Monday, May 6, 2024

United States Marshal

By Kristy McCaffrey 

The word “marshal” comes from the Old High German word marah, which means horse, and calc, which means servant, so marshal means “horsekeeper.” In European society, marshals rose from managing the army cavalries to maintaining the law and order of the court systems.

In 1789, President George Washington signed the Judiciary Act into law, and one aspect was providing the jurisdiction and powers of U.S. Marshals and their Deputy Marshals: they would help to define, administer, and enforce the growing body of federal laws, and by their actions would determine the boundary between federal authority and local autonomy.

Each state or territory was assigned a Marshal, and the marshalcy was restricted to four years due in part to their authority in choosing juries. It was thought this power could make the marshal “dangerous.”

Marshals were paid by a fee system rather than a salary. They were only compensated if their services were needed, otherwise the government spent nothing. Not surprisingly, this fee system proved a low income for most marshals, making it hard to recruit energetic young men to the office.

An example of the fee system established by Congress in 1853: $2 for service of a warrant; $.50 for service of a subpoena; $.06 per mile for travel; $.50 for each bail bond; $5 per day for serving court in session; $5 for drawing and executing a deed; $.10 per mile for escorting a prisoner to jail; actual expenses when endeavoring to arrest a criminal, not to exceed $2 per day; and two percent of money disbursed to jurors and witnesses. 

In 1806, the fee system was extended to the territories of the United States but due to the high cost of living, lawmakers granted those marshals an annual salary of $200 plus fees not to exceed $4000 per year.

A marshal relied heavily on his deputies, who were employees of the marshal and not officers of the court. Deputy marshals were empowered to perform most of the duties of the marshal—they could serve the process of the court, deputize temporary deputies, and summon the posse comitatus (“power of the county” – it enabled the marshals to press into service a posse from among the local males).

If a marshal died, then the deputy would fill the post temporarily. The ranks of the deputies were divided into two categories. The office deputy worked in the headquarters and performed bookkeeping tasks, and the field deputy resided in remote corners of the judicial district and served the marshal during sessions of court.

The office of Marshal was often afflicted with political factionalism. For example, in Arizona locals applauded the marshal for deporting Chinese immigrants but then berated them for enforcing polygamy laws against the Mormons. The Mormons, in turn, regarded the marshals as part of an oppressive federal government. And because Arizonans wanted more immigrants and economic development, the governor permitted a subdued response to the antipolygamy law since the Mormons contributed significantly to the fledgling economy.

The general lawlessness of the Arizona Territory was the source of the popular “frontier marshal” image, a lawman chasing down dangerous desperadoes, but it didn’t exist anywhere else.

 * * *

Don’t miss my new western coming July 2024. 

Pre-order THE NIGHTHAWK now.


Sophie Ryan’s dream of working for a newspaper has come true. Accompanied by her cousin, Lucas Blackmore, a newly appointed U.S. Deputy Marshal, she arrives in Jerome, one of the richest mining towns in America. And one of the most remote. Although she’s been hired to report for the Jerome Mining News on education and cultural issues, she soon finds herself immersed in something more serious when she finds an enigmatic injured man in the Black Hills claiming to be an ornithologist.

U.S. Deputy Marshal Benton McKay is undercover tracking the notorious train robbing Weaver gang, and the trail ends in Jerome. When he’s injured in the Black Hills and found by a determined and beautiful young woman, he must gain her trust to keep his identity a secret. But keeping her out of trouble proves a challenge, especially with her cousin assigned to assist him. As they track down the band of outlaws, another agenda emerges—the renegades are searching for lost gold believed to have been left behind by the Spanish Conquistadors. And Sophie Ryan is determined to report on it.

Come along with Sophie and McKay as they find adventure, mystery, and love. 

Sophie is the daughter of Logan and Claire from THE DOVE.

 Coming July 17, 2024

Pre-order at

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon CA

Amazon AU

Apple Books


Add it on Goodreads

Find it at BookBub


Julie Lence said...

Just like today, the marshal's of yesteryear had a tough job with meager pay. Thank you for sharing Kristy, and for breaking the different marshal titles and their duties.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Definitely a tough job! And they often had few resources at their disposal. Lots of fodder for hero material. :-)

Melissa said...

Interesting post. Best of luck with the new book!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Thanks so much, Melissa!