Senate Bill Number One of the First Session of the First Congress became, after lengthy and heated debate, the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789. The Act provided a charter for the federal judicial system by specifying the jurisdiction and powers of the district and circuit courts, and the qualifications and authority of federal judges, district attorneys, court clerks, U.S. Marshals, and Deputy Marshals. Invited by Article 111, Section 1, of the newly ratified Constitution to "ordain and establish" a court structure for the new national government, the first Senate moved quickly to the task. But its labors were immediately embroiled in a bitter contest between the Federalists, who wanted a strong federal government, and the Anti-Federalists, who jealously guarded the rights of the states.
Six days after President Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789 into law, he addressed the following form letter to his appointees for Marshal and District Attorney in each of the 13 new federal districts. The letter read:
I have the pleasure to inform you that you are appointed (Marshal or Attorney) for the District of _______ and your Commission is enclosed, accompanied with such Laws as have passed relative to the Judicial Department of the United States.
Thus began the history of the Marshals Service. The oldest federal law enforcement agency in the United States is truly the Marshals Service. The same office that President George Washington envisioned nearly 215 years ago has grown in responsibility and excelled - all the while living up to the standards of justice, integrity and service. Despite the achievements of other agencies, legal standing and original intent underscore that the United States Marshals Service is the oldest and first federal law enforcement agency.
Evett Dumas Nix
Nix was born in rural Kentucky on September ig, 1861. His father, S. S. Nix, had served as lieutenant in the Confederate Army and after the war was for several years a deputy sheriff in Calloway County at Murray. Young Nix finished common school at seventeen, working in a wagon and buggy factory to complete his education. His Grandfather Nix backed him in his first venture, a grocery, hardware, and furniture business at Coldwater, which he sold at a good profit in r88o. Two years later, he joined the staff of J. J. Bondurant and Company, wholesale grocers, at Paducah and in 1889 "caught the Western fever" and came to Oklahoma.
At Guthrie, he entered the general merchandise business with a man named Ed Baldwin. In March, 1890, he purchased Baldwin's interest and began searching for a broader field than the retail business offered. Oscar D. Halsell had opened his livery stable in Guthrie, and he and Nix became close friends. In the fall of 1890, they entered the wholesale grocery business under the firm name of Nix and Halsell Company and soon were supplying most of the small inland towns. For 1891, they had planned a campaign of business expansion to include Indian trading points throughout the territory but, like other Oklahoma businessmen, found themselves facing the hazards of transporting merchandise long distances and returning safely with large amounts of money. They could not afford such risks until the outlaw problem was solved. That same year, the Commercial Bank of Guthrie closed its doors in the territory's first banking failure, and Nix was appointed receiver under bond of $450,000. It was a trying responsibility for a young man of thirty, but he disposed of the ill-fated institution's affairs so satisfactorily that the people, in looking about for someone with executive ability in whom they could place great confidence, suggested him to Cleveland as the man who should conduct the affairs of the marshal's office.
Nix felt considerably flattered, but at the same time flustered, by their proposal. It seemed that it would be absolutely impossible for me to consider such a thing. I had my own business to take care of and I hardly wanted to throw the burden of responsibility upon my partner. I refused pointblank. This group of citizens, not to be turned aside, called upon my partner. Halsell came to me and said that he felt we owed as much of our service as we were able to give to the general good of the new country and ... would do his part by relieving me of a large share of my duties in our wholesale grocery business.
His persuasion caused me to accept ... the citizens immediately accumulated as fine a collection of endorsements from leading business men of Guthrie and the Territory as any man could hope to have. I then visited Washington, calling on President Cleveland and his Attorney General to discuss territorial conditions and my application.
There were twenty-three applicants for the position: nineteen from Oklahoma, four from outside. Nix's strongest competitor was Heck Thomas, widely known in both territories for his efforts against the Dalton gang. He had moved his family to Guthrie in early 1893. Several leaders of the Democratic Central. Committee and county officers throughout the territory endorsed Thomas as "one of the oldest deputies working out of Judge Parker's court at Fort Smith ... of irreproachable character and whose allegiance to the party is beyond dispute."24 Judge Parker himself wrote the President that I have known Thomas since 1885 ... and he has done very much service for the Government in breaking up lawless bands of murderers, train and express robbers. I regard him as just the man for the position . . . and would be glad to see him appointed.
Heck prided himself as a "working marshal," but he was not yet a familiar figure in Guthrie, center of all territorial activity. Although Thomas was regarded by political "wah-hosses" as "better equipped to meet the emergency that exists" than "this mere boy who had done nothing for democracy," President Cleveland evidently noted his lack of administrative experience. On the other hand, Nix had no experience in law enforcement, but he "held onto the pole and finally knocked the persimmon."
Nix took office July 1, 1893. He bore no enmity for those deputies who had sought the office in Washington and asked Grimes's men to stay on until he could make satisfactory selections for the various positions to be filled.
Richard Olney, Cleveland's new attorney general, had instructed Nix thoroughly concerning the routine of his office and what would be expected of him: find and equip proper quarters for and provide protection for the federal courts; curb the destruction of government timber and the operations of whiskey peddlers on Indian reservations; protect Indian lands from invasion by settlers. Primarily, however, Nix was to solve the outlaw problem and restore unmolested transportation and communication as soon as possible.
In discussing the situation in Washington, Nix had intimated the need of one hundred field deputies-twice the number allowed Grimes. He was advised to use only a force of "reputable" men "adequate" to handle the situation. Nix told the Guthrie Daily News on June 6 that: there will be none but honest men around me. . . who will never compromise the dignity and prestige of the United States government. No man who drinks can have a place on my staff. They will, above all, be courteous, of unimpeachable character and good standing in their communities.... The time has gone for swashbucklers who fence themselves round with revolvers and cartridges. A revolver will be for business and not for show. Men will not be dragged from their homes on trumped up charges nor carried hundreds of miles around the country to make fees for speculative deputies ... and, until found guilty in the courts, considered innocent.
The Oklahoma State Capital observed: This means that none but Y.M.C.A.'s need apply. It will seem queer to see a lot of dyspeptic cadavers going out to trail the class of criminals who produce the "holdups" in this territory. Think of a gentlemanly moralist running onto a tough out in the jungles and in a plaintive voice, declaring: "My deah sub, we have been sent for you suh, and we would like you to hold up youh hands and be ouh prisoner; if you don't, sub, as much as we dislike to, we will be compelled, suh, to pull ouh guns on you!" And how beautifully "moral suasion" worked the deputy would have to discover in heaven, for daisies would grow on a premature grave. And think of Mr. Nix searching the ranks of democracy with a microscope to find this brand of Sunday school moralists from which to make sleuth-hound saviours of banks and express trains.
The News explained: It was the spontaneous outburst ... of a man who knew that the record of his life was clean and that his every act was founded in justice. . . . With a good staff, a picked corps of deputies, we make the prophecy that his conduct the next four years will reflect the highest honor of the man and credit, brilliant and lasting, on the noble territory.
When Nix asked Heck Thomas for an opinion on his policy, Thomas told him frankly: "The strength of your backbone will be shown more by the striking force than the character of the men you choose or the way they wear their weapons." Nix expressed gratitude to Thomas for being outspoken. He admired Heck's lengthy and successful career and appointed him one of the first field deputies.
The initial list included, besides Thomas, John Hixon, Morris Robacker, Frank Hindman, George Orin Severns, and Joe Pentecost at Guthrie; J. M. Jones, John Quimby, Charles F. Colcord, Sam Bartell, and John Hubatka at Oklahoma City; William Banks at Cheyenne; J. H. Gill at Tecumseh; Charles L. Roff at El Reno; Frank Farwell at Anadarko; C. H. Marx at Osage Agency; J. A. Cooper at Kingfisher; James Vandeventer at Orlando; Thomas Tipton and Alonzo Poling at Chandler; C. W. Reynolds at Perkins; William Ivey at Choctaw; S. T. Butner at Crescent City; and George Smith at Norman.
Robacker, Severns, Banks, and Bartell were Grimes men. Hixon had considerable experience as an officer in Kansas before coming to Oklahoma, where he had served as sheriff of Logan County. Although he had waged an energetic campaign in Washington, Nix held him in great respect. Colcord, a Kentuckian, had endured several precarious years on the Texas-Indian Territory-Kansas frontier as a cattle drover and Indian fighter. His term as sheriff of Oklahoma County having expired in January, 1893, he too, was one of Nix's opponents. "He would have made a spendid Marshal," Nix wrote. "He was thoroughly seasoned to the arduous demands our work would make upon him ... and I was only too glad to have him accept the appointment as deputy in charge at Oklahoma City."
Nix chose John M. Hale as chief deputy. Hale had come to Indian Territory from Virginia several years before as a trader on the Osage and Sac and Fox reservations. For a time, he edited the Chandler Warrior, a weekly newspaper which supported the Democratic party. He had many acquaintances and much knowledge of the country and "was soon rated by the Department of Justice as one of the most capable chief deputies in the service." Nix's father, who had joined him some months before, was made chief clerk, with J. K. Goodwin as assistant. W. S. Felts, an accountant in one of the Guthrie banks, was placed in charge of the financial department. These people, together with two stenographers, Mrs. S. M. Burche and Miss Florence Hitchcock, comprised the office force.
Persons committing crimes in the territorial counties often fled into the Nations across Hell's Fringe. Sheriffs and deputies had no authority to cross these borders in pursuit. The Organic Act gave the U.S. marshal concurrent jurisdiction with sheriffs in criminal matters, so Nix compiled a considerable list of eligible local officers and made them federal deputies. Several of them would play important roles in the months ahead: Jim Masterson and Ed Kelley, police chief of Guthrie; J. S. (Steve) Burke, a daring, energetic youth who believed. that men would obey the law "if made to see it in the divine light" and later became an evangelist; Dick Speed, city marshal of Perkins; Tom Hueston, now constable at Stillwater; and Lafayette (Lafe) Shadley, a deputy sheriff in Montgomery County, Kansas, at the time of the Dalton raid but now serving as policeman for the Osage Nation at Pawhuska.
Such appointments, at no additional cost to the government except the fees they earned, increased the marshal's force to nearly one hundred men. Calling them together at Guthrie for final instructions, Nix
looked upon the group as an organization of business men with a very definite obligation to deal fairly and honorably with everyone-citizen or outlaw-who was to come in contact with our department. I considered lack of courtesy and gentlemanly bearing a very serious offense. In my opinion, a man with a smile was more to be feared when it came to a test of real nerve than the would-be man-eater.
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