Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The U. S. Marshals: The Long Arm of the Law

Who Are Those Guys?

In the 1969 film classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang has just robbed a train owned by E.H. Harriman. In the midst of their glee, the gang watches as a shorter train shrieks to a halt some distance down the tracks. For a breathless moment, no one quite knows what to expect. Then out jumps a posse of men on horseback, and they ride hard toward the outlaws. The gang leaves the money and flees. They've outrun posses before, but this one seems different.

To try to diminish the posse's strength, they split up. Butch and Sundance ride off together for a while and then turn around. They find that the entire posse is after them. They devise several more tricks, such as using only one horse, but the faceless riders are relentless. At several different junctures, exhausted and astonished by the persistence of their pursuers, they ask, "Who are those guys?"

It seems that E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad has hired the best trackers in the business. They have been deputized by the U.S. Marshals to go after the fugitives and track them down-even, it seems, to Bolivia. And they just don't give up.

While those scenes are from a movie, the truth according to historian Frederick S. Calhoun in The Lawmen, is that U. S. Marshals Frank A. Hadsell worked closely with Pinkerton detectives to find these notorious robbers but never managed to apprehend them. The Hole-in-the-Wall hideout in the Wyoming mountains was impossible to locate and the gang proved maddeningly elusive. "The most Hadsell and his posses could do," reports Calhoun, "was chase the outlaws out of Wyoming."

Nevertheless, the image of a special law enforcement team that won't quit left a strong impression on the culture. The movie echoed the way the U.S. Marshals have been portrayed in countless westerns. Notable Marshals in other movies have been played by John Wayne, ex-President Ronald Reagan, and Tommy Lee Jones, who starred in both The Fugitive remake and its sequel, U.S. Marshals. The DVD version of the latter film includes a succinct overview of the Marshals, "Justice under the Star."

U.S.Marshals Badge
U.S.Marshals Badge

Accordingly, their motto is "Justice, Integrity, and Service," and the Marshals' famous five-sided star is the oldest emblem of federal law enforcement in our country. "Portrayed throughout history for legendary heroics in the face of lawlessness," says the official Web site, "these deputies carry out their daily assignments with dedication and professionalism."

Let's take a brief look at their history and function, and then talk with a man who earned one of these prestigious appointments.


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