Payment to the U.S. Deputy Marshals
Fort Smith, Arkansas
For making an arrest ........... $2.00
The deputy could receive 6 cents per mile for going to the place of arrest, and 10 cents per mile for himself and the same for the prisoner returning to court.
If a deputy failed to make an arrest, no matter how long or how much he was out in time or money, he received no payment.
If a deputy killed a suspect while trying to make an arrest, he had to bury the suspect at his own expense unless he could find relatives of the deceased to do so. In that case, the deputy could collect $1.00 for the time and money he would be out in attempting the arrest.
For serving a subpoena, finding a witness, etc........... 50 cents
A deputy could receive 6 cents per mile for going to the place of service, but nothing for the return trip.
The U.S. Marshal received 25% of any fees that a deputy earned.
The average deputy seldom earned more than $500 per year unless he was lucky enough to pick up a reward from state or local authorities, private individuals, or railroad and express companies. The deputies were not allowed to receive rewards offered by the federal government.
When Judge Parker commented that "Without these men I could not hold court a single day," he was referring to the work of the United States deputy marshals who enforced federal law in Indian Territory. Considering the important and valuable work that the deputies performed, they certainly had a raw deal when it was time to collect their wages.
Deputy marshals did not have fixed salaries in the nineteenth century, meaning that they had to rely on a fee system. A deputy had to arrest a person and deliver him or her safely to court or serve the necessary papers. If he failed to do so, he did not collect any fees or mileage.
The rate for making an arrest was $2.00 regardless of how serious the crime was that the suspect committed. It was the same rate for a whiskey peddler or a murderer. The deputy received six cents per mile for going to the place of arrest and ten cents per mile for himself and any prisoners returning to court. After tallying up his accounts, he had to give one quarter of his total to the U.S. Marshal. If the deputy failed to make an arrest, no matter how much time or money he put into the effort, he received no pay. If a deputy killed a suspect while trying to make an arrest, he had to bury the suspect at his own expense unless he could find friends or relatives of the deceased to do so.
For serving subpoenas or finding witnesses, the government would pay a deputy fifty cents. He would also receive six cents per mile for going to the place of service, but nothing for the return trip.
The law did allow for reimbursement of actual expenses of up to $2.00 per day. However, the Department of Justice required a receipt for this, something nearly impossible to obtain in Indian Territory at that time.
Judge Parker fought for better pay for the deputy marshals, saying that "the services of reliable, efficient, trustworthy men are indispensable. To secure such services the pay must be adequate...." In 1884, Congress attempted to pass legislation to pay salaries instead of fees, but that effort failed. It was not until the turn of the century that a salary system was put into effect for the deputy marshals.
This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.