Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

You Know My Name (TNT TV, 1999)


Sam is Bill


Continuing our Sam Elliott thread for a moment, after our post on 1883, in 1999 TNT screened a picture Elliott produced and starred in about the Oklahoma lawman Bill Tilghman, You Know My Name.



As we said in our article on Tilghman (click the link for that), William Matthew Tilghman (1854 – 1924) was one of the great lawmen of the old West. His name may not trip off the tongue in the way that an Earp or a Hickok does, and he certainly has not enjoyed the levels of Hollywood exposure that those men did, but nevertheless, to students of the West he was an important figure.


The real Bill


Rod Steiger, not overacting quite as much as usual, was Tilghman in Cattle Annie and Little Britches in 1981 and Bill appeared on TV a few times, such as in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, played by Don Kennedy. And of course Bill had played himself in silent movies, as we see in You Know My Name: the silent movie The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, subtitled Picturization of Early Days in Oklahoma, was a 1915 picture directed by Tilghman himself and released by Tilghman’s own Eagle Film Company.


Film star Bill


You Know My Name was directed and written by John Kent Harrison, known for Anne of Green Gables and Pope John Paul II, so rather an eclectic mix. He had done another picture with Sam four years earlier, The Ranger, the Cook and a Hole in the Sky, also set in the early twentieth century.


Mr Harrison at the helm (and the word processor)


For in You Know My Name we are in Oklahoma in 1924. The real Bill was actually a portly 70 years old then, while Sam was a slim 55, but the actor puts on the age, and he’s has always been very good at that.




While he is on the set of his motion picture, Bill is approached by a citizen of Cromwell, east of Oklahoma and about fifty miles to the south east of Tilghman’s home of Chandler. The town is lawless and in the grip of crooks and thugs. Will he help? At first he declines but you can tell he would like one last go at marshaling, and he gets a six-month contract. In reality, this was a good ten years after the making of the movie, but never mind. He goes off to Cromwell alone, promising his wife and sons that he’ll be back soon. Naturally he rides. No perishing autymobile for him.


I must say Turner spared no expense (well, maybe a bit) in creating up in Alberta the set for the oil town of Cromwell. It’s a filthy place full of corruption. As Tilghman rides in he regards the lowlife with that Sam Elliott Western silent disdain. Of course it doesn’t take him long to start cleaning up the town.


The main town crook should have been Robert Middleton, who would have been ideal, but sadly he passed away in 1977 and was unavailable, so they got a Bob Middleton lookalike (perhaps they held a competition) and Walter Olkewicz as Killian does an excellent job of impersonating him. Killian is a saloon owner, naturally, as bad guys have to be. He is properly blaggardly as leader of the anti-law ‘n’ order brigade, in with the Kansas City mob. Law ‘n’ order will reduce his trade in bootleg liquor (it’s Prohibition time), drugs, gambling and prostitution. I don’t know if there was a real Killian.


Villian I mean villain Killian


But the real villain, the seriously repellent one, did exist, though. I’m not sure that in reality Wiley Lynn was quite such a psychopath teetering on the edge of homicidal madness that Arliss Howard portrays him as, but Lynn was certainly a pretty loathsome character. Though a federal agent charged with eliminating illegal booze, he was in fact on the take in a major way. The movie Lynn is addicted to cocaine and pretty well barking mad. He murders various people, including the county sheriff, with glee, and shoves their bodies in oil tanks. He was certainly Tilghman’s main obstacle in bringing some semblance of peace and order to Cromwell.


He does a lot of insane laughing


Part of Tilghman’s strategy to tame the town is to show his movie, and we get the delight of James Gammon as Real Arkansas Tom who reluctantly steps onto the stage to back Bill up. The crowd cheers every move the goodies make, in the way that people used to at the flickers. This scene is well handled by the cast and by director.


Gammon is Arkansas Tom


We also get flashbacks in the movie as Bill relives his capture of Bill Doolin. In the film he appears dressed as a clergyman and has a shotgun in a violin case. “You know my name,” he warns Doolin, threatening to shoot him if he doesn’t come quietly.


Wild Bill Hickok (Dwayne Armitage) also briefly appears, in a mirage.


Bill is helped in Cromwell by a young assistant, Hugh Sawyer (Jonathan Young), which was in fact the case, and by rather rough methods (involving a barbed wire noose) Bill manages to get a spy into the enemy camp, Alibi Joe (James Parks), though it does not end well for Alibi when he is discovered. The oil tank has plenty of room for one more.


Bill’s young assistant Hugh


Bill goes back for bucolic weekends with his family. They are all a bit too good to be true. In fact the middle son, Richard, is written out altogether. In 1929 Richard was shot in the liver while attempting to hold up a dice game and died of his wounds, so maybe he was airbrushed out of the picture. But then Woodrow was also a career criminal, who spent much of his life behind bars, and he features, as a little boy.


Riding back to Cromwell from such an idyllic weekend, Bill is set upon by gangsters in an automobile who fire Tommy-gun bullets at him but of course a cowpoke on his horse is no match for a mere car, and the vehicle careers over a cliff, leaving Bull unscathed.


You do get the impression that it has all been sensationalized a bit. It opens with the announcement “All that follows is based on the true-life adventures of William Matthew Tilghman” so we can be pretty sure some of it is invented. Well, it is a movie. And that little phrase based on saves them from an outright lie.


Well, a drunken/drugged (or both) Lynn turns up in town, discharging his pistol wildly. Bill grabs his gun hand and succeeds in wresting the firearm away from him but the skunk pulls a second pistol from a pocket and shoots Bill twice in the gut. Bill falls, mortally wounded. He died on November 1st, 1924. That was more or less what did happen.


Amazingly, Lynn was acquitted at a trial. Eye-witnesses conveniently disappeared and Deputy Hugh Sawyer (Jonathan Young in the film), either incompetent or bought off, testified that he could not see clearly what happened, though in fact he was standing right next to Tilghman. Lynn continued his criminal ways until finally killed in a gunfight with Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Crockett Long (who also died) at Madill, OK in 1932.


Bill Tilghman lay in state in the Oklahoma capitol building and was buried in Chandler.


Sam Elliott fans and those interested in Bill Tilghman will enjoy this one.



12 Responses

  1. Together with Heck Thomas and Chris Madsen, Bill Tilghman brought law and order to the Indian Territory which was an outlaws nest (even after the Land Runs), arresting and killing hundreds of today unknown or most notorious outlaws. The trio took on the nickname of the “Three Guardsmen”. If the Daltons or the Doolin gang are in many movies, is there any showing the trio !?

  2. Jeff, good write-up of YOU KNOW MY NAME(filmed 1998, released 1999). Because of your write-up, I re-watched this really good and enjoyable made for tv movie. It originally premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on January 15, 1999, and later at the Tinseltown USA Cinema in Oklahoma City on July 26, 1999, before its TURNER NETWORK TELEVISION(TNT) premiere on August 22, 1999. I first viewed the movie on DVD in 2006.

    I’ve always been intrigued with movies, tv shows, and books that their theme was “changing times,” especially with the “Old West” syncing into the “New West.” This movie is a good example being set in 1924 Oklahoma. Times had changed, but Marshal Bill Tilghman(Sam Elliott) hadn’t. The new boomtowns were oil towns, not gold and silver mining towns, but it was now the riches of “Black Gold” that lured all kinds of people for better, or worse. YOU KNOW MY NAME was pre-DEADWOOD(2004-06), but it was sort of like Deadwood meets Dick Tracy. Kansas City gangsters invading Cromwell, Oklahoma with their Tommy guns and automobiles vs. old time Marshal Tilghman with is .45 pistol and still riding horseback, although early on, we do see him and his lovely wife Zoe(Caroyln McCormick) riding in an auto, which he is driving. I liked the scene where, in an automobile, the gangsters with Tommy guns blazing came after Marshal Tilghman riding horseback. There are other neat changing times depictions that I rather like, but I don’t want to give away too much.

    The role of Marshal Bill Tilghman fit Sam Elliott like a glove and he gives a really good performance. I’ve been reading about William Tilghman, Henry “Heck” Thomas, and Chris Madsen known as the “Three Guardsmen” of Oklahoma Territory since I was a youngster. They made Wyatt Earp as a lawman look like an amateur. I agree that a movie about the “Three Guardsmen” would be good, but I’ll not hold my breath, although there might be a chance with Taylor Sheridan’s new Paramount+ anthology tv series LAWMAN. First up will be the story of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, who rode out of Judge Isacc Parker’s Fort Smith, Arkansas court, which had jurisdiction over Western Arkansas and the Indian Territory(Oklahoma). Someone, hopefully, will put a bug in Taylor Sheridan’s ear about the “Three Guardsmen.”

    On another note, Western novelist Matt Braun wrote ONE LAST TOWN(1997), which is the story of Bill Tilghman’s time in Cromwell, Oklahoma and in 1999 the novel was re-printed as a movie tie-in with Sam Elliott as Bill Tilghman on the cover and retitled YOU KNOW MY NAME(1999). The only writing credit I see in the movie is John Kent Harrison. I have the novel, but I’ve not read it yet and it looks like to me that the novel was an inspiration for the movie but wasn’t credited as such. I went to IMDb and scrolled to “All cast & crew” and clicked on it and then scrolled down all the way to the bottom for “Additional Crew,” and found Matt Braun listed as historical consultant. Usually, the novel is credited as a source.

    1. Interesting, Walter.
      There are quite a few books around. On Bill Tighman, in the factual domain we have Marshal Of The Last Frontier: Life And Services Of William Matthew ‘Bill’ Tilghman, For Fifty Years One Of The Greatest Peace Officers Of The West by Zoe Agnes Stratton Tilghman, and Bill Tilghman: Marshal of the last frontier by Floyd Miller, while there are novels such as Bill Tilghman and the Outlaws, an Action Adventure by Dan Searles, Brent Towns, et al., The Marshal, a Novel of Bill Tilghman by Matt Cole and The Legend of Bill Tighman, Historical Novel by G Wayne Tilman.
      There is less available on Heck Thomas and Chris Madsen but we have Heck Thomas, My Papa by Beth Thomas and Heck Thomas, Frontier Marshal: The Story of a Real Gunfighter by Glenn Shirley, and Trigger Marshal: The Story of Chris Madsen by Homer Troy.
      There are doubtless others.
      I haven’t read them so can’t say how good they are but those interested might want to follow up.

      1. Jeff, that’s a good list of books and I’ve read several of them over the years. I think my first encounter with Bill Tilghman was in WESTERN SHERIFFS AND MARSHALS(1955) written by Thomas Penfield, which I first read fifty-three years ago. Followed up by Glenn Shirley’s HECK THOMAS: FRONTIER MARSHAL. THE STORY OF A REAL GUNFIGHTER(1962), which has a lot of information about Tilghman and Chris Madsen. Also, Glenn Shirley’s SIX-GUN AND SILVER STAR(1955), which has a lot about the “Three Guardsman.” I haven’t read Homer Croy’s TRIGGER MARSHAL: THE STORY OF CHRIS MADSEN(1958), but I sure would like to. Croy obtained a lot of information from Madsen’s son Reno. Apparently, Chris had saved everything, before his death in 1944, including an unpublished memoir. I really like Homer Croy’s HE HANGED THEM HIGH(1952), which is about Judge Isaac Parker’s Fort Smith, Arkansas court, which had jurisdiction over Western Arkansas and the Indian Territory(Oklahoma).

        There are a lot of good books out there to read about this particular era of the Southwest and Middle Border region. The horseback lawman and outlaw era of 1865-1923 and the automobile era from 1923 onward. Believe it, or not, a bank was robbed in Gentry, Arkansas in 1923 and the outlaws escaped into Oklahoma by way of horseback. Still doing it the old-time way as late as 1923.

        On another note, writer/director Walter Hill said that his inspiration for the character of the famed bounty hunter Max Borlund(Christoph Walz) in his movie DEAD FOR A DOLLAR(filmed 2021, released 2022) was Dane/American lawman Chris Madsen.

        1. Somme good tips there. Curiously enough I have DEAD FOR A DOLLAR on order and will be reviewing it in June. I rather like Walter Hill.

  3. Nice review. Have the DVD and should give it another spin. Another Elliott TNT movie you might want to review is ‘Rough Riders’ which was directed by John Milius. Tom Berenger is an excellent Theodore Roosevelt and Sam Elliott is another legendary Western lawman Bucky O’Neil. The movie has many Western elements. I think it is really good Americana.

    1. Completely agree with you about Rough Riders. A great movie and an outstanding period in American history. Not like that which we are currently experiencing.

    2. I might give ROUGH RIDERS a go round. I’ve also got a review of CONAGHER coming next month.

      1. Looking forward to it. Sam is so convincing in these roles especially embodying real historical characters. 1993 was a banner year for him in that so good as General Buford in ‘Gettysburg’ and Virgil Earp in Tombstone. He IS these characters. As a student of the Civil War and the Western I enjoy how real he is in these roles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *