Deputy Marshal Addison Beck and Judge Isaac Parker's Court

An embodiment of the western frontier, Addison Beck served as a U.S. deputy marshal from 1875-1883. While Beck and his wife, Sarah (or “Said”) began a family and created a homestead, he patrolled for the Federal Court of the Western District of Arkansas in Fort Smith.

An embodiment of the western frontier, Addison Beck served as a U.S. deputy marshal from 1875-1883. While Beck and his wife, Sarah (or “Said”) began a family and created a homestead, he patrolled for the Federal Court of the Western District of Arkansas in Fort Smith. With jurisdiction over the Indian Territory, now part of the State of Oklahoma, the Western District Court's docket was full. Beck began his career under Judge William Story, who resigned due to scandal. President Ulysses S. Grant then appointed Isaac Parker federal judge, who would become one of the most illustrious judges of the Old American West while his court convicted and executed scores of men. This digital collection highlights archives related to the Western District Court of Arkansas, including the diaries of Addison and Said and court records housed in the University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections.

Deputy Marshals and Posse pictured after a fight with Ned Christie in the Indian Territory, November 1892.

Deputy Marshals and Posse pictured after a fight with Ned Christie in the Indian Territory, November 1892. Back row (left to right): Tom Johnson, Bill Smith, John Tolbit, Abe Allen, Wes Bauman. Front row (left to right): Captain G.S. White, Charles Copeland, Paden Tolbert, Heck Bruner, Dave Rusk. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

The diaries are relics of a lawman, doomed by murder, and his wife, cast into widowhood.

Addison Beck's two surviving diaries chronicle 1880 to early 1881 and from April through August 1881. They include information concerning where Beck traveled, his expenses, and the mileage he covered, all of which was used to calculate his pay. Beck also recorded the names of suspects he apprehended. These documents give personal insight into the tasks assigned to deputy marshals serving in the Indian Territory and their endeavors to execute the laws for the federal court.

Said Beck wrote a diary in the 1870s that records the couple's establishment of a homestead with their two daughters in the Arkansas River Valley. Her diary includes details that provide a unique glimpse of daily life on the frontier, such as descriptions of Addison building a chimney for the home, Said sewing pants for him and clothes for their baby, and the family planting a garden.

Tragically, Addison Beck and his partner, Lewis Merritt, were shot and killed while serving an arrest warrant on whiskey smuggling in 1883. The diaries are relics of a lawman, doomed by murder, and his wife, cast into widowhood. Said Beck composed another diary from January 1889 to August 1890 where she described her life after Addison's death. A major subject of this last diary is her daughters after they had moved to Vinita, Indian Territory. Said found solace in music and her church, and she became an ardent temperance advocate. Addison and Said Beck's diaries survive as part of the Juletta Ashby Jordan Collection (MC 1108).

page from the journal of Addison Beck

Deputy Beck used this description in the pursuit of a stolen horse.

Documentation spanning the years 1844 to 1906 shed light on a wide range of issues addressed by the court. The records include oaths of allegiance sworn to the United States by former Confederates and include signatures from two women who had joined the Confederacy. Documents also address the theft of timber from the Indian Territory and the recurring problem of squatting "Boomers" and other settlers who trespassed on property officially owned by indigenous tribes, particularly the Cherokees.

Details pertaining to the day-to-day business of being a deputy marshal are available through sworn oaths of office and dispatches sent from the field regarding the pursuit of defendants. One such telegram came from the renowned African American deputy marshal Bass Reeves who requested a writ of arrest. Northwest Arkansas appears in the collection through letters sent by businessmen in Rogers and Bentonville in 1895 requesting that a U.S. Commissioner take up office in Siloam Springs in order to combat the gambling, violence, drunkenness, and liquor smuggling taking place in the small settlement on the border between Arkansas and the Indian Territory.

Researchers can glean the names of the marshals along with the suspects they pursued, including legendary outlaws who operated in Indian Territory such as Ned Christie, who allegedly murdered deputy marshal Daniel Maples. Henry Starr and the notorious Starr Gang appear in the records related to the murder of another deputy marshal. The digitized records also include tallies of the results of cases deliberated by the Western District Court. This data will be useful for scholars studying the struggle between crime and justice in the Indian Territory and the challenges faced by the busy court of the "Hanging Judge."


For Further Reference

Project and Technical Notes

The University Libraries project team was composed of Lori Birrell, Head of Special Collections; Joshua Youngblood, Subject Specialist; Forrest Walker Roth, Project Curator; Deborah E. Kulczak, Head of Technical Services and Database Maintenance; Alyssa Willis, Cataloging Librarian, and Martha Anderson, Head of the Digital Services Unit. 

The Digital Services Unit personnel, including the Digital Services Unit Coordinator, Lee A. Holt, Samuel Collins, Dexter Fairweather, Laine McGinty, Wendy McLean, Cassidy McManus, Hannah Mills, Alejandra Rubio, Hanna Williams, and Shelby Osbourn, digitized the images. The DSU team created the initial scans by utilizing the Atiz Book Drive Mark 2 scanner and the SMA Versascan 3650 scanner. The image optimization was performed using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Acrobat; CONTENTdm digital asset management software from OCLC was used to create metadata, implementing Dublin Core standards, Library of Congress Name Authorities, the Art and Architectural Thesaurus, and the University of Arkansas Libraries CONTENTdm Cookbook. Optical character recognition (OCR) was added using ABBYY FineReader; transcripts were created and encoded using Notepad++.

Dylan Hurd and Beth Juhl from Web Services contributed to the webpage design. The digital exhibit was completed December 4, 2018.

Project Citation

"Deputy Marshal Addison Beck and Judge Parker's Court." Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, November 2018. http://digitalcollections.uark.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p17212coll5