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United States Marshals Service

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    Robert Marshall Love, son of James M. and Theresa Evelyn (Braden) Love, was born in Franklin, Texas, on January 11, 1847, eleven years after his parents had arrived as pioneers in Texas. The family mov...
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    Richard Clayton Ware, Texas Ranger, sheriff, and United States marshal, the oldest son of Benjamin F. and Mary Jane (Price) Ware, was born on November 11, 1851, on the family plantation near Rome, Geor...
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United States Marshals Service


The United States Marshals Service (USMS) is a U.S. federal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice (see 28 U.S.C. § 561). The office of U.S. Marshals is the oldest American federal law enforcement agency. The U.S. Marshals office was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789. The Marshals Service is part of the executive branch of government, and is the enforcement arm of the U.S. federal courts. The U.S. Marshals are the primary agency for fugitive operations, responsible for prisoner transport, the protection of officers of the court, and for the effective operation of the judiciary. The Marshals service runs the Witness Protection Program, and serves federal arrest warrants.



The office of United States Marshal was created by President George Washington signing the Judiciary Act into law on September 24, 1789.[6] The Act provided that the United States marshal's primary function was to execute all lawful warrants issued to him and under the authority of the United States. The law defined marshals as officers of the courts charged with assisting federal courts in their law-enforcement functions:

And be it further enacted, That a marshal shall be appointed in and for each district for a term of four years, but shall be removable from office at pleasure, whose duty it shall be to attend the district and circuit courts when sitting therein, and also the Supreme Court in the district in which that court shall sit. And to execute throughout the district, all lawful precepts directed to him, and issued under the authority of the United States, and he shall have the power to command all necessary assistance in the execution of his duty, and to appoint as shall be occasion, one or more deputies.

In a letter to Edmund Randolph, the first United States Attorney General, President George Washington wrote:

Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government, I have considered the first arrangement of the Judicial department as essential to the happiness of our Country, and to the stability of its political system; hence the selection of the fittest characters to expound the law, and dispense justice, has been an invariable object of my anxious concern.

Many of the first US marshals had already proven themselves in military service during the American Revolution. Among the first marshals were John Adams's son-in-law Congressman William Stephens Smith for the district of New York, another New York district marshal, Congressman Thomas Morris, and Henry Dearborn for the district of Maine.

From the nation's earliest days, marshals were permitted to recruit special deputies as local hires, or as temporary transfers to the Marshals Service from other federal law-enforcement agencies. Marshals were also authorized to swear in a posse to assist with manhunts and other duties ad hoc. Marshals were given extensive authority to support the federal courts within their judicial districts, and to carry out all lawful orders issued by federal judges, Congress, or the President.

The marshals and their deputies served writs (e.g., subpoenas, summonses, warrants), and other process issued by the courts, made all the arrests, and handled all federal prisoners. They also disbursed funds as ordered by the courts. Marshals paid the fees and expenses of the court clerks, U.S. Attorneys, jurors, and witnesses. They rented the courtrooms and jail space and hired the bailiffs, criers, and janitors. They made sure the prisoners were present, the jurors were available, and that the witnesses were on time.

When President George Washington set up his first administration, and the first Congress began passing laws, both quickly discovered an inconvenient gap in the constitutional design of the government: It had no provision for a regional administrative structure stretching throughout the country. Both the Congress and the executive branch were housed at the national capital; no agency was established or designated to represent the federal government's interests at other localities. The need for a regional organization quickly became apparent. Congress and the President solved part of the problem by creating specialized agencies, such as customs and revenue collectors, to levy tariffs and taxes, yet there were numerous other jobs that needed to be done. The only officers available to do them were the marshals and their deputies.

The marshals thus provided local representation for the federal government within their districts. They took the national census every decade through 1870. They distributed presidential proclamations, collected a variety of statistical information on commerce and manufacturing, supplied the names of government employees for the national register, and performed other routine tasks needed for the central government to function effectively.

19th century enforcement roles, U.S. territory

During the settlement of the American West, marshals often served as the main source of day-to-day law enforcement in various parts of the west that had no local government of their own. U.S. Marshals were instrumental in keeping law and order in the "Old West" era and were involved in apprehending desperadoes such as Bill Doolin, Ned Christie and in 1893, the infamous Dalton Gang after a shoot-out that left Deputy Marshals Ham Hueston, Lafe Shadley and posse member Dick Speed, dead. Individual deputy marshals have been seen as legendary heroes in the face of rampant lawlessness (see "Famous marshals", below) with Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Dallas Stoudenmire and Bass Reeves as examples of well-known marshals.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 tasked marshals to enforce the law, recover and arrest fugitive slaves. Any negligence in doing so exposed Marshals and deputies to severe financial penalties.

On October 26, 1881, Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp, his brothers Special Deputy U.S. Marshals Morgan and Wyatt Earp, and Special Deputy U.S.Marshal John "Doc" H. Holliday gunned down Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. In 1894, U.S. Marshals helped suppress the Pullman Strike, and enforced Prohibition during the 1920s.

Notable marshals

  • Jesse D. Bright (1812–1875), U.S. marshal for Indiana; later served as U.S. senator for that state
  • Seth Bullock (1849–1919), businessman, rancher, sheriff for Montana, sheriff of Deadwood, South Dakota, U.S. marshal of South Dakota
  • John F. Clark, U.S. Marshals Service Director and U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • Charles Francis Colcord (1859–1934), rancher, businessman and marshal for Oklahoma
  • Phoebe Couzins (1839–1913), lawyer, first woman appointed to the U.S. Marshals.
  • Henry Dearborn (1751–1829), marshal for the District of Maine.
  • Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), former slave and noted abolitionist leader, appointed U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877.
  • James Earp (1841-1926), deputy U.S. marshal, Tombstone, Arizona.
  • Warren Earp (1855-1900), deputy U.S. marshal, Tombstone, Arizona.
  • Morgan Earp (1851–1882), deputy U.S. marshal, Tombstone, Arizona, appointed by his brother Wyatt.
  • Virgil Earp (1843–1905), deputy U.S. marshal, Tombstone, Arizona.
  • Wyatt Earp (1848–1929), deputy U.S. marshal (appointed to his brother Virgil Earp's place by the Arizona Territorial Governor)
  • Frank Eaton (1860-1958), deputy U.S. Marshal for Judge Isaac C. Parker, author, cowboy, scout, Indian fighter, and mascot for Oklahoma State University ("Pistol Pete")
  • Richard Griffith (1814–1862), Brigadier General in the Confederacy during the Civil War
  • Wild Bill Hickok (1837–1876), noted Western lawman, who served as a deputy U.S. marshal at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1867–1869
  • Bass Reeves (July 1838 – January 1910) is thought by most to be one of the first Black men to receive a commission as a U.S. deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River. Before he retired from federal service in 1907, Reeves had arrested over 3,000 felons.
  • Ward Hill Lamon (1826–1893), friend, law partner and frequent bodyguard of President Abraham Lincoln, who appointed him U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia.
  • J. J. McAlester (1842–1920), U. S. marshal for Indian Territory (1893–1897), Confederate Army captain, merchant in and founder of McAlester, Oklahoma as well as the developer of the coal mining industry in eastern Oklahoma, one of three members of the first Oklahoma Corporation Commission (1907–1911) and the second Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma (1911–1915).
  • Benjamin McCulloch (1811–1862), U.S. marshal for Eastern District of Texas; became a brigadier general in the army of the Confederate States during the American Civil War
  • Henry Eustace McCulloch (1816–1895), U.S. marshal for Eastern District of Texas. Brother of Benjamin McCulloch; also a Confederate General
  • James J. P. McShane (1909–1968), Appointed U.S. marshal for the District of Columbia by President John F. Kennedy then named chief marshal in 1962
  • John W. Marshall, U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia (1994–1999), first African-American to serve as Director of the U.S. Marshals Service (1999–2001)
  • Bat Masterson (1853–1921), noted Western lawman; deputy to US marshal for Southern District of New York, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt
  • Joseph Meek (1810–1875), territorial marshal for Oregon
  • Thomas Morris (1771–1849), marshal for New York District.
  • David Neagle, Shot former Chief Justice of California David S. Terry to protect US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Johnson Field resulting in US Supreme Court decision In re Neagle
  • Henry Massey Rector (1816–1899), marshal for Arkansas, later governor of that state
  • Porter Rockwell (c.1813–1878), deputy marshal for Utah
  • William Stephens Smith (1755–1816), 1789 U.S. marshal for New York district and son-in-law of President John Adams
  • Dallas Stoudenmire (1845–1882), successful city marshal who tamed and controlled a remote, wild and violent town of El Paso, Texas; became U.S. marshal serving West Texas and New Mexico Territory just before his death
  • Heck Thomas (1850–1912), Bill Tilghman (1854–1924), and Chris Madsen (1851–1944), the legendarily fearless "Three Guardsmen" of the Oklahoma Territory
  • Cal Whitson (1845-1926), one-eyed deputy marshal for the Oklahoma Territory. Rooster Cogburn of the novel and film True Grit is largely based on Whitson
  • William F. Wheeler (1824–1894), marshal for the Montana Territory
  • James E. Williams (1930–1999), marshal for South Carolina, Medal of Honor recipient