Facts Most People Don’t Know About the US Marshal Service

Photo Credit: Conkling Studio - Dodge City Peace Commission / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The US Marshal Service is almost as old as the United States itself. Though the duties and methods of the service have changed during its over 200 years, the Marshals still faithfully serve the country. Here are seven facts you might not have known about them.

The Marshals were signed into action by George Washington

The US Marshal Service was created by the First Congress, and George Washington signed the bill into law. The function of the Marshals was to enact laws and enforce warrants. The service’s overseers were the United District Courts.

Artist's portrait of George Washington
Lansdowne portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart. (Photo Credit: VCG Wilson / CORBIS / Getty Images)

While the Marshals served as law enforcement officers, they had plenty of other responsibilities. They were responsible for volumes of paperwork that included subpoenas and warrants, and were also tasked with hiring bailiffs, criers and even janitors for local courthouses.

Many of the earliest Marshals fought in the American Revolution

When the government looked to hire Marshals, they had a large selection of men who had recently proven themselves during the Revolutionary War. John Adams’ son-in-law, William Stephens Smith, was one of the first US Marshals. He’d fought in major battles like Monmouth and Long Island, and he was wounded at Harlem Heights.

Artist's rendition of the Battle of Monmouth
Painting titled “Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth,” depicting George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth, 1778. (Photo Credit: Emanuel Leutze / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Henry Dearborn, who became a Marshal in the state of Maine, fought in the Revolution under Benedict Arnold, after which he served with Washington. He later became the Secretary of War.

The most famous Marshals are Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday

Wyatt Earp started his law career in 1869, at the age of 21. After a stint in Dodge City, Kansas, he took off to the fast-developing town of Tombstone, Arizona. It was in 1881 that Earp had his shootout at the O.K. Corral, alongside his brother, Morgan, and Doc Holliday. Earp, Morgan and Holliday had recently been deputized by Virgil Earp.

The men later stood trial over the deaths of three members of the outlaw Cowboys Gang. The judge, however, decided they had been properly deputized and were within their rights to return fire.

Portrait of Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp when he was the US Marshal of Dodge City, Kansas. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday has been told for over a century, with a number of books being written about the event.

Marshals were responsible for taking the US Census

In 1790, soon after becoming an independent nation, Congress created the Census Bureau and passed the Census Act. The job of administering the census fell to the Marshals. It made sense. The Marshals traveled more extensively than most people, and were able to track and trade the names of government officials.

Marshals held control of the census from 1790 to 1870.

Bass Reeves was the country’s first African-American Marshal

Bass Reeves was born into slavery in 1838. When the Civil War broke out, he was initially taken into the Confederate Army. He was able to escape and stayed with American Indian Tribes until the Emancipation Proclamation. Reeves was then hired as a deputy, thanks to his knowledge of the Mississippi River and his relationships with Native American tribes.

Bass Reeves in uniform
Bass Reeves. (Photo Credit: Oklahoma State University / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

He spent 32 years as a lawman, arresting over 3,000 felons and killing 14 criminals in self-defense. Reeves has been a character in a number of films, including The Magnificent Seven (1950) and The Harder They Fall (1956).

People hoping to become a US Marshal must meet several requirements

Each year, the US Marshal Service receives thousands of applications. Those who are selected must meet a number of requirements. Firstly, applicants must be between 21 and 36 years of age and in outstanding physical condition. They also need to provide a US driver’s license and pass a complete background check.

US Marshals badge on a uniform
Las Vegas Marshal badge. (Photo Credit: Doug Kranz / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images)

Lastly, the Marshal Service calls for a “Bachelor’s Degree, three years of qualifying work experience or a combination of the two.” Applicants who have earned their degrees in the fields of Criminal Justice, Criminology and Forensic Psychology have a leg up.

US Marshals were there for many important Civil Rights moments

The 1950s and ’60s saw many important moments in the Civil Rights Movement, and US Marshals were often there to protect African-Americans. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy ordered 127 Marshals to protect James Meredith, who was registering for classes at the University of Mississippi.

US Marshals escorting James Meredith to his first day of class
US Marshals escorting James Meredith to his first day of class. (Image Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Members of the Marshal Service were also there to escort Ruby Bridges when she desegregated an all-White school in Louisiana.