Sunday, August 2, 2015
Bill Tilghman's Prairie Queen
By Paisley Kirkpatrick Bill Tilghman liked race horses the way a raccoon likes persimmons. His specialty was to pick 'em up from the Indians who were mighty good judges of moving horseflesh. He bought one from a Kiowa Indian named White Deer -- the horse was named Chief. Bill owned another horse named Chant. This animal won the Kentucky Derby in 1894. Bill Tilghman was as fine a man as ever hung a holster around his hips. He was downright shy around girls. Bad men didn't make him even blink, but a girl gave him the shakes. Seems odd, but that was the way of it. One day in the fall of 1883 he attended an annual feast the Indian Territory was gettin' up. This feast day was held once a year -- it was horse racing time. Bill heard about a Comanche Indian Chief who had a fast, black filly named Prairie Queen. Bill wanted to see her run. When he saw her in action, his eyes sparkled with delight. An Indian boy rode the horse with only a hackamore, no saddle, and no bridle. She started last in a field of fifteen horses and came in first place. Bill became more and more excited. "I'm goin' to buy Prairie Queen," he said. He had $500 in his wallet. He took out $300 and gave it to a friend to hold, then put the wallet back in his pocket. When the race was over, Bill went to the Indian and said, "Chief, I want to buy Prairie Queen." He glanced over to where the horse was standing. The Chief got a horse blanket and spread it on the ground. He sat on one side and Bill on the other, facing each other. The Chief asked Bill how much he'd pay. Bill took out his wallet and pulled out $50 and kind of hesitatingly spread it on the horse blanket as if the idea of letting loose of that much money was painful. The Chief looked at it a long time, then silently shook his head. Bill eased out a ten dollar bill and put it down. The Chief studied it and again shook his head. Bill's hand went into his wallet again and came out with ten dollars more. Little by little the two got closer together in their bid-an'-ask. Finally -- with a look of despair -- Bill opened up his purse and put everything in it on the pile, then showed the purse to the Chief. "That's all I got." The Chief nodded he would accept. Then he spoke to his son who disappeared and came back a few minutes later with his sister, who was a good-lookin' girl. The Chief spoke to her in his own language and pointed to Bill. She took one look at Bill and began crying. Bill glanced at her in astonishment because he couldn't see why the sight of him would make her cry. A tremendous argument took place between the girl and her father. The Chief kept pointin' at Bill and apparently he was sayin' something which was complimentary. The girl studied him, then broke out with, "I no like him. I no want him." Bill was astonished at first, but then the whole thing came to light. The Chief's daughter was also named Prairie Queen and the Chief had thought Bill was tryin' to buy her. When the Chief was finally convinced Bill wanted the horse and not the daughter, he insisted Bill pay him another $10, being the horse was worth more than his daughter. This accounting was told to a friend of Bill's, who asked Bill's wife if it was true. She nodded and said probably with a few exaggerations. This accounting was written by Homer Croy and published in the May-June, 1960 True West issue.