Virgil Earp, and then Wyatt, in Tombstone Arizona were each appointed to become a Deputy US Marshal in different circumstances. This category of lawmen had a lot to do with helping to “tame” the Wild West. Let’s follow their related events through American history.
U.S. Marshal’s Service History
The U.S. Marshal’s Service began under George Washington’s First Congress. With the September 24, 1789 Judiciary Act. With that they had authority to enforce warrants issued by federal courts.4
Usually a District Judge appointed the Marshal. Appointments were then often sourced from friendships or nepotism. The law allowed Marshals to get the help they needed to assist with their widespread duties. So they “hired their own Deputies” to better perform the job.4
Their authority included swearing in temporary posses to go after federal law-breakers, etc. They were considered the major law enforcement in the Western Territories – the “Old West.” They also had to cover an abundance of clerical and administrative work. Even conducting the area census.4
Renowned Old West Frontier U.S. Marshals
Seth Bullock served as U.S. Marshal for South Dakota from 1905 for nine years.5 If you watched the Western series Deadwood on HBO, you’ll remember him as a memorable character. He was also one of the early Jewish Settlers of the West.
Robert E. Clark was nicknamed “Last of the Frontier Marshals” serving the Southern California District, until 1948. He was appointed by FDR. He was in Tombstone, working as a cowboy for two years in Tombstone. He’d also driven stagecoach routes in California. He knew Wyatt Earp as a friend.6
William “Billy” Breckenridge, has been known for working with Sheriff Johnny Behan in Tombstone. He did though, eventually became a U.S. Marshal for Arizona Territory.7
Ben Daniels had a rough childhood, plus youthful trouble with the law. He spent time in Dodge City. He married, and then rode with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. At the war’s end Teddy recommended him for Arizona Territory U.S. Marshal. That appointment only lasted a month. Officials discovered his youthful lawless past. So he resigned in February 1902. He then took a position as Yuma Prison Superintendent. Three years later, Roosevelt named Ben as Marshal again. This time Daniels lasted until 1909, when Roosevelt’s Presidency term ended.8,9
Crawley P. Dake served in the 5th Michigan Cavalry during the Civil War. Afterwards he was assigned as Detroit’s U.S. Marshal, and also for the Internal Revenue Service. In mid 1878, his appointment was for Arizona Territory. He named eight deputies. One was Virgil Earp, for Southeastern Arizona. That’s a major reason that got the Earps to Tombstone.10 It ended up troublesome for him, as the October 1881 gunfight, and its aftermath led to his eventual replacement in 1882.
Renowned Old/Wild West Frontier
Deputy US Marshals
Frank Dalton was a family novelty. His two younger brothers were outlaws, and he was related to Jesse James. Frank served three years in Oklahoma Territory’s Marshal Service. He was assigned to Judge Isaac Parker (nicknamed “the hangin’ judge” – not quite accurate, he was actually a man ahead of his time!). As Deputy US Marshal, Frank was killed in a shootout in late 1887, cutting short his service.
Phoebe Couzins, a lawyer, was the first woman Deputy US Marshal. She was appointed by her U.S. Marshal father in 1884 for Eastern Missouri. When her father died in 1887, President Cleveland promoted her, making her the replacement as Interim US Marshal. But Couzins was replaced by a man in two months, ending her Marshal Service career.
William Matthew “Bill” Tilghman Jr. gained fame when he teamed up with two others to capture the Wild Bunch’s infamous Bill Doolin. In Dodge City he was friends with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. His Deputy US Marshal assignment came in May 1892, to help secure Oklahoma.
Wild Bill Hickock served for two years. Beginning in 1867 at Fort Riley in Kansas.
Bat Masterson served as Deputy US Marshal in his later years, for the Southern District of New York. President Roosevelt befriended Bat, giving him the appointment in 1905. The next president terminated him in mid 1909.
Bass Reeves is famed as the first black Deputy US Marshal in the West. From 1875 to 1907 he was valued in “Indian Territory” of Oklahoma and Texas. Considered one of the best old west gunfighters of his era.
The Earps & Holliday
Virgil Earp was named Deputy US Marshal on November 27, 1879 by Crawley P. Dake. He actively served until he was shot at the corner of 5th & Allen on December 29, 1881. But he officially offered his resignation on February 2, 1882.11
When Virgil needed aid with his federal duties, on occasion he deputized his brother Wyatt.10 On October 26, 1881 trouble with the Clanton & McLaury brothers was expected. Therefore, Virgil had deputized Wyatt.11 But when Virgil was injured, so that he couldn’t fulfill his duties, Dake appointed Wyatt to take his place on December 31st.10
Then when Morgan Earp was murdered on March 18, 1882, Wyatt immediately suspected Tombstone Cowboys. Wyatt subsequently gathered two deputized posses. With the federal warrants in hand to bring in suspects, his aim, however, was to take revenge. Other deputized men riding with him in that posse were his brother Warren, and Doc Holliday.10
Today’s Marshal Service
The current Marshal Service system was updated in 1969. It’s an Executive Branch agency, reporting to the U.S. Attorney General. Still has enforcement power for U.S. federal courts, ensuring adherence to the constitution.2
94 Judicial districts are each headed by a U.S. Marshal. About 3,571 Deputy US Marshals, and additionally Criminal Investigators serve under them. Their responsibilities are:2
- Judicial security throughout the entire process
- Fugitive operations with wide-spread arrest authority, including working with international operatives
- Criminal asset forfeiture management
- Federal prisoner operations and transportation management
- Witness security, with operation of the Program known as the Witness Protection Program.
Career Opportunities include Administrative Positions, Detention/Aviation Enforcement Positions and Deputy US Marshal Positions. [Air Marshals are managed through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)].3
Deputy US Marshals have rigorous qualification requirements. To apply you must3
- Be a U.S. citizen, age 21 to 36
- Have a bachelor’s degree
- Have 3 years of qualifying experience, or a combination of education and experience
- Have a valid, good-standing driver’s license
- Be in excellent physical condition
After satisfying those initial provisions, then you must successfully complete a structured interview. Plus successfully undergo the following assessments:3
- Successfully complete a background investigation
- Meet medical qualifications
Once those are complete, you’re admitted to a rigorous 21½ week basic training program at the US Marshals Service Training Academy in Glynco, Georgia. After graduation, you’ll be assigned to the Marshal’s Service.3
As is probably understood, being a Deputy US Marshal is a serious and necessary job. Yet it can be a dangerous job.
Regular life-endangering occurrences can happen while carrying out the job of a US Marshal, or a Deputy US Marsh. That is accepted when one applies for a position within this service.
For instance, a terrible, deeply-felt incident occurred nearby to Tombstone, Arizona.
Local hearts went out to a Deputy US Marshal serving in Tucson, Arizona, who lost his life. Deputy US Marshal Chase White was shot and killed on November 29, 2018. He was with a team of Marshals serving a felony warrant for a fugitive wanted for stalking police officers.1
The perpetrator gave himself up, and was been indicted. One count of First-degree murder of a federal officer, three counts of attempted murder of a federal officer, four counts of assault on a federal officer with a deadly weapon, and five counts of discharging a weapon while committing a crime.
Chase White was the first Deputy US Marshal killed in the line of duty in Tucson in 66 years. He worked with the Marshal Service since 2016, and was with the Air Force Reserve. When he lost his life he was married, and a father to four children, whose ages were from 7 to 14.
In March 2021 he received a posthumous award for bravery by the Marshal Service. His wife accepted the award on his behalf.1
1 Smith, C. (2021, March 30). Heroism award for fallen Deputy Marshal. Local News; KGUN 9 on Your Side. Retrieved from https://www.kgun9.com/news/local-news/heroism-award-for-fallen-deputy-marshal
2 U.S. Department of Justice (2021, Feb. 26). Fact sheet: U.S. Marshals Service. Office of Public Affairs. Retrieved from usmarshals.gov/duties/factsheets/overview.pdf
3 U.S. Marshals Service (2021, July 22). Career opportunities. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from usmarshals.gov/careers/https://www.tombstonetraveltips.com/
4 U.S. Marshals Service (2021, July 22). History – Broad range of authority. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from usmarshals.gov/history/broad_range.htm
5 Radin, E.M. (2020). Jews who helped settle the Wild West. United States: Edwin M. Radin
6 U.S. Marshals Service (2021, July 22). History – Last of the frontier marshals. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from usmarshals.gov/history/clark/https://www.tombstonetraveltips.com/
7 Breackenridge, W.M. (1928) Helldorado. Copyright renewed 1956 Adam, F.E. Intro, Notes, Index Copyright 1982 R.R. Donnelly & Sons, Lakeside Press. Bison Book Edtion 1992, University of Nebraska Press.
8 Kansas Historical Society (2021). RG 60, Department of Justice : territorial papers : B. F. Daniels, U.S. marshal, Arizona. Archives. Retrieved from kshs.org/archives/48665
9 Dodge City Daily Globe (2016, March 8). Ben Daniels. Retrieved from dodgeglobe.com/article/20160308/NEWS/160309548
10 Bailey, L.R. (2004). Too tough to die: The rise, fall and resurrection of a silver camp; 1878 to 1990. Tucson AZ: Westernlore Press.
11 Guinn, J. (2011). The last gunfight. 24 Words LLC. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.