Visitors to Arkansas can now immerse themselves in the history of our nation’s oldest law enforcement agency, courtesy of the U.S. Marshals Museum, a facility dedicated to telling the story of Marshals throughout history.
The facility opened in Fort Smith on July 1, and its star-shaped building evokes the iconic badge of the Marshals.
Inside, things are no less striking. The museum is filled with interactive exhibits and timelines that tell the story of the Marshals, from their formation as part of the 1789 Judiciary Act to the multifaceted mission of today’s deputies. In the middle of the museum, a a display campfire shows four U.S. Marshals from different eras coming together. From there, guests can stroll through an Old West frontier town or chase virtual fugitives in a training simulation.
The mission of the Marshals has definitely evolved since George Washington appointed its first 13 members in 1789 — one for each of the federal districts that were in existence. Back then, they were officers of the court who assisted in quelling rebellions and were also responsible for tracking down enslaved people who escaped.
For nearly 100 years, they were also tasked with conducting the U.S. Census. Today, there are 94 appointed Marshals and nearly 4,000 deputies who assist with their many duties. Along with assisting state authorities in federal investigations, they liquidate the gains of convicted criminals through the Asset Forfeiture Program and run the Federal Witness Protection Program.
The location of the U.S. Marshals Museum is an apt one. Fort Smith has long been the headquarters of the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Arkansas, and it has been the home base for famous Marshals such as Bass Reeves and Heck Thomas. When Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, became a flashpoint for resistance to desegregation, Marshal Beal Kidd rallied more than 100 deputies to protect African-American students at that school.
The U.S. Marshals Museum is currently open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and admission is $13 for adults.