Monday, May 18, 2015

Law Enforcement in the Old West by Paty Jager #historicalwestern

Gun Smoke Photos
Ever watch an old western show or movie or read a historical western book and wonder why in one town the lawman is called a sheriff and another a marshal? When I wrote my first book, Marshal in Petticoats, I had to figure out if the correct wording was sheriff or marshal.

These days we know a sheriff is a county lawman and a marshal is a federal lawman but back when this country was new and growing there was also a town marshal.

County sheriffs had responsibilities for less territory than an U.S. Marshal who had the full jurisdiction of the U.S. The County sheriffs tracked down and captured outlaws, thieves, and murderers. The maintained the county jail, sold property tax delinquencies, served court orders, and in some states were involved in keeping track of cattle brands, operating dog pounds, and finding stray livestock. These men were voted in by the county populace.

A town marshal had the smallest territory, their town and some distance from the town. They maintained the order in the town; collected business license fees and taxes; served as health, fire, and sanitation inspectors; maintained records and the town jail; served subpoenas; and provided evidence at court hearings. These lawmen could either be voted in or picked by a mayor or leading town member.

The U.S. Marshal was appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. The U.S. Marshals had a much larger and broader authority than the city marshal. But they were restricted to their district.

U.S. Marshals could appoint deputies and round up posse members when needed. In some cases the U.S. Marshal did the paperwork and assigned jobs to the deputies who were at the mercy of the marshal to get paid.

In the territories where law and order hadn't reached yet, the marshals were the only lawmen. They chased outlaws and brought justice and order until the territory became a state. Then the U.S.Marshals had to let the territorial lawmen take over.  Though many times sheriffs, marshals and U.S. Marshals would all work together to bring a gang or group of outlaws to justice.

U.S. Marshals were went in to deal with crimes in Indian Territory. Indians resolved their own crimes but when there were cries involving the Indians and Whites the marshals and the federal courts dealt with the crimes.  Part of their duties within the Indian territories and reservations was to  keep Whites from selling the Indians liquor and guns. The illegal trading of guns and liquor with the Indians was one of the biggest law enforcement problems for the marshals.

The U.S. Marshals were also brought in for riots against minorities. In 1885 the mayor of Tacoma, WA was taken prisoner and indicted on federal charges for inciting violence against the Chinese.

Most men who took on the jobs of sheriff, marshal, and U.S. Marshal had integrity and believed they could help to build and make this country stronger and better. Much like the law enforcers of today.
Writing into the Sunset

The information was found in: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West by Candy Moulton and The Lawmen by Fredrick S. Calhoun


Rain Trueax said...

Interesting article, Paty, about the complexity of the way law was kept.

Because I had a hero who was a US deputy marshal in Arizona, I did a lot of research on them in that region. For anyone needing to know more about who these men were, I recommend 'The United States Marshals of New Mexico and Arizona Territories 1846-1912' by Larry D. Bell. It's informative, detailed, and a good read.

Susan Horsnell said...

Great post Paty. Thank you

Paty Jager said...

Rain, Thanks! That's another book I'll have to get. I have two books on U.S. Marshals they have great information. I also give a workshop on occupations in the west with more extensive info on the law enforcers and the outlaws.

Thanks, Susan!