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U.S. Marshals Service

History - The U.S. Marshals and Court Security

Protection of Federal Judge

A beautiful woman scorned by a former lover, a hot-headed husband intent on defending his wife's honor, and a Deputy U.S. Marshal assigned to protect a Supreme Court Justice came together in an explosive confrontation on August 14, 1889, in the Lathrop, California, railway station in the San Joaquin Valley. The result was a dead husband, an insane wife, and a landmark Supreme Court decision that substantially expanded the powers of the executive branch and affirmed the authority for U. S. Marshals and their Deputies to use force in the performance of their lawful duties.

The Cast:

Sarah Althea Hill  David S. Terry

Beautiful and vivacious, Sarah Althea Hill was also mentally unstable and had a history of violent behavior. She carried a small-caliber Colt revolver in her purse and did not hesitate to threaten all who crossed her, even if they were Federal judges.









David S. Terry

David S. Terry

A prominent California lawyer and former chief justice of the California Supreme Court, David S. Terry was also hot-tempered and violent. Although in his late sixties in 1889, the 6'3", 250-pound Terry was known for his physical strength and his prowess with the Bowie knife he habitually carried in a leather sheath under his coat.






 David Neagle


David Neagle

David Neagle worked as a mining engineer and lawman throughout the West. He served as town marshal and deputy sheriff in Tombstone, Arizona, in the early 1880s. In 1886 and 1888, Marshal John Franks (Northern District of California) appointed Neagle a Special Deputy Marshal to supervise the congressional election returns in one of San Francisco's roughest precincts. Neagle stood 5'4" tall and weighed 150 pounds. In 1889, he was 35 years old.





Justice Stephen Field

Justice Stephen Field

Stephen Field was a famous California lawyer whom Abraham Lincoln appointed to the Supreme Court in 1863. Although 73 years old and temporarily lamed by a knee injury in 1889, Field continued to perform his duties as circuit court judge in California.






The Prologue

Conflicts of Authority

 Copy of letter

Throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the powers of Marshals and their Deputies were often challenged by state and local authorities. Deputies, and occasionally Marshals, were commonly arrested by local sheriffs for carrying a weapon or, if involved in a shoot-out with a lawbreaker, for murder or attempted murder. In the letter excerpted at right, Marshal Paul Strobach of Alabama reported to the Attorney General that the circuit court of Tuscaloosa County had indicted one of his Deputies for carrying a concealed weapon. The evidence against the Deputy consisted of eyewitness accounts from two prisoners whom he had in his custody.

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See also related article on Protection of Judges is an official site of the U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justicee