Our nation’s oldest law enforcement agency has a new, permanent place to celebrate its history. The U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith, Arkansas, opened its doors in July. After years of supporting efforts to make this vision a reality, I was honored to attend the events with current and retired Marshals, local leaders and history fans from across the country.
I heard a friend say the other day that the U.S. Marshals Service already had a headquarters, but it didn’t have a home…until now. The U.S. Marshals Museum is a national attraction that will benefit our entire state and provide much-deserved recognition to the men and women of this critical, storied law enforcement agency.
Many Arkansans know that more Marshals served and died here than anywhere else in America, and the region’s history is intertwined with many families counting Marshals and outlaws among their descendants. But I am also excited that the museum shares much more than the stories of the frontier, because the history of the Marshals Service is the history of America.
From its creation in 1789 with Senate Bill 1, through every major event in U.S. history, Marshals have upheld the rule of law and protected our nation’s judicial system. From colonial times to the Civil Rights era, and into modern law enforcement, these lawmen provide a lens to better view and understand our nation’s laws as well as our values.
As I looked at the modern, technologically advanced facility filled with artifacts and experiences, I was reminded of the humble start of this project. The first meeting I attended was in March 2004, when leaders from Westark College, the city, the chamber of commerce, the National Park Service, state tourism officials, elected officials and local history enthusiasts came together on a day that started with a long list of ideas but ended with one mission – pursuing the placement of a national museum honoring the U.S. Marshals in Fort Smith.
With the prodding of this group, the Marshals Service eventually opened a nationwide selection process and the community dove in with every possible asset to bring the museum home. Of course, once Fort Smith was chosen, the work was just beginning. Volunteers and professional staff created the organizational structure, selected a site, and mapped out a plan. Little by little, the museum team grew and added great professionals from across the country who would carry the torch forward. Like the initial volunteers, they carried on without a doubt, adding their expertise and commitment.
As the wheels were set in motion, I was proud to help leverage federal resources including the minting of a coin in commemoration of the Marshals Service’s 225th anniversary to help fund the preservation and maintenance of the law enforcement agency’s artifacts. Working together, the community and Marshals supporters have finally turned the dream into a reality.
This museum represents a labor of love for Fort Smith, Arkansas and our nation. We all have the same passion to honor the incredible history of the U.S. Marshals Service and the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, the country with an unwavering commitment to security, safety and the rule of law.