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U.S. Marshals Service

History

District of Oregon 

Historical Summary of the District of Oregon

When one envisions the making of the Oregon Territory and those rugged, visionary pioneers which formed the stock of that adventure, one also captures an accurate picture of those who laid the foundation of the U.S. Marshals in the great Northwest. From the likes of the first Oregon Territorial U.S. Marshal Joseph Lafayette Meek, the first District of Oregon U.S. Marshal Dolphes Brice Hannah to today’s Presidentially, appointed U.S. Marshal Dennis C. Merrill, the backgrounds and idealism of the U.S. Marshals mirror the drive and hopes of all true Oregonians. Space here will not permit a complete recitation of the history of Oregon’s U.S. Marshals which began with the passage of the Organic Act on August 14th, 1848 creating the Oregon Territory and making possible the appointment of Marshal Meek by President Polk. However, a few glimpses at some of those who have held the title “Marshal” will give the reader some perspective of the evolution of Oregon and the role Federal law enforcement has played in its creation.

Marshal Joseph L. Meek was born in Washington County, Virginia in 1810. His mother died while he was at a young age, and Joseph left his father’s plantation, striking out on his own at seventeen. His travels took him to Kentucky, and from there to St. Louis where he enlisted with fur traders who trapped in the Rocky Mountains. In 1840, Meek headed further west after beaver had become scarce, and settled on a land claim in the Tualatin Plains where he began to farm. First made Sheriff, then Assemblyman of Washington County, Meek established for himself a reputation as patriot. After being appointed Marshal, Meek found himself officiating as executioner of those who murdered one of his own children. Marshal Meek died of stomach complications on June 20th, 1875, and is buried in the Tualitin Plains Presbyterian Cemetery, just north of Hillsboro, Oregon. Marshal Joseph L. Meek

Another colorful U.S. Marshal, James Willis Nesmith, served as both a U.S. Senator and U.S. Congressman. Nesmith emigrated to Oregon in 1843, suffering the perils of a severe windstorm on the Columbia River below the Cascades which forced him to come ashore (this incident prompted the naming of Nesmith Point). Nesmith would serve as a Judge of the Provisional Government in the Oregon Territory, was a Captain of volunteers in the Cayuse War in 1845, served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Oregon Territory and followed Joseph Meek as U.S. Marshal with his appointment on March 16, 1853. The town of Nesmith, just south of the town of Rickreall, Oregon (where Nesmith farmed and died) is named in his honor. He is buried on the banks of Rickreall Creek, in Polk County.

U.S. Marshal, James Willis Nesmith

U.S. Marshal Dolphes Brice Hannah, was born in Gallatin County, Illinois, on October 11, 1822. Reportedly left penniless as a child following the death of his wealthy father, through the unscrupulous actions of John McLaughlin who was the administrator of his father’s estate, Hannah worked as a farmer, ferry boat operator, cabin boy and hotel keeper. It was while running the ferry at Smith’s Mills, Iowa that Hannah first learned of the Oregon Territory. He set out from Fort Madison, Iowa on April 14, 1945 and reached The Dalles that October. It was there that he met Joe Meek, who would serve as their pilot. Hannah made his home on the Tualatin Plains, and was later appointed deputy sheriff of Clackamas County by William Holmes. On August 18, 1848, Hannah headed towards Coloma, California where gold had been found at Sutter’s Fort on the American River. After mining there for a time, Hannah took his gold dust (some $3,500) and settled in Sacramento where he was elected Sheriff. There he stayed until California was admitted to the Union, when he returned to Oregon City. Joining the Oregon Volunteers for the Yakima War, Hannah rose to the rank of Lieutenant (under the leadership of Colonel Nesmith). After his private purchase of a law library, Hannah was elected to the legislature where he helped elect General Joseph Lane and Delazon Smith as United States Senators. Upon admission of Oregon as a State, Hannah was appointed as the first United States Marshal for the “State of Oregon” by President Buchannan.

U.S. Marshal Edward S. Kearney who was appointed on March 3, 1880 would be the first Marshal to lodge federal prisoners at the Territorial Prison on McNeil Island in Washington (two for "selling whisky to Indians", and one for robbing a store at Fort Walla Walla). Roughly one hundred years later, Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael O’Brien would take the last federal prisoner off of the island (O’Brien would later be appointed by the Attorney General to serve as U.S. Marshal in the District of Oregon).

U.S. Marshal Leslie M. Scott, appointed on August 22, 1911, would be called to Crater Lake National Park where he be required to forcibly remove fired Superintendent W.F. Arant from his living quarters. An unfinished bridge being built by Arant and his brother would be named by Marshal Scott as “Goodbye Bridge”, as it was the last work done by Arant (the bridge is still so named today).

These are just a few of the incidents recorded in the historical records of the actions of Oregon’s U.S. Marshals. Today, the District is served by some 22 deputies, supervisors, a Chief Deputy and Marshal, along with a host of administrative personnel and Court Security Officers. The District of Oregon has its Headquarters Office in the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, and other offices at the Eugene Federal Courthouse and in Medford in the James Redden U.S. Courthouse.

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