It was said, "There is no Sunday west of St. Louis--no God west of Ft. Smith."
Indian Territory. A perfect haven for outlaws of every kind. They could run west of Ft. Smith where lawlessness reigned, where there were no consequences for any crime--until Judge Isaac Parker and his U.S. Deputy Marshals took charge.
By 1870, the Indian Territory had become a hellhole not fit for honest citizens. The last civilized gateway into the territory was in Arkansas--Ft. Smith.
The Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole) who had been relocated to Indian Territory, had their own judicial system for the Indians of the Nations. But their courts had no jurisdiction over intruders who found their way into the Territory.
In 1875, President Grant appointed Judge Isaac Parker to what later became the Western Judicial District of Arkansas, including not only several counties in Arkansas and a strip along the Kansas border, but all of Indian Territory as well. The total area of the court's jurisdiciton was nearly 74,000 square miles, with Indian Territory accounting for over 70,000 square miles of that area.
The lawmen, or the "Men Who Rode for Parker," numbered less than 200 at the outset. Only one carried the title, "U.S. Marshal." The rest were deputies. The marshal's salary was $90 per month. the deputies received no salary at all. They could arrest for any crime committed in the 74,000 mile area--with or without a warrant. They earned usually no more than $500 per year. Up until 1898, a fee system was in place that allowed a deputy to collect $2 for each arrest he made. In addition, he could receive 6 cents per mile for going to the location of the arrest, and 10 cents per mile for himself and his prisoner to return to court.
No arrest meant no payment, and if he should happen to kill a suspect in attempting the arrest, the deputy was expected to pay for the suspect's burial.
After all the deputy's expenses were tallied, the U.S. Marshal deducted 25 percent from the total before he paid the deputy the remainder.
During the 21 years of Judge Parker's tenure, over 65 deputy marshals were killed in the line of duty. Some references list the number as high as 100.
Being a U.S. Deputy Marshal was even tougher in real life than Hollywood could ever portray. The lonely existence these men led, riding out in search of desperate criminals over vast areas of land for a $2 arrest fee, is unimaginable today. The turnover rate was high due to the danger, the low pay, and the enormous amount of territory they had to cover. Weeks of separation from their families was also a deterrent.
But the facts show what those deputy marshals did to bring Indian Territory back under the law again. Judge Parker tried over 17,000 cases during his time at the Western Judicial District of Arkansas--and there were never more than 200 men on the payroll to accomplish these arrests. Order could not have been restored without these men, willing to risk their lives to bring justice back to the wild borderlands of Arkansas, Kansas and Indian Territory.
Kaed Turner, the "marshal" in my book Fire Eyes, is just this kind of loner to begin with--until he finds the love of a lifetime in a most unexpected place. In the excerpt below, Kaed is recovering from a brutal beating at the hands of a band of outlaws with Jessica's care. He's making good progress!
EXCERPT FROM FIRE EYES
The bath could be put off no longer. Kaed lay quietly, watching Jessica’s nervousness.
“Jessi.” When she looked at him, his bones liquefied. She wanted him. All question of how the night would end were answered as their eyes met and held over an achingly sweet moment.
Jessica sank her teeth into her lower lip, her fingers moving to the tiny row of buttons at the front of her day dress. She slowly began to work them open. “Kaed, would you, um, I mean, well, I need to get my bath now.”
“I suppose that means I need to at least turn my head.” His mouth was dry. It was hot in the cabin all of a sudden.
“Uh-huh.” She kept right on unbuttoning the buttons, caught in his gaze. “And close your eyes.”
Yeah, well it wouldn’t matter if he did, he thought. He’d still see the picture she burned in his mind as she stood there opening those buttonholes.
Her fingers hesitated at the button just above the rich swell of her breasts. Kaed wet his lips, not turning his head or closing his eyes.
“Kaed?” Her voice was a husky whisper. That made him close his eyes. The sound of his name on her lips had him imagining doing all the things that a man did with a woman. All the things that were soon to come.
God. The heat was unbearable.
“Huh?” He slitted his still-swollen eyes open and saw she had released that button and moved down to the next one. He gritted his teeth.
“Turn…your…head.” A teasing smile played about her mouth, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking, what he was imagining.
Turning away would be a good thing right about now. If he could only persuade his neck to cooperate.
“Yeah. Okay.” He turned his face toward the window. Sort of.
“I’m trusting you.”
Kaed sighed, frustrated. “I know.” It was the one thing she might’ve said that would have kept him true to his word, that part about trusting. He couldn’t betray that. “I’ve gotta move slow. Hurts.”
“Don’t—” The dress whispered to the floor.
“I won’t,” he gritted, the words bitter in his mouth. Then, he thought of something. “It’s hardly fair, though.” He heard the delicate splash as Jessica slipped into the water.
“What do you mean?”
He heard her trailing water across her shoulders and neck with the washrag, blissfully unaware of the effect she was having on him, and on a certain part of his male anatomy. He was aching for her. But he managed to make his voice casual.
“I mean, you’re going to help me bathe.”
The dribbling water stopped, and he heard her breathing quicken.
“Yes, I know. But I don’t need any help.”
After a moment the splashing began again. He imagined she was washing her hair. “Jessi?”
She didn’t answer, but he knew she was listening. He grew tired of the game. He wanted her to know what to expect. What was going to happen. To anticipate it as much as he did.“Jessi, I want you.”
It took everything in him not to turn and look at her as he said it, to see the expression on her delicate features. “I’m going to make love to you tonight.”