• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

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In the 19th century, Indian Territory was home to not only law-abiding Indians, but also desperate criminals trying to hide out from U.S. law.

While Indian courts had their own tribal courts and tribal police, they had no jurisdiction over cases involving non-Indians. Deputy marshals from Fort Smith were sent into Indian Territory to find and arrest those individuals who were to be tried by the federal court. With a territory of over 74,000 square miles, the outlaws knew that finding them would be a difficult job.

While the stories of the outlaws charged with violent crimes such as rape and murder are most commonly associated with this court, the majority of cases heard by Judge Parker were not capital crimes. Individuals were arrested and brought to the Fort Smith jail on charges such as petty theft, whiskey peddling, arson, illegal timber cutting, and violation of the postal laws.

For an outline of the steps that a criminal case would follow, from complaint to sentencing, click here.

Did You Know?

deputy marshals pose with their rifles for a formal portrait

Fort Smith National Historic Site has records of over 1,770 people employed by the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas from 1872-1896. The majority of these employees were U.S. Deputy Marshals.