Shovels turned dirt Wednesday (Sept. 24), marking an exciting step in the plan to build the U.S. Marshals Museum on the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith.
The museum will serve as a national center to educate visitors on the past and present roles of the U.S. Marshals Service and inspire visitors with stories of their service and sacrifice since our nation’s founding.
More than 700 people, including politicians, dignitaries and former and current U.S. Marshals, were on hand to celebrate the museum groundbreaking. U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton said the history of the U.S. Marshals Service not only tells the story of law enforcement but also brings to light Americana, the Constitution of the United States, Bill of Rights, civil liberties, and patriotism. She said it tells the story of our nation since the Marshals Service and the country started at the same time.
The date for the groundbreaking was significant and another milestone in Marshals Service history, which Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders pointed out. “On this day in 1789 – 225 years ago today – President George Washington signed Senate Bill Number One, which established the United States Marshal Service and it is very appropriate that this groundbreaking is being held on Sept. 24,” he said.
Hylton said Fort Smith is woven into the fabric of history and is an appropriate location for the museum to be built. She added that after spending a little time in Fort Smith, the area’s love and appreciation of marshals is obvious and felt here. Fort Smith’s history is teeming with stories of the U.S. Marshals and their exploits on the American frontier when what is now the Oklahoma state line was the border with Indian Territory. More than 100 marshals are buried within a 50-mile radius, making Fort Smith one of the most revered places in the Service’s long history.
Many Fort Smith leaders lead fundraising efforts for the museum, as did several politicians who spoke at the ceremony, including U.S. Congressman Steve Womack, U.S. Senator John Boozman, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe.
The groundbreaking launches the first phase of the project, which includes architectural and exhibit design and site preparation. While the project has turned from dream toward reality, fundraising is ongoing for additional phases of the project.
One fundraising aspect is commemorative coins produced by the U.S. Mint. On April 3, 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law the U.S. Marshals Service 225th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act. This Act provides for the minting of three coins, a $5 quarter ounce gold coin, a $1 silver dollar, and a half-dollar clad coin, in commemoration of the dedication and achievements of the USMS over its 225 year history.
Each coin presents realistic and historically accurate depictions of different aspects of the USMS. The $5 gold coin commemorates the 250-plus Marshals and Deputy Marshals who have been killed in the line of duty. The $1 silver coin depicts the frontier marshals with a sign reading “Wanted in Fort Smith,” while the half-dollar clad coin portrays the involvement of the U.S. Marshals in our changing nation, through their involvement in some of the most significant events in U.S. history.
In early 2015, the public can begin purchasing the coins, and a portion of the proceeds help fund the Marshals museum. Coins will be ordered through the United States Mint’s website.
The Marshals Museum will add an incredible element to an already vibrant Wild West history. Fort Smith is home to the National Historic Site, which chronicles the first fort built at Belle Point, the place where federal Marshals rode out of the United States and into Indian Territory, and where outlaws collided with Judge Isaac Parker.
Fort Smith pays homage to U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves with an impressive 25-foot-statue and has many sites commemorating and preserving the Trail of Tears, Civil War and Butterfield Overland Mail Company route history that are now part of the Arkansas Heritage Trails System.
This colorful American background is the reason True West magazine selected Fort Smith, Arkansas as the Top True Western Town for 2013. The publication also named Fort Smith as one of the top five of the Top Western Towns for 2014. True West also honored the town with its “best promotion of a historical place” award for 2014.