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Historical Reading Room

The United States Marshals Service is one of the oldest U.S. federal law enforcement agencies dating back to its creation by the Judiciary Act of 1789 during the presidency of George Washington as the "Office of the United States Marshal."

The U.S. Marshals Service as it stands today was established in 1969 to provide guidance and assistance to marshals throughout the federal judicial districts. Here, readers can find major moments in time where the U.S. Marshals had a hand in crafting America's history. 

Papers and pens
  • U.S. Marshals Make Legal Presence In Antarctica

    Description

    The Marshals Service became the official law enforcement entity for the South Pole through an agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii. In 1989, the NSF approached the marshal for the District of Hawaii to assist in setting up a legal presence in Antarctica.

  • Astronaut Jim Reilly Takes the Star to the Stars

    Description

    Honorary U.S. Marshal brings his badge with him on space shuttle mission America's Star has now been in outer space. Worn proudly by Jim Reilly, the only person in the universe who can lay claim to being both an astronaut and a U.S. marshal, the badge of the nation's oldest federal law enforcement agency now has yet another chapter in its long, distinguished history.

  • America's Star in Space Again

    Description

    Honorary U.S. Marshal Astronaut Jim Reilly takes the Star to the stars. June 18, 2007 - America’s Star is in space once again. Astronaut Jim Reilly, the seventh-ever honorary U.S. Marshal, aboard Atlantis on mission STS-117 prepared last week for his first spacewalk of the mission with America’s Star front and center on his spacesuit.

  • Capture of Christopher Boyce

    Description

    On August 21, 1981, at approximately 8:20 p.m., Christopher John Boyce, escaped Federal prisoner and convicted Soviet spy, was arrested by a U.S. Marshals Service Task Force assisted by FBI agents. This arrest in the small town of Port Angeles, Washington, ended the most extensive and complex manhunt in the history of the Service in the 1980's.

  • Ruby Bridges: Honorary Deputy

    Description

    Forty years after breaking the New Orleans public school color barrier, Ruby Bridges became an honorary deputy marshal at a Washington, D.C., art gallery that featured an exhibit of paintings by the artist who made her famous as a youngster.

  • Coal Mine Violence in 1989

    Description

    The United Mine Workers of America went on strike against Pittston Coal Group and New Beckley Mine. Almost immediately the coal fields of southwest Virginia, West Virginia, and adjoining states erupted with confrontations between striking and non-striking workers and law enforcement officers. The United Mine Workers of America went on strike against Pittston Coal Group and New Beckley Mine.

  • Court Security Officer Program

    Description

    On December 3, 1982, the U.S. Marshals, in cooperation with the Administrative Office of the U.S. courts, established the Court Security Officer Program (CSO). the officers perform building perimeter security functions; screen people coming into the court building; and augment extra security details associated with sensitive trials.

  • Three Guardsmen of Oklahoma

    Description

    Known as the "Three Guardsmen of Oklahoma", William 'Bill" Tilghman, Henry "Heck" Thomas, and Chris Madsen (left to right) were instrumental in bringing law and order to the Indian and Oklahoma territories in the late 1800's. Madsen, a gifted administrator, best understood the rules and regulations governing the Deputy U.S. Marshals.

  • Deputies Versus the Wild Bunch

    Description

    More than 100 years ago in a quiet little town in the Oklahoma Territory, members of the infamous Doolin-Dalton gang squared off against a posse of deputies in one of the deadliest confrontations in the history of the U.S. marshals. By the end of the gunfight, nine men lay dead or wounded, and the people of Ingalls had a vivid picture of Western lawlessness and the harsh means needed to restore justice.

  • All Hands on Deck

    Description

    Cars. Real estate. Cash. Jewelry. These are the items regularly seized by deputy marshals. But you would have to add about 13 Revolutionary War-era shipwrecks - including one believed to be Captain James Cook's HMB Endeavour - to make that list complete. The Marshals Service in 1999 was called upon by Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse to symbolically arrest and seize the vessels to prevent salvage hunters and recreational divers from vandalizing and pilfering them.

  • United States Marshals and Their Deputies: 1789-1989

    Description

    The offices of U.S. Marshals and Deputy Marshal were created by the first Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789, the same legislation that established the Federal judicial system. The Marshals were given extensive authority to support the federal courts within their judicial districts and to carry out all lawful orders issued by judges, Congress, or the president.

  • U.S. Marshals and the Pentagon Riot of October 21, 1967

    Description

    Anti-Vietnam war protestors rallied to Washington on Saturday, October 21,1967, in the first national demonstration against the war. The Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam organized the protest to get national visibility for the anti-war movement. Nearby, military policemen stood at ten-foot intervals around the Pentagon.

  • U.S. Marshals Upholding the Constitution

    Description

    Washington, D.C. is not your ordinary American city and Sunday, October 28, 1990 was not just another ordinary day in the nation's capital. Congress was still trying to finalize the 1991 budget. The White House was considering its response to Saddam Hussein's bellicose rhetoric from the Mid-east.

  • Anti-war Demonstrations: The Gulf War

    Description

    Marshals Service personnel provided security at federal buildings throughout the country during 80 anti-war demonstrations in the first three weeks of the Gulf War. One of the largest week-day demonstrations occurred in San Francisco shortly as the war began: An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 persons at the downtown federal building.

  • Civil Wrongs and Civil Rights: U.S. Marshals Upholding the Constitution

    Description

    The U.S. Marshals have played a direct role in mediating the relationship between the Federal government, civilians, and upholding the law and the constitution. The Marshals were frequently the center of the storm in the controversy and strife that denotes much of American history.

  • Catching Counterfeiters

    Description

    Prior to the 20th century, money in the United States came in an amazing of different forms. The federal government made little effort to adopt a standardized currency. Until the Civil War, the United States Mint concentrated its efforts on manufacturing gold and silver coins. Government paper currency was limited to "fractional currency" (denominations less than a dollar), Treasury notes, and postal currency valid for the redemption of postage stamps, but which was also used as tender.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams - Mr. Zip

    Description

    A Deputy Marshal from the Western District of Virginia, devised the plan to pose as a mailman when he saw how freely mail carriers moved throughout the neighborhood without being questioned. Dressed as a mailman, he would walk up to the door of the fugitive's last known address, carrying a mailbag, a package, and a clipboard.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams - No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

    Description

    It seemed like a dream come true, winning free tickets to the Redskins - Bengals' football game. But the dream turned into a nightmare for about 100 "winners" when they arrived to pick up their tickets. The winners were arrested by Deputy Marshals and DC Metropolitan Police officers.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams - Puño Airlines

    Description

    Sting operations continued in FIST VIII in 1985 with free prizes and trips luring over 14 fugitives. In Miami, "Puño Airlines" was set up and letters were sent to fugitives telling them that they had won a free flight, a weekend in the Bahamas, and $350 in spending money. A ticket counter was set up at Miami International Airport next to the Air Haiti ticket counter to add to the realism of the scam.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams - FIST VIII (1985)

    Description

    Law enforcement personnel based in Miami, with teams set up in Pompano Beach, Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando, and Jacksonville, nabbed 48 accused or convicted murderers, 20 kidnappers, 61 rapists, 167 robbers and 593 major narcotics traffickers. Forty-eight weapons were seized, including handguns, shotguns, rifles and machine guns.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams - FIST IX - Fugitive Round Up in the Southwest

    Description

    FIST IX included 31 state and local law enforcement agencies from Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, along with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and the former U.S Border Patrol, and the Mexican Federal Judicial Police. The FIST teams, comprised of Deputy U.S. Marshals and officers of the other agencies, operated out of eight U.S. cities and five in Mexico.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams - FIST VI (1984)

    Description

    In what former U.S. Marshals Service Director Stanley E. Morris described as possibly the largest and most successful fugitive hunt in recent history", Operation FIST VI (Fugitive Investigative Strike Team) concluded in mid-March 1984 with extensive media coverage which included all of the major television networks, weekly news magazines, and principal newspapers throughout the nation.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams - FIST IV

    Description

    The fourth Fugitive Investigation Strike Team focused on fugitives in the Washington, D.C. area, with the arrest of 614 major fugitives. It was coordinated by U.S. Marshals Inspectors from the former Enforcement Operations Division. The police officers were deputized as Special Deputy United States Marshals to enable them to pursue fugitives outside the District of Columbia.

  • Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams (FIST)

    Description

    In the 1980's the U.S. Marshals Service inaugurated the use Fugitive Investigative Strike Teams, referred as FIST operations, to capture violent fugitives that were wanted by Federal and local law enforcement agencies. The goal of a FIST operation was to locate and arrest a large number of fugitives in a particular region, within a relatively brief period, by focusing the resources of local, state, and Federal law enforcement agencies.

  • Special Operations Group

    Description

    April 1971 - The first members of the Special Operations Group (SOG) graduated from basic training. Today, SOG is made up of specially trained Deputy Marshals who respond to high threat and emergency situations. In addition, to providing specialized training for Deputy marshals, the Special Operations Group Training Center trains law enforcement officers from other countries in hostage negotiations, tactical operations, weapons retention and self defense techniques.

  • National Prisoner Transportation System

    Description

    On August 20, 1985, the U.S. Marshals Service acquired its first Boeing 727 used for prisoner transportation. The Marshals Service operated the National Prisoner Transportation System, one of the largest transporters of prisoners in the world. In 1995, the air fleets of the Marshals Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) merged to create the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS).

  • The Judiciary Act of 1789: Charter for U.S. Marshals and Deputies

    Description

    Senate Bill Number One of the First Session of the First Congress became, after lengthy and heated debate, the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789. The Act provided a charter for the federal judicial system by specifying the jurisdiction and powers of the district and circuit courts, and the qualifications and authority of federal judges, district attorneys, court clerks, U.S. Marshals, and Deputy Marshals.

  • The U.S. Marshals and the Integration of the University of Mississippi

    Description

    History is often made when one person stands his ground and demands his dream. But history needs its enforcers. And when James Meredith sought to legally become the first black person to attend the University of Mississippi 40 years ago, the duty of upholding the federal law allowing him to do so fell upon the shoulders of 127 deputy marshals from all over the country who risked their lives to make his dream a reality.

  • U.S. Marshals and the Moonshine War 1872-1913

    Description

    Of all the duties in this country, that of U. S. Marshal is the most dangerous and onerous. The people of the neighboring counties seem to have the idea that the chief use of any officer of the law is to afford a target for their rifles and pistols, and we too well know how many United States officers have fallen victims to duty.

  • Protection of Federal Judges

    Description

    Based on this historical event, the Supreme Court held that the President has power, through the Attorney General, to direct a United States Marshal to accompany and protect federal judges from a threatened assault. While this historic incident occurred on August 14, 1889, it is not far removed from situations U.S. Marshals face today involving judicial security.

  • In the Matter of David Neagle

    Description

    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.

  • Panama Canal Zone

    Description

    The passing of an era for the Marshals Service was marked on March 31, 1982 when the U.S. Marshal for the District of the Canal Zone closed the door to his office there for the last time. The closing of the U.S. Marshal's office was in conjunction with the termination on that date of the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court in Panama, and was marked by a closing ceremony in the District Court presided over by U.S. District Judge Morey L. Sear.

  • U.S. Marshals Role During Prohibition

    Description

    In 1920 the 18th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating beverages within the United States. U.S. Marshals were the principal enforcing agents of the Prohibition laws until the Treasury Department created the Bureau of Prohibition in 1927.

  • Incident at Wounded Knee

    Description

    The incident began in February 1973, and represented the longest civil disorder in the history of the Marshals Service. The town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota was seized on February 27, 1973, by followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who staged a 71-day occupation of the area.

  • The U.S. Marshals During World War I

    Description

    When President Woodrow Wilson issued the declaration of war against Germany April 6, 1917, he told the American people that "the supreme test of the nation has come. We must all speak, act, and serve together." While American troops fought in the trenches of Europe, United States Marshals protected the home front against enemy aliens, spies, saboteurs, and slackers.

  • September 11, 2001 - A Twelve-Year Retrospective

    Description

    It has been twelve years since the day that changed us. By "us," which could be expanded to include the country or globe, but it certainly changed the U.S. Marshals Service. The September 11, 2001 tragedies at the Pentagon, New York City, and rural Pennsylvania are regularly observed in many ways—always with sadness with the enormity of the loss of life and institutions.

  • How much did it Cost to Find Billy the Kid?

    Description

    For over eight months in 2001, investigators pursued Clayton Waagner. Authorities apprehended the fugitive after an all-out effort. But that effort cost an incredible sum in salaries, travel and various services. Senior Inspector Geoff Shank, the Investigative Services Division case coordinator, recalled that costs exceeded $200,000 before Waagner was captured in December.

  • Historical Federal Executions

    Description

    The U.S. Marshal has been historically assigned the task of conducting the death sentences on those condemned by federal courts. This stemmed from "An Act for the Punishment of certain Crimes against the United States" (April 30, 1790) and the Judiciary Act of 1789. The first known federal execution under this authority was conducted by U.S. Marshal Henry Dearborn of Maine on June 25, 1790.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. - An Emergency Call to Montgomery

    Description

    Just after one of modern history’s pivotal moments, Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Montgomery, Alabama, to honor the "Freedom Riders," an organized assemblage of activists and citizens that traveled aboard interstate buses through terminals in the South. The original intent was to ride from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans in thirteen days in May 1961.

  • We Were There

    Description

    Although the U.S. Marshals are often linked with civil rights, most recall our crucial role in desegregating educational institutions in the South during the 1960. In reality, our personnel sometimes stayed "behind the scenes" to ensure an event went smoothly. This is what occurred on August 28, 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King led the Washington March for Jobs and Freedom.

  • History in Custody

    Description

    At times, the U.S. Marshals Service is entrusted with objects of national and historic importance. Agency personnel transported numerous artifacts of national importance during our Bicentennial exhibit, including Belle Starr's saddle and Geronimo's Arrest Warrant. The U.S. Marshals' Office of Asset Forfeiture had custody of Muhammad Ali's World Boxing Championship Rings.

  • Prisoner Custody in the 1880's

    Description

    U. S. Marshals, similar to today, relied upon local sheriffs for jail space in the early to mid-1880's. The marshals also rented the places in which court was held and prisoners were housed. Generally during this period, the federal government did not build or maintain its own courthouses, preferring to lease county courtrooms or other facilities annually.

  • Safe Surrender

    Description

    Fugitive Safe Surrender is a unique, creative, and highly successful initiative that encourages persons wanted for non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes to voluntarily surrender to the law in a faith-based or other neutral setting.

  • Retired Deputy U.S. Marshal Follows the Trail of Robert Forsyth’s Murderer

    Description

    The historical marker to the first U.S. Marshal killed in the line of duty, Robert Forsyth of the District of Georgia, stands just outside the cemetery of St. Paul’s Church in Augusta. Dedicated in June 2008, marker 121-12 relates the bare outline of the full tragedy that changed the lives of both assailant and victim.

  • No Greater Tragedy - February 13, 1983

    Description

    Gordon Kahl was one of the leaders of a group known as "Posse Comitatus", a loosely organized, armed vigilante group whose members engage in paramilitary training and oppose nearly every action of the federal government, particularly the collection of income taxes.

  • Boxer...Deputy...Poet

    Description

    If Raging Bull, the story of Middleweight Boxing Champion Jake LaMotta - or even if you have not - it may interest you to know that the Marshals Service had a boxing champion of its own. Long before New Jersey Deputy William Ramoth was fighting for law and order with the Marshals Service, he was fighting under the name Billy Kilroy in the boxing ring.

  • Ronald Reagan: Honorary Marshal

    Description

    A vast amount of change has occurred in the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) since the time when Marshals roamed the plains on horseback, chasing fugitives. But the "wild west'' past sometimes overshadows the present-day accomplishments of the Marshals Service. New missions have brought greater challenges and responsibilities to the Service.

  • Bicentennial of the U.S. Marshals Service

    Description

    Two hundred years ago, on September 24, 1789, President George Washington signed into law Senate Bill Number One, known as the Judiciary Act. This Act established the Federal judicial system and created the Office of the United States Marshal. Only two days later, President Washington nominated the first United States Marshals responsible for enforcing the Nation's laws and carrying out the orders of its courts.

  • The Constitutional Imperative

    Description

    Abolitionists and other opponents of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law willfully and as a matter of conscience violated the law by rescuing fugitive slaves from the custody of U.S. Marshals. The freed slaves were taken to Canada. Northern hatred of slavery and Southern protection of their peculiar institution resulted in Southern session from the Union and national Civil War.

  • Appreciation of Honorary U.S. Marshal James Arness

    Description

    With the passing of a great friend and Honorary U.S. Marshal—who solidified the penultimate character of Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke between 1955 and 1975, we tip our hats to a gentleman who truly got behind law and order in real life. Several times before and after his retirement from the series, he gave of his time and energy to the U.S. Marshals.

  • A Visit to Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Helen Crawford, Retired

    Description

    At age 100, Helen Crawford still prides her long career with the U.S. Marshals. On July 14, 2008, from the sitting room at an assisted living facility, Bonner Place in Jacksonville, Texas, she related the most exciting of times. One was in 1934, when she began her career in the Eastern District of Texas, she remembered receiving one of her first calls–to be on the lookout for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow–Bonnie and Clyde!

  • Lynn H. Kobliska

    Description

    On April 8, 2013, the United States Marshals Service lost an employee who had been part of our agency since 1985, and took with him a wealth of knowledge and wit. Lynn Kobliska, 50, began working in our warehouse when he came to the Washington, D.C. area from his native Iowa.

  • Elmore Leonard

    Description

    Elmore Leonard wrote about deputy U.S. marshals in a number of his fifty novels and short stories. Whether it was Karen Sisco, the female witness security inspector, in Out of Sight or the determined Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens in Fire in the Hole—the basis for the television series "Justified," his characters publicized our agency in a new and exciting way.

  • Willard C. McArdle

    Description

    Longtime deputy U.S. marshal "Mac" McArdle was known for his dedicated career as a law enforcement officer, his ability to inspire friends, and appreciation of family. Most of all, he had an amazing knack to be at the center of history while it was occurring—several times.

  • Medina's Thirty-Year Echo: Honoring the Memory of Our Fallen

    Description

    Certain tragic moments in Marshals Service history bear thoughtful reflection. We memorialize all 246 official line-of-duty deaths. The unfortunate reality holds that US Marshals Service personnel face daily dangers going after the "worst of the worst" fugitives. This truth resonates brightly in our heritage.

  • Denzil Nelson Bud Staple

    Description

    Denzil N. "Bud" Staple experienced what few deputy U.S. Marshals have. In his 20 years of service – November 1958 to December 1978 – he found himself in unique and historical situations. On Sept. 30, 1962, in only his fourth year on the job, he faced mobs during the riots of Ole Miss.

  • His Name was William Degan: A Look Back on the 30th Anniversary of Ruby Ridge

    Description

    By David S. Turk, USMS Historian