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The Three Guardsmen is the name popularized in Old West literature describing three lawmen who became legendary in their pursuit of many outlaws of the late 19th century. Deputy U.S. Marshals Bill Tilghman (1854–1924), Chris Madsen (1851–1944), and Heck Thomas (1850–1912) were "The Three Guardsmen", working under U.S. Marshal Evett "E.D." Nix.
In historical legal systems, an outlaw is declared as outside the protection of the law. In pre-modern societies, the criminal is withdrawn all legal protection, so that anyone is legally empowered to persecute or kill them. Outlawry was thus one of the harshest penalties in the legal system. In early Germanic law, the death penalty is conspicuously absent, and outlawing is the most extreme punishment, presumably amounting to a death sentence in practice. The concept is known from Roman law, as the status of homo sacer, and persisted throughout the Middle Ages.
William Matthew Tilghman Jr. was a career lawman, gunfighter, and politician in Kansas and Oklahoma during the late 19th century. Tilghman was a Dodge City city marshal in the early 1880s and played a role in the Kansas County Seat Wars. In 1889 he moved to Oklahoma where he acquired several properties during a series of land rushes. While serving as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Oklahoma, he gained recognition for capturing the notorious outlaw Bill Doolin and helping to track and kill the other members of Doolin's gang, which made him famous as one of Oklahoma's "Three Guardsmen".
Chris Madsen was a lawman of the Old West who is best known as being one of The Three Guardsmen, the name given to Madsen and two other Deputy US Marshals who were responsible for the apprehension and/or killing of several outlaws of that era. The Three Guardsmen consisted of Madsen, Bill Tilghman, and Heck Thomas.
Beginning in 1889, they began "cleaning up" part of what became the State of Oklahoma. Widely considered honest, dutiful, and capable, they were responsible for suppressing much of the outlaw element in the Indian Territory and environs, reportedly arresting in excess of some 300 desperadoes during the next decade, and killing several others. All three had the reputation of being dauntless in their pursuit, ignoring bad weather, and each was known for their unique tracking abilities. Ironically the nickname "Three Guardsmen" was given to them by outlaws they pursued. Heck Thomas' relentless pursuit of the Dalton Gang was specifically mentioned by gang member Emmett Dalton as one reason the Dalton Gang attempted to rob two banks simultaneously in Coffeyville, Kansas – to make one big score so that they could leave the territory for a time. Resistance from the lawmen and citizens of Coffeyville to this robbery ended the gang with the deaths of most of its members.
Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south and west, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the 50 United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.
Emmett Dalton was an American outlaw, train robber and member of the Dalton Gang in the American Old West. Part of the ill-fated Dalton raid on two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas, he survived despite receiving 23 gunshot wounds. After serving 14 years in prison for the crime, Dalton capitalized on his notoriety to author books and become an actor in Hollywood.
The Dalton Gang was a group of outlaws in the American Old West during 1890–1892. It was also known as The Dalton Brothers because three of its members were brothers. The gang specialized in bank and train robberies. During an attempted bank robbery in Coffeyville, Kansas in 1892, two of the brothers and two other gang members were killed; Emmett survived and was captured, tried, and convicted. He was paroled after serving 14 years in prison.
They are most famous for their relentless pursuit of the Wild Bunch, or Doolin Gang, which included surviving members of the Dalton Gang. The three lawmen eliminated many of the Doolin Gang by systematically killing gang members who resisted them and arresting those who would surrender. Deputy Marshal Heck Thomas killed gang leader Bill Doolin. Deputy Marshal Chris Madsen led the 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 gang member William F. "Little Bill" Raidler. Other gang members were also captured or killed by them.
The Wild Bunch, also known as the Doolin–Dalton Gang or the Oklahombres, were a gang of American outlaws based in the Indian Territory that were active in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma Territory during the 1890s—robbing banks and stores, holding up trains, and killing lawmen. They were also known as The Oklahoma Long Riders because of the long dusters that they wore. Of all the outlaw gangs produced by the American Old West, none met a more violent end than the Wild Bunch. Only two of its eleven members survived into the 20th century, and all eleven met violent deaths in gun battles with lawmen.
William "Bill” Doolin was an American bandit outlaw and founder of the Wild Bunch, a gang that specialized in robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas during the 1890s.
Dan Clifton (1865–1896?), known as Dynamite Dan or Dynamite Dick, was an American western outlaw and member of the Doolin Gang.
Heck Thomas retired in 1905, and in 1907 accepted a Chief of Police position in Lawton, Oklahoma. He died in 1912 of Bright's disease.
The city of Lawton is the county seat of Comanche County, in the State of Oklahoma. Located in southwestern Oklahoma, about 87 mi (140 km) southwest of Oklahoma City, it is the principal city of the Lawton, Oklahoma Metropolitan Statistical Area. According to the 2010 census, Lawton's population was 96,867, making it the fifth-largest city in the state.
Bright's disease is a historical classification of kidney diseases that would be described in modern medicine as acute or chronic nephritis. It was characterized by swelling and the presence of albumin in the urine, and was frequently accompanied by high blood pressure and heart disease.
Bill Tilghman retired in 1910 and was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate. On Halloween night, 1924, and at the age of 70, Tilghman was murdered by a corrupt prohibition agent named Wiley Lynn, while serving as town Marshal for Cromwell, Oklahoma. Cromwell at the time was a wild town full of brothels, pool halls and saloons. One month after his death, the entire town was burned to the ground – no building was left standing. Chris Madsen and other former law enforcement friends of Tilghman were believed to have been responsible, but no investigation into the arsons was ever conducted. The town of Cromwell never recovered; as of the 2000 census, its population was less than 300.
Halloween or Hallowe'en, also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve, is a celebration observed in several countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day. It begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.
Prohibition is the act or practice of forbidding something by law; more particularly the term refers to the banning of the manufacture, storage, transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The word is also used to refer to a period of time during which such bans are enforced.
Marshal is a term used in several official titles in various branches of society. As marshals became trusted members of the courts of Medieval Europe, the title grew in reputation. During the last few centuries, it has been used for elevated offices, such as in military rank and civilian law enforcement.
Madsen had retired in 1905, and died in 1944 at the age of 93.
The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, subtitled Picturization of Early Days in Oklahoma, is a 1915 American silent western film produced by the Eagle Film Company depicting the end of the outlaw gangs which operated freely during the closing days of the Twin Territories. The movie was directed by Bill Tilghman, noted Western lawman, and filmed by Benny Kent, a pioneer movie photographer and Tilghman's neighbor in Lincoln County, Oklahoma.
Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas was a lawman on the American frontier, most notably in Oklahoma.
George "Bitter Creek" Newcomb was an American outlaw of the American Old West. He was first a member of the Dalton Gang, but after being called "too Wild" by Bob Dalton, he and Bill Doolin started the Wild Bunch gang.
Richard "Little Dick" West was an American outlaw of the Old West, and a member of Bill Doolin's gang.
The Jennings Gang was a gang of outlaws in the closing days of the Old West, notable in that one member was a former Wild Bunch gang member, Richard "Little Dick" West, and the leader of the gang, Al Jennings, ran for Oklahoma Governor in 1914.
William Marion Dalton, called Bill Dalton, was an American outlaw in the American Old West. He was the co-leader of the Wild Bunch gang and he was the brother of the founders of the Dalton Gang, Gratton, Bob and Emmett.
Bill Raidler, known as "Little Bill" Raidler was an American outlaw of the Old West, and member of the Doolin-Dalton gang.
George "Red Buck" Waightman was an American Old West outlaw, and member of the Doolin-Dalton gang. His surname was also spelled Weightman.
The Battle of Ingalls was a gunfight on September 1, 1893 between United States Marshals and the Doolin-Dalton Gang, during the closing years of the Old West era, in Ingalls, Oklahoma. The Doolin-Dalton Gang had been involved in a number of train robberies and bank robberies, beginning around 1891. They had found a safe haven in the town of Ingalls, which unwittingly harbored many outlaws during that period. On September 1, 1893, a posse was organized by the new United States Marshal, Evett Dumas "E.D." Nix, which entered the outlaw town of Ingalls with the intent to capture the gang. The lawmen were engaged in a gunbattle in which three of the fourteen lawmen carrying Deputy Marshals' commissions would die as a result of the battle.
Oliver Yantis, known as Oliver "Ol" Yantis was an American outlaw of the Old West, best known for being a member of the Doolin Dalton Gang.
Gratton Hanley "Grat" Dalton was an American outlaw in the American Old West. As second in command of the Dalton Gang he died during an ill-fated raid on a bank in Coffeyville, Kansas.
Wiley Ulysses Lynn was a corrupt American prohibition agent during the early 20th century, best known for having murdered legendary lawman Bill Tilghman, on November 1, 1924, in Cromwell, Oklahoma.
Evett Dumas Nix, often known as E.D. Nix, was a United States Marshal in the late 19th century handling the jurisdiction that included the wild Oklahoma Territory, later to be the state of Oklahoma. He was first appointed in 1893, in the closing years of the Old West, during the last years of the "Hanging Judge" Parker tenure.
Frank Cochran was a 19th-century Old West Deputy US Marshal in the service of Judge Isaac Parker, known as the "Hanging Judge", operating out of Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Little Britches was an outlaw in the American Old West associated with Cattle Annie. Their exploits are fictionalized in the 1981 film Cattle Annie and Little Britches, directed by Lamont Johnson and starring Diane Lane as Little Britches.