In the Line of Duty
United States Marshal Robert Forsyth may have expected trouble. He
took two of his deputies with him to Mrs. Dixon's house in Augusta,
Georgia on January 11, 1794, because the Allen brothers, Beverly and
William, had reportedly been seen there.
The forty-year-old Forsyth, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, knew
how to take care of himself, but in the four years he had served the new
federal government as the first marshal in the District of Georgia he
had experienced little, if any, difficulty or resistance.
On left, U.S. Marshal Robert
Forsyth of Georgia was the first civilian official of the United States
government and the first of as many as 400 marshals killed in the line
of duty over the past 200 years. He was shot on January 11, 1794
while trying to serve civil process on Beverly Allen.
Most of his
work had consisted of routine administrative duties in support of the
federal court. His search for the Allen brothers was no different. The
Marshal merely wanted to serve them with some court papers in a civil
suit. Nonetheless, Forsyth took the precaution, for whatever reason, of
taking two of his deputies with him.
"These two episodes,
separated in time across the expanse of two centuries,
the violent side to the history of U.S. Marshals and their
When the three officers entered Mrs.
Dixon's house. they found the Allens talking with friends. Wishing to
spare the brothers embarrassment, Forsyth asked to speak to them
privately outside. Instead of following the marshal, however, the
brothers ran up to the second floor and darted into the nearest room.
bolting the door behind them. While they waited for
Forsyth and his Deputies to come after them, Beverly Allen loaded,
primed, and cocked his pistol.
Forsyth and his Deputies went after the brothers. Hearing their
approach. Beverly Allen aimed his pistol toward the door
and squeezed the trigger. Before the sound of the gunshot could echo off
the walls, the ball splintered through the wooden door and struck
Forsyth fair in the head. He was dead before his body hit the floor, the
first of 400 or more Marshals killed performing their duties.
Although the two Deputies promptly arrested the Allens, the brothers
later escaped from the local sheriff and were never brought to trial.
A hundred and ninety years later, on February 13, 1983, Marshal
Kenneth Muir and his Deputies set up a roadblock on the outskirts of
Medina, North Dakota. They had a warrant for the arrest of Gordon
Kahl, a Federal fugitive wanted for refusal to pay his taxes. As the
leader of the violence-prone Posse Commitatus group, Kahl, in effect,
declared a private war on the United States government.
Coming down the highway. Kahl and his
carload of supporters slowed before Muir's roadblock. Barely had the car
stopped before Kahl and his companions opened fire with automatic
weapons. The gun battle raged only a few minutes before Kahl made his
escape, leaving Marshal Muir and Deputy Robert Cheshire dead on the
North Dakota road.
Four months later, Kahl himself was killed in
another shootout with Marshals, FBI agents, and local police in
These two episodes. separated in time across the expanse of two
centuries, illustrate the violent side to the history of U.S. Marshals
and their Deputies. For more than a century after the establishment of
the federal government in 1780, U.S. Marshals provided the only
nationwide civilian police power available to the president, Congress,
and the courts.
See also the U.S. Marshals Roll Call of
Honor. Since the death of Marshal Forsyth, over 200 federal Marshals, Deputy Marshals, Special Deputy Marshals and Marshals guards have given their lives in service to their nation. We honor their memory and their sacrifice.