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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Madsen had retired in 1905, and died in 1944 at the age of 93.
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 four of its members were brothers. The gang specialized in bank and train robberies. During an attempted double 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.
The Wild Bunch, also known as the Doolin–Dalton Gang, or the Oklahombres, were a gang of American outlaws based in the Indian Territory in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They 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.
William "Bill" Doolin was an American bandit outlaw and founder of the Wild Bunch, sometimes known as the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Like the earlier Dalton Gang alone, it specialized in robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches in Arkansas, Kansas, Indiana and Oklahoma during the 1890s.
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".
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. It depicts 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.
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.
Henry Andrew "Heck" Thomas was a lawman on the American frontier, most notably in Indian Territory. He was known for helping bring law and order to the region. In 1889 as a deputy in Fort Smith, Arkansas, he tried to capture Ned Christie (Cherokee), wanted as a suspect in the killing of a US marshal.
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" Weightman was an American Old West outlaw, and member of the Doolin-Dalton gang. His surname was also spelled Waightman.
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.
Gratton Hanley "Grat" Dalton was an American outlaw in the American Old West. He was one of three brothers in the Dalton Gang, led by his younger brother Bob Dalton. Both brothers were killed during a shootout in an ill-fated raid on two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas. Their brother Emmett Dalton survived to be convicted and imprisoned for fourteen years.
Wiley Ulysses Lynn was an American prohibition agent during the early 20th century, best known for having killed 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.
Robert Rennick Dalton, better known as Bob Dalton, was an American outlaw in the American Old West. Beginning in 1891, he led the Dalton Gang, whose varying members included three of his brothers. They were known for robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains, primarily in Kansas and Oklahoma Territory, quickly attracting pursuit by lawmen.
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.