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Hotstuff: Don't miss this party for the U.S. Marshals and their museum!

Hotstuff: Don't miss this party for the U.S. Marshals and their museum!
“Justice on the Border” by John Bell Jr. has deputy marshals heading west from the Federal Courthouse at Fort Smith, Ark.

Would you miss a birthday party for a 225-year-old?

The U.S. Marshals Service has chosen to celebrate its 225th birthday party in Fort Smith this month when we break ground for the highly anticipated national U.S. Marshals Museum. Everyone, from everywhere, is invited to attend – y'all please come!

Just think, the Marshals Service was already 100 years old in 1889 when U.S. District Judge Isaac C. Parker was on the bench at the federal courthouse in Fort Smith and Jacob Yoes was the U.S. Marshal.

Marshals Service Historian David Turk told me in a recent interview the agency's first high-profile birthday didn't come until 100 years later during its 1989 bicentennial. That year, Marshals Service director Stanley Morris hired the agency's first historian to write an official history of the agency and help create a traveling exhibit, America's Star.

Turk said he expects the core of the America’s Star exhibit to be part of the new museum. Also expected to be vividly represented is the agency's frontier history, in which Fort Smith and the adjoining Indian Territory played starring roles.

Turk predicts this year's 225th birthday party in Fort Smith will top all previous celebrations.

“With everyone associated with the museum, the U.S. Marshals Association, the agency and the other people converging at the groundbreaking – it's a moment for all stakeholders – it's historical affirmation,” Turk explained. “It's like one of the old Westerns. I often look at the museum's site in Fort Smith and think about the deputies leaving Judge Parker's court and heading west across the river. Figuratively, our personnel still do that – wherever they are carrying out their duties.”

Having a commemorative coin created by the U.S. Mint for the agency's 225th anniversary is great news. A share of the proceeds from the coins, which will be available for purchase in January, will help fund the building of the museum. The coins were unveiled here last month and celebrated as another step closer to our goal.

The U.S. Marshals Service Association bringing its annual conference here for a week during the birthday party/groundbreaking reflects its strong commitment to the service and the museum, too. The association includes retired marshals, active and honorary members.

We’re excited about showing off Fort Smith, one of the most significant locations in U.S. Marshal history.

At the ceremony, I’m personally looking forward to seeing fellow members of the steering committee formed here 10 years ago to “Bring Home” the Marshals Museum.

Richard J. O'Connell, then our U.S. marshal, and Claude Legris, director of the Fort Smith Convention &?Visitors Bureau, led the meeting, hosted by Chancellor Joel Stubblefield at UAFS. There we began brainstorming a plan to convince the Marshals Service choose Fort Smith, which we all passionately believed was the only place it belongs.

The steering committee hosted – with help from the National Historic Site and numerous volunteers – a Descendants Day a few months later to begin gathering proof for the selection committee of just how personally connected this city is to the Marshals Service.

It drew a crowd of 526 (including Turk) from here and other states, including 73 direct descendants of U.S. Marshals and deputies. Many recorded video interviews that, hopefully, can be used in the museum.

Three intense years of efforts followed, with work by steering committee leaders, city officials, business leaders, educators, historians and the Arkansas congressional delegation to supply the selection committee and Marshals Service with all the evidence they needed.

Commitments from ABF Freight System, the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and the donation of a riverfront site by developer Bennie Westphal also convinced the Marshals Service that Fort Smith was clearly where the museum should be located. On Jan. 4, 2007, former Director John Clark at last called Mayor Ray Baker and congratulated him. Fort Smith had become the official site of the future U.S. Marshals Service Museum.

Please join in the museum ground breaking, birthday party and barbecue at 11 a.m. on Sept. 24, at the museum site downtown on the Arkansas River. No gifts necessary but if you are so moved, send a check now to U.S. Marshals Museum, 14 North 3rd Street, Fort Smith, AR 72901.

New coins issued by the U.S. Mint
A $1 silver coin, one of three commemorative coins created by the U.S. Mint, honors the agency's history. The reverse of the $1 coin features a frontier U.S. Marshal holding a poster that reads "Wanted in Fort Smith." 

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online