardsmen" was first derived. The Guardsmen's claim to fame was their relentless pursuit of the members of the Doolin Gang, eliminating many of them systematically, and apprehending those that would surrender. Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas was responsible for the killing of outlaw Bill Doolin. Deputy Marshall Chris Madsen led a posse that killed Doolin Gang members "Dynamite Dan" Clifton and Richard "Little Dick" West. Deputy Marshal Tilghman was ultimately responsible for the death of Doolin member William F. "Little Bill" Raidler. Several other gang members were either captured or killed by the Guardsmen.

Heck Thomas retired in 1905, and in 1907 accepted a chief of police position in Lawton, Oklahoma. He died in 1912. Chris Madsen retired in 1905 and died in 1944 at the age of 93. Bill Tilghman retired from the marshal service, served as chief of police of Oklahoma City, and was later elected to the Oklahoma Senate. While serving as Cromwell town marshall at the age of 70, Tilghman was shot to death by a drunken prohibition agent. Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame recipients receive a special induction recognition in his name—"The Bill Tilghman Award."

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