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Director Donal Davis in Podium

William Daily


Marshal Daily Made his Mark in Nebraska

William Major Daily's Cane

Pieces of Marshals Service history can appear in many different forms, be they official documents, newspaper articles or personal effects, and along this latter vein falls a walking stick given to a retiring U.S. Marshal by his deputies in 1880.

Jim Wilks is a private citizen in northern Virginia who owns the cane, and the Marshal to whom it was given, William "Major" Daily, was Wilks' great-great-grandfather.

A lasting memory

The cane is an impressive piece. Its ferrule is made of German silver and engraved with floral designs; its headpiece is gold plated. The inscription on the headpiece reads: Presented to William Daily, U.S. Marshal, by his Deputies ... E.L. Bierbuar, D.B. Ball, H.L. Moody, J.G. Hastings, A.J. Wright, G.W. Gulp ... 1880.

A man of many hats

Daily was born in Jefferson County, Indiana, in 1828. According to Wilks, his first school was a log house with a mud-and-stuck chimney and a huge fireplace. One log was cut out of the side of the building to admit light; small logs were split into two pieces and used as seats. As was the case with many youngsters on the western frontier, Daily never finished his schooling. Rather, in 1861 he followed his brother into Peru, Nebraska Territory, where he was presumably the first person to introduce shorthorn cattle and plant Kentucky bluegrass in the local fields. Peru, in Nemaha County, is about 60 miles southeast of Lincoln, Nebraska. It is situated along the Missouri River, which separates modern-day Nebraska from Iowa and Missouri.

Shortly after his arrival in Peru, Daily was appointed to two leadership positions - superintendent of a government-run sawmill and deputy provost marshal. These appointments helped cement his close ties to political officials in the region, and by way of these working relationships, President Abraham Lincoln designated him as America's Indian agent to the local Otoe tribe in 1864.

As Indian agent, Daily succeeded a man who was a major in the U.S. Army. Since that man was a major, Daily was given the same title, and that is how he earned the title and nickname of Major, which he held on to the rest of his years.

During his stint with the Otoe Indians, Wilks said that Daily supposedly kept the tribe from joining the Confederacy. But the jury is still out on the overall impact his great-great-grandfather had on the tribe's welfare.

"Indian agents were basically caretakers of the Indian reservations," Wilks added. "But most of them were bad guys who stole all the items that were supposed to go to the Indians.

"I hope [Daily] wasn't like that." Two years later, Daily was elected to represent Nemaha County in the Territorial Council. After Nebraska attained statehood. in 1867, Daily was elected to fill an early vacancy in the first state Legislature.

The Republican politico's career path shifted toward law enforcement in 1872 when President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him as Nebraska's U.S. Marshal. He went on to serve two four-year terms.

After retiring as marshal, he was elected to the Nebraska State Senate, where he supported educational efforts in Peru.

As marshal, he earned the admiration of his deputies, and this was evidenced in the cane which they presented to him. Wilks said Marshal Daily was a peaceable man, though perhaps miscast as a lawman. "This is just my own opinion," he said, "but he was a gentleman farmer and a politician, and [his appointment as marshal] was obviously political. "I doubt he ever owned a six-gun - let alone packed one".