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.
Did You Know?
The only known image of Judge Parker in his courtroom is this one from the federal courthouse on Sixth Street which dates from the 1890s. There are no photographs of the courtroom located in the former military barracks.