Arkansas’ state-wide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette editorial writers comment on the two-state region’s victory to become home of the U.S. Marshals Service National Museum.
Museum for marshals
THAT HAPPY cheering and hollering you heard around Fort Smith the other day was for a good reason: Fort Smith has been picked as the site of the national museum for the U.S. Marshals Service.
The choice had come down to Fort Smith and Staunton, Virginia. Staunton, located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is a beautiful, storied town with a lot of history.
But Fort Smith has its history, too, and a lot of it is tied in with U.S. marshals. And old times there are not forgotten.
Most famously, Fort Smith was the place where Judge Isaac C. Parker dispensed justice for western Arkansas and what is now Oklahoma from 1875 to 1896. Talk about wild and woolly, Judge Parker became known as the Hanging Judge for the stern justice he handed out to the outlaws and desperadoes that came before his court. Often enough, they were brought there by the U.S. marshals and deputy marshals who worked for him.
How could Larry McMurtry tell the story of Lonesome Dove without the lawmen from Fort Smith taking after Jake Spoon? Fort Smith’s own Rooster Cogburn, the fictional character in the book and movie True Grit, might be the most famous marshal who never lived in Fort Smith. But those fictional lawmen were no more rugged than the real marshals who worked out of Judge Parker’s court. Not as well-known as their make-believe counterparts, they left a legacy of courage and service for all the marshals who came after them. They were the law on the wild frontier.
The history of the marshals service is more than the history of the lawmen’s work out of Fort Smith. Their story is a national one. Now, for the first time, the story will be told in a permanent location. The new museum will be the repository of some 10,000 square feet of historical artifacts. The artifacts, some of them 200 years old, have been in storage since being displayed in a traveling museum that celebrated the service’s bicentennial in the 1990s.
The Fort Smith connnection made the choice of the museum’s location a natural. Dick O’Connell, who’s now the U.S. marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, has done lots of research on the service. He says more marshals and deputies are buried in Fort Smith than in any other city in the country. And they have plenty of descendants who have souvenirs, artifacts, and heirlooms from the olden days. Many of those items are expected to wind up in the new museum.
The plans for construction are only in the talking stages. But a 30,000-square foot building costing $10 million to $20 million is being discussed. Two possible locations in Fort Smith have also been proposed, both on land donated by Bennie Westphal, a developer who’s a descendant of a deputy marshal.
Being picked as the location of the marshals museum makes the slogan Fort Smith has used (“Bring It Home” ) sound prophetic. Consider the museum brought.
Our hometown paper, Times Record, has published another very nice editorial. I’ll post it as soon as it’s online.
Isn’t this ffffffuuuuunnnnn?????? 😀