The original U.S. Marshals Museum was located in Laramie, Wyoming until it closed in late 2002. In 2005, the U.S. Marshals Service embarked on a mission to find a city to host their new museum. The selection process began with sixteen cities. Eventually the search was narrowed to two: Fort Smith, AR and Staunton, VA. In January 2007, former U.S. Marshals Service Director John Clark announced his decision- Fort Smith was the new home of the national U.S. Marshals Museum.
Fort Smith was the natural choice to host the new Museum. Not only did city leaders and the regional population lobby for its presence, Fort Smith is a place of true authenticity. It was the gateway to the Old West, an era ingrained in the American Imagination. Outlaws and lawmen alike passed through Fort Smith headed into Indian Territory. It was here that Native American peoples, many of whom were forced to travel the “Trail of Tears,” were led across the Arkansas River into their new territory in Oklahoma. It was here that Judge Isaac C. Parker tried the fugitives arrested by the marshals. And who could forget it was here that the fictitious Rooster Cogburn began his search for the fictitious Tom Chaney in the popular movie True Grit.
The U.S. Marshals Service was the only law enforcement agency with the jurisdiction to enter Indian Territory and the frontier lands, areas once referred to by a Fort Smith newspaper as “the rendezvous of the vile and wicked from everywhere.” Deputy Marshals headquartered in Fort Smith patrolled the vast 74,000 square mile territory. The danger of the job and the violent criminals they faced resulted in the burial of more deputy marshals and special deputies in this region than anywhere else in the country.
Descendants of Marshals and outlaws live on in Fort Smith. It is not uncommon to meet someone and hear stories of their ancestor’s work as a deputy. The U.S. Marshals Museum will bring these and other stories from the 220+ year USMS history together. Visit the Share page on our website to share a story or two about your own ancestor or to learn about someone else’s.