Saturday, May 4, 2013

Judge Parker & the Tumbleweed Wagons--U. S. Marshals in Indian Territory.

In Indian Territory, who would have thought the Five Civilized Indian Tribes leaders would complain to the Federal government about the problems caused in the Indian Nation by intruders such as whites and Negroes committing horrific crimes? In the 1870s, the Judge and Federal District Attorney at Ft. Smith were known to rig cases and the criminals were soon set free to cause more trouble. The Indian Nations had their own courts and jails for the Indians, but they had no jurisdiction over the renegades who invaded their territory and continued to disrupt the peace.

In 1875, President U.S. Grant became aware of the problem and sent Judge Isaac Parker, a fellow
Republican, to bring law to the Western Judicial District of Arkansas. It covered over 70,000 square miles and Judge Parker had less than 200 men--one U.S. Marshal and the rest Deputies.

In 1875 a U.S. Marshal's salary was $90 a month and Deputies only received mileage, 6 cents per mile. They also received upon delivery $2 for each summons or prisoner delivered. This was for dangerous, hard work. The court paid for the cost of transporting prisoners, that transport being a prisoner wagon accompanied by a chuck wagon with a cook, drivers for the wagons and extra mules and horses. It may have been led by one deputy or several.

These wagons were nicknamed "tumbleweed wagons" because they seemed to aimlessly meander across the prairie from area to area to collect their prisoners. Their tour took two to three months. Prisoners were chained to the floor of the wagon. When they set up camp for the night they were chained to a tree or wagon wheel. They created quite a spectacle as they passed through towns. Crowds formed to watch the parade make it's way through town.

The marshals were fearless men, quick with a gun and capable of handling the worst of riff-raff. They had to be to survive against robbers, murderers, rapists, rustlers and whiskey peddlers Some of the criminals they brought in would kill for the gold in your teeth.

Judge Parker didn't believe in the old saying--"bring them in dead or alive." He wanted them to have a trial and let him, the judge, decide their sentence and he was very equal  in his justice. He only hung one woman and the races were equally divided by thirds--whites, blacks and Indians. During his appointment, he tried over 17,000 cases and of those sentenced 1/10 of 1 percent were sent to the gallows. Parker felt so strongly about the criminals having a right to be heard, if a Deputy Marshal killed a prison in transit, he had to pay for the prisoner's funeral, casket, and headstone. The cost was close to $60 which was hard earned on 6 cents and $2 per summons.

References: (Contributed by Dennis Muncrief - November, 2003)

Happy Reading and Writing!


  1. Interesting post, Linda. Judge Parker sounds like the first "liberal" judge. Lol.

  2. Ahd yet Judge Parker earned the nickname "hanging judge" because he actually sentences criminals to the gallows. I'm glad he was fair and set strick guidelines. Before he came to office, that was a lawless time and people deserved protection. Great post. Nice to know the salary, etc. plus the photos.

  3. I loved seeing the picture of the tumbleweed wagon. I have a similar wagon included in a yet-unpublished frontier romance.
    What a huge difference in marshal and deputy pay!
    thanks for the post.

  4. Very interesting, Linda. I haven't seen a photo of the prisoner wagon, but I remember reading a romance long ago in which a female was prisoner in one. The hero saw her,and for some reason got her out--saved her.
    Often this Judge Parker from Arkansas, the Hanging Judge, and Isaac Parker years later, became confused as the uncle of Cynthia Ann Parker. I admit, it is confusing because there was more than one Isaac Parker, both connected to Cynthia Parker, but neither was The Hanging Judge.

    I loved your photos. Thanks.

  5. Very enlightening. I enjoyed your article very much. I had to do a little research on prison wagons when I wrote one of mine but nothing this in depth.

  6. He was tough, Debra, but fair. If you've ever seen the movie HANG 'EM HIGH, it was based loosely on Judge Parker but it distorted him image somewhat.

  7. Yes, he did, Caroline and yes it was. The judge over the district before Judge Parker wasn't fair or honest.

  8. Isn't it neat? Bought it on Fotolio. I don't know how the Deputy's lived.

  9. Interesting, Celia,I didn't know that about the confusion with Cynthia Ann's uncle.

  10. Hi Ciara, I can't imagine riding around in one of those things for 2 - 3 months, can you?

  11. Great post, Linda. Very interesting to learn more about the US Marshal position, their salary, etc., and I never heard of the Tumbleweed Wagon before. :)


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