On a quiet Sunday afternoon in July of 1932, what has since been considered to be the last great shoot-out in Oklahoma, occurred in the county seat town of Madill, Oklahoma. This was as well publicized, and has become as famous as the Sam Starr-Frank West shoot-out in 1886 that transpired in Indian Territory just 46 years before. Both were an example of a good man and a bad one, triggered by hate, revenge and a smoldering grudge by an oft offender of the law, pitted against a reputable peace officer. Wiley Lynn had gone into the Corner Drug Store and "shot it out" with the veteran peace officer Crockett Long, who stood up from his table and accepted the onus and challenge of being "called out". He defended his honor and the integrity of the law, and paid the price for law and order, and for wearing a badge.Such occurrences had been an every day event in the pre-Statehood days of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory when the Daltons rode and the Bill Doolin gang took over where they left off during the last decade of the century and roamed almost unmolested. However, since Statehood in 1907, and even after the rugged and dangerous oil field boom days of the late Twenties, such an event had been rare in the 46th State of Oklahoma. It all started with the killing of the famous Deputy U.S. Marshal Bill Tilghman at Cromwell, Oklahoma, in 1924. Wm. M. "Bill" Tilghman was a renowned peace officer of extreme stature and durability before and after the turn of the century and up to his untimely death in 1924. Perhaps his most noted exploit singled-handed, was the personal capture of the infamous outlaw, Bill Doolin, in Eureka Springs, Ark., and returning him by train to the Territorial capital at Guthrie. Along with Chris Madsden and Heck Thomas, Tilghman was branded one of the "Three Guardsmen" of early day Oklahoma. Tilghman in his early life had been an Army Scout and Guide, a buffalo hunter, a fledgling lawman in early day Dodge City. He joined the Army campaign as an Indian fighter against the Cheyennes in 1878. Later, he was one of those that made the opening run for homesteads in Oklahoma Territory in 1 8 8 9. He had been a Town Marshal, Sheriff, Deputy U. S. Marshall, Chief of Police of Oklahoma City shortly after the turn of the century, and a special investigator for more than one Governor of Oklahoma. Then, he was the Town Marshall of the little oil field boomtown of Cromwell, Oklahoma, his last assignment. For one who had experienced so many close calls with death for over 50 years, it was incredible that he would sustain such an inglorious end to his heroic career. His reputation and fame as a reliable, astute, fearless officer for a half century had preceded him. He neither drank nor smoked. When President of the U.S. Teddy Roosevelt visited Oklahoma Territory for a well-publicized wolf hunt in the Big Pasture area of the territory in 1905, he asked the intrepid Marshall how he had eluded death with the many quick-drawing outlaws he had confronted. The mild mannered Tilghman replied that he had many times beaten his adversaries by only the sixteenth of a second. He also expounded that the man who knows he is right always has the edge over a man that knows he is in the wrong. In 1924 Tilghman was in semi-retirement and living peaceably at Chandler, Oklahoma, although technically, he was a special Officer for the Governor of Oklahoma, Governor M. E. Trapp. At the county seat town of Chandler, he had served several terms as Sheriff during the last twenty years before 1924. The sterling qualities of his services were still in demand despite his approach of old age, as several governors over the years had summoned him for special duty. Now at age 70, in the autumn of his life, again he had answered the clarion call of the citizenry of the oil field town of Cromwell, Oklahoma, in 1924. The town, located in central Oklahoma, was regarded as the wildest of all those boom towns in 1924, when over 75 oil wells near that town produced over 62,000 barrels a day, and the population zoomed to over 5,000 in that epochal year. It was through the determined efforts of W. E. Sirmans, an oil man and head of the Cromwell Chamber of Commerce, that Tilghman was induced to accept the challenge and come out of retirement to "Clean up the town." Here illegal booze, narcotics, and all sorts of gambling, vice and bawdyhouses existed, and permeated the heart of the business enterprises. Although it was against the advice of Governor M. E. Trapp and a fellow special officer and friend, Fred Sutton, who had warned him, "Somebody will murder you, Bill, is-still, the old war horse for law and order and the fearless peace officer apparently had a premonition. He had said he wanted to eventually go with his boots on, and not go to bed someday and die like a woman. Once he had arrived at Cromwell, the famous "Guardsman" was accepted with open arms by the better element of the little town. However, Tilghman soon suspected Wiley Lynn, a Federal Prohibition officer for that district of protecting and taking "pay-offs" from the bootleggers, instead of arresting them. Still, it was difficult to get conclusive evidence against the swarthy man. Tilghman believed in that old adage, that "where there is smoke, there is fire." Then it happened! At 10:00 on the night of November 1, 1924, Tilghman was seated in Murphy's Cafe talking with his friend Sirmans and his deputy Town Marshall. Just then, a sleek, black touring car pulled up across the street. In the rear seat was a couple, and according to a bystander, the woman was "very drunk." The couple was later identified as Eva Caton, who had operated the "Cozy rooms" in Wewoka. The man in her company was an Army sergeant named Thompson, who was on official furlough, and was "whooping it up." In the front were Wiley Lynn and a Mrs. Rose Lutke, who until recently had been the proprietor of "Rose Rooms" at Wewoka, until her bawdy house in the red light district had been closed by Judge Crump. These four had reportedly been to Okemah where they all started drinking hand-made "white-lightning" moonshine whiskey out of a half-gallon fruit jar. They were en route back to Wewoka when Wiley Lynn decided to stop in Cromwell. Lynn got out of the car and drew his pistol. When Rose asked him what he planned to do, he replied, "I'm going to see if this damned gun will shoot." He then fired his pistol once into the dirt street, then started across the street to the Murphy's Dance Hall that Judge Crump had closed upon the recommendation of Tilghman. The alert Town Marshall had learned of the shot and immediately went outside, drew his pistol and encountered Lynn. Tilghman then grabbed Lynn by the wrist of his gun holding hand with his free left hand, holding his six-shooter against him. Tilghman was still a strong man, despite his age, and flung the younger Lynn, still in his twenties, against the building, still holding his wrist high in the air, while Deputy Marshall Hugh Sawyer wrestled Lynn's gun from his hand. Thinking Lynn was then disarmed; Tilghman released his vice-grip on his arm. Then, lightning fast, Wiley Lynn flashed out a second concealed pistol from under his coat and boldly fired point blank twice into the chest of the 70-year-old Bill Tilghman. His deputy had lunged out to grab Lynn's arm but he was too late. Tilghman fell fatally into the arms of his frenzied deputy. "Give me back my gun or I'll shoot your guts out!" Wiley Lynn blurted, and the deputy acceded to his demand. Lynn and the woman then raced to his car and screeched away into the darkness of the night. Lynn drove to the Federal district headquarters at Holdenville and surrendered himself, although he pleaded from the first that he had killed in self-defense. Marshall Tilghman would have never been this careless ten years before, much less thirty years before. Now, it was too late. He had paid the Supreme sacrifice. Ultimately, the courts and the best legal brains of that era, including the former Oklahoma Attorney General, S. P. "Prince" Freeling, all failed to convict the nefarious killer and pseudo-Federal prohibition officer. Sirmans, who had later fled to Florida after his life had been threatened if he testified, failed to return for the, trial of Wiley Lynn for the murder of the veteran peace officer. Had Sirmans been present to testify about what he actually saw and heard. There is little doubt that the trial's outcome would have been different. However, he had feared for his life, and yielded to his inner instinct of self-preservation for his safety. He wrote a far different version of the shooting than that described by the well-planned and embellished defense. "There is no question," he said in a letter to U.S. Marshal E. D. Nix at Guthrie, "but that he was murdered in cold blood. Lynn had been getting graft from those illegal liquor people and Tilghman had been breaking into his racket too much. Lynn would have been lynched by a local mob that night I am sure if he hadn't speeded out of town." But the shoot-out in Madill on July 17, 1932, was different from the famous and unforgettable one back in 1866, when Sam Starr, husband of the famous woman outlaw, Belle Starr, and Frank West each killed the other almost simultaneously with only one bullet each. Wiley Lynn had walked into the Corner Drug Store in Madill on this fatal Sunday afternoon, and obviously had been drinking. He saw Crockett Long sitting at a table with Bill Baker, a stock buyer, and Paul Watts, local undertaker. Lynn had his automatic pistol in his hand and made his loud demand. "Put `em up you SOB, I'm going to get you sometime, so it might as well be now," he barked at the Crime Bureau Operative. The 37-year- old Long was partially hard of hearing, and actually didn't hear him that first time. However, when the ten odd people in the store started getting out in a hurry, Long turned and was looking down the business end of Lynn's pistol, and only then heard Lynn repeat his demand. "Put that gun down, Lynn!" instinctively countered Long. That was the last thing said before a blaze of gunfire broke loose in the crowded store. The fearless Long was undaunted by this last threat on his life. He tried in vain to talk the inebriated Lynn out of his quest for revenge. Long then stood up and braced himself for the final showdown, despite the odds in Lynn's favor, as he had his pistol pointed at the officer. The lightning fast draw of Crockett Long somewhat offset the disadvantage. Almost at the same split second, both men fired, sounding like only one shot, then each emptied their pistols at the other. Lynn had one of the new .38 caliber automatic pistols that held 7 shots. Long had a .44 caliber, big slug six-shooter. When the shooting started, Forney Keller and Jack Blalock, owners of the drug store, and all but two of the customers, had left the store hurriedly after Lynn's bold challenge and warning to them. Knute Turley, operator of a men's clothing store had left his coffee and was the last one that crawled out on his hands and knees through the back door, knocking over the contents of a garbage can on his good suit. Two young men standing at the soda fountain were not so fortunate. Rody Watkins and John Hilburn were both hit by one of the bullets shot by Lynn that had gone entirely through the body of Crocket Long. W. C. Wynne, a bus driver for the Jordan Bus Company, driving from Hugo to Ardmore, Oklahoma, was at the door of the drug store when the bloody orgy started. He quickly turned heel and announced to his passengers, "All aboard." However, once outside, they all anxiously waited until the last of the shots were fired. Each assailant had emptied his pistol at the other at close range inside the crowded little drug store. Crockett Long had fallen to the floor when one leg was broken by the first bullet, and continued to crawl on the floor and shoot back at Lynn until his pistol was empty. As they blazed away at each other, they steadily advanced toward the other, until they were hardly five feet apart when they each fired their last shot. Each of them ended up with five bullets in their bodies. They were both miraculously still conscious, with the hot lead in their bodies, but bleeding profusely. Wiley Lynn, even with his body riddled, staggered across the street leaving a trail of blood, to where Clyde Lewis, operator of a service station, took him to Dr. Veazey's office. Lewis was also the driver of the ambulance for Watts Funeral Home nearby, and soon drove Crockett Long to the Von Keller Hospital in Ardmore. Wiley Lynn and Rody Watkins were driven in a second ambulance by Elmer Williamson. John Hilburn, who fortunately was not too seriously wounded, was taken to the doctor's office for treatment. Crockett Long died on the operating table about an hour after the shooting. Watkins died at 12:30 a.m. Wiley Lynn lived about twelve hours before he died. All three had died after arriving at the hospital. It was about three o'clock the next morning when Lynn was told that Long had died, and he replied: "If he's dead, now I'm ready to die," and folded his arms and immediately succumbed to the five bullets that had riddled his body. Wiley Lynn had now unmercifully taken three men to the grave with him, two peace officers and an innocent bystander trying to escape the deadly fire in the drug store in the Marshall County seat town of Madill, located less than twenty miles from the Red River and the boundary of Texas. After Wiley Lynn had killed the famous 70 year old Marshall Tilghman in 1924, he had experienced one misadventure and brush with the law after another for the next eight years. Although Lynn was now married and had two sons, he and his family were separated. He had been living with his parents on their farm about five miles southwest of town. He had been once arrested for inciting a riot; several times for being drunk in public; had been arrested in Wewoka and at Shawnee for public drunkenness; and once for bootlegging. Crockett Long, a former Chief of Police at Madill, was then a State Crime Bureau living in Oklahoma City, and was visiting in Madill over the weekend. He too was married and had three sons. Lynn's hate for Long had smoldered for the last two years. It all started when Long was Chief of Police at Madill; and it was reported that he had once been forced to pistol whip Lynn who was resisting arrest for being drunk on the streets of Madill. At the time it was well known that Lynn had threatened the officer. "I'll kill you someday, for this!"
Long-time local residents may not specifically remember July 17, 1932, but many, can tell stories about a quiet Sunday afternoon that erupted in the "Last big shoot-out In town. "Time and repeated telling have embellished the story. Even almost 70 years later people tend to talk quietly about the violence that claimed the lives of Crockett Long, Wiley U. long and Rhode Watkins. Each still has family around Oklahoma's smallest county where kinship and bonding friendship are a way of life. "Madill's greatest shooting tragedy..." were the words chosen by the late Herbert J. Pate for the opening paragraph of a news story published in the July 21, 1932, edition of The Madill Record. In his late 20s at the time, Pate had been editor-publisher of the newspaper since October 1929. Several years later he described Madill as "a pretty wild place back then. It wasn't unusual to have three or four shootings a week" But none of these could compare with events that took place on that quiet, small-town Sunday afternoon when a "Grudge Held for Years ended. "Lynn; -44, was a farmer, stockman and peace officer. Pate's story described the man as "quiet and rather good-natured during the time he was sober. Whenever he was drunk, however, he was transformed into a dangerous man, - a killer." He was identified as the killer of veteran peace officer Bill Tilghman at Cromwell in 1924. A jury acquitted him on the grounds of self-defense.
About the "Impromptu Duel," Pate wrote:
Posted on the web June 17, 2002
Copyright © 2008