My Books!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hello, readers. Today's guest blogger is Kathy Otten who's going to talk to us about the US Marshalls in history. Kathy's new book Lost Hearts which is coming out tomorrow at is about a marshall. Kathy, thanks for coming.

You're welcome, Elaine. Thanks for inviting me. In my new historical western novel, Lost Hearts, my hero, Richard Bennick is a U.S. Deputy Marshal for the famous “Hanging Judge,” Isaac Parker. In 1875 when Parker was appointed to the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas, the system was corrupt and Indian Territory overrun with more horse thieves, whiskey peddlers and robbers per square mile than any other place in the United States.

Immediately Parker hired 200 deputies then he reopened investigations, issued arrest warrants for the most notorious criminals, and told his deputies, “Bring them in alive—or dead!”

Through 74,000 square miles of Indian Territory, Parker’s deputies fanned out on the greatest manhunt in history.

They rode in teams of four or five. Each team brought with it extra mules and horses, a prison wagon and a wagon equipped to serve as office, arsenal, and kitchen. The driver of the prison wagon sat on a high spring seat, unarmed to prevent prisoners in the wagon from getting any ideas. Guards were picked up as needed along the way. They rode on horseback; their only duty was to make sure the prisoners did not escape. Sometimes the wagons carried a cook. If he rode in the wagon, he was unarmed. At night he helped serve as camp guard.

While some teams were sent out on special missions most were “…on the scout,” searching for stills, looking for stolen horses, and investigating suspicious people in rough prairie towns. When people saw a “tumbleweed wagon” they drew close to see who the deputies had captured. Sometime the deputies exchanged news, or asked about certain men.

These criminals both hated and feared the deputies. From mountain peaks or knolls, evolved a system of flashing signals and beacon lights, relayed from one knoll to another, warning fugitives miles away of approaching deputies.

At that time the maximum punishment for resisting arrest was only a year in jail. Since the odds of beating the deputy were much higher than beating Judge Parker, a deputy could expect a shoot-out when he served a warrant. If he was lucky he survived with only powder burns or a flesh wound. Neither the deputy’s guard nor cook was under any obligation to help in the capture of criminals, and most didn’t.

Deputies never shot to kill. Every man brought back for trial was worth an arrest fee of $2.00 and deputies received nothing for corpses.

If an outlaw was killed by a deputy marshal, the incident was thoroughly investigated. Judge Parker did not tolerate cold-blooded by outlaw or lawman and a few deputies did serve time in prison for unjust killings.

Because criminals easily changed their names deputies identified their quarry from the descriptions included on the warrant. With each arrest the deputy took possession of the prisoner’s property and issued a receipt. The property was later turned over to the jailer at Fort Smith. The prosecution also needed evidence to convict, and deputies were expected to collect it.

The guards would hold several prisoners in camp, until the deputy served all his warrants and made his arrests. Then he still had transport his prisoners to Fort Smith over distances of 200-300 miles in weather ranging from stifling heat to bitter cold. They traveled by wagon and horseback. Wounded prisoners were permitted to ride in the wagon chained to the side boards; the healthy ones were marched alongside at the point of a gun. With no bridges across the streams and no paths or roads, their progress was slow.

On a routine tour of duty a 4-5 man team averaged a haul of perhaps 20 prisoners. The deputy had to live with these men, often for months, camping under the stars with his Winchester across his knees, watching his prisoners every move while trying to read their thoughts. The sheer number of prisoners could overwhelm the best deputy in an instant if he was careless. Often a whiskey peddler was more dangerous than a murderer. Frequently the deputies were ambushed by criminal gangs which sometimes resulted in the death of the officer and the escape of the prisoners.

In camp the prisoners wore leg irons. Each prison wagon was equipped with a long, heavy chain. At night the prisoners were shackled in pairs, and the shackles passed through a ring in the chain. One end was fastened to a tree, securing the prisoners like fish on a line. If there were no trees, the chain was locked around the rear axle of the wagon.

After he was captured, the first thing a prisoner wanted to do was gamble, but no guard or cook was allowed to gamble with the prisoners for fear they would lose their guns. Instead, prisoners were put to work. They peeled potatoes, chopped firewood and washed the tin ware. If they grumbled they didn’t eat.

To expedite trials in Fort Smith, deputies picked up witnesses at the scene who were often reluctant to make the long trip and even if they came along willingly it wasn’t easy to keep them safe if a gun fight erupted.

When the deputies reached Fort Smith, huge crowds gathered at the docks to gawk as the wagons were ferried across the river then rolled down Garrison Avenue as the deputies and their prisoners entered the gates of the abandoned fort.

The wagons stopped before a two story brick barracks building that served as a court room, jury room, and offices for clerks, attorneys and the United States Marshal. The basement, served as a jail, where guards took over as the new prisoners were marched inside and the main gate close.

But arresting criminals was only part of a deputy’s work. He had to be present throughout the long court trial. Witnesses often failed to report and a deputy had to be ready at a moment’s notice to ride out and bring them in.

If he summoned one without subpoena he was held responsible for the fees. He must have seen the witness by whom he expected to sustain the charge before he was allowed the writ.

This rule was strictly observed by Judge Parker as protection to the citizens from unnecessary arrest, protection to the Government against useless expense, and protection to the deputy marshals whose accounts were disallowed if the prosecution was shown to have been frivolous.

While none of his deputies were angels, Judge Parker had nothing but the highest respect for these men, particularly the 65 men who gave their lives during his term at Fort Smith. “Without these men,” Parker said time and time again, “I could not hold court a single day.”


Trapped in a life of violence and abuse, Johnny Bodine disguises her femininity and dreams of a family who loves her.

Haunted by flashbacks he can't remember, from a war he wants desperately to
forget, U.S. Deputy Marshal Richard Bennick arrives in Indian Territory with warrants for a notorious outlaw and his feisty, irreverent son, Johnny.

As they journey through the dangerous Choctaw Nation, Richard and Johnny must learn to trust each other in order to survive, forming a unique bond of love between outlaw and lawman that can only be broken by Richard's oath to uphold the law, and by the justice of the hangman's noose.


Steady rain woke everyone well before sunrise. Rain ponchos of India rubber were thrown on and plates of cold beans passed around for breakfast.

Miserable without rain gear of her own, Johnny stood at the end of the chuck wagon, beneath an open-sided, water proofed canvas tent, washing the breakfast dishes while the cook packed up the camp.

The tension that had twisted her stomach muscles into a knot when the one-armed deputy rode out last night, eased when she saw him ride up alongside the wagon. Beyond the circle of lantern light, he was nothing more than a black silhouette against a backdrop of dark gray sky. He dismounted, leaving his horse ground tied, then grabbed one of the lanterns hanging from a pole and strode past her on his way to the front of the wagon. It tipped to the left when he climbed inside.

A moment later, the large, burly man who’d been hired to drive the prison wagon, brushed by. “Don’t I get a gun?” he asked from outside the wagon.

“I thought you drove a prison wagon before,” the deputy snapped as his silhouette bent and shifted behind the canvas.
“Sure, I rode a few posses an’ such, but I always had me a weapon.”
There was a slam, hollow and solid, like the lid on a wooden box. The wagon lurched again. The deputy swung his legs over the seat and jumped to the ground.

“The driver for the prison wagon never carries. It’s too dangerous.”
The glow from the lanterns reflected off his black poncho and rain dripped from the brim of his dark hat. The low light deepened the circles which underscored his red rimmed eyes. She doubted the man’s surly mood would improve during the day.

“Come on, Deputy, can’t I even have me a little pig sticker tucked in my boot for comfort?”

“No. You were told no weapons. That’s the rule.”

“Can’t ya bend the rules? That Bodine’s a dangerous man.”

“Look, Hobbs, is it? I don’t bend rules for anyone. Ever. And because Bodine is dangerous is precisely the reason you are not to carry a weapon.”

“I guarantee the only way Bodine will get it is to kill me first.”

“Then he’ll still have it won’t he?”


“No weapons. You don’t like it, get your gear and get the hell out of here.” The deputy swung around and slammed into Johnny. “What do you want?” His broad hand clamped onto her shoulder, then he spun her around, and shoved her toward the back of the prison wagon where Brady had the other prisoners lined up.

Afraid of what might happen if she were trapped with her father and his men all day, Johnny veered off toward the horses and her big paint, Jack.

“Hold it!” Brady yelled. “Where are you going?”

She lifted her manacled hands and pointed toward the horses. The wet sleeves of her duster stuck to the tops of her hands. She’d rather be soaking wet all day than ride one minute in that dry wagon. “To fetch Jack.”

“Sorry kid, everybody’s in the wagon today.”
She stiffened. “I done tolt ya, I ain’t no outlaw.” She hoped her father hadn’t discerned the trace of panic in her voice.

The one-armed deputy moved up and stepped between them. “It doesn’t matter what you claim, kid. We still have a warrant for your arrest.”

Looking beyond the deputy’s shoulder, she saw Brady raise the barrel of his rifle. Her heart pounded and her mouth went dry.


Kathy Otten said...

Hi Elaine,
Thanks for having me on your blog today. Sorry, I forgot to put the 'P' in the link I posted this morning.

Todd said...

Thanks Kathy for sharing and teaching.

I look forward to getting your book and finding out what happens to the disguised Johnny.


Kathy Otten said...

Thanks Todd,

Nice to have guys stop by once in a while. Good luck with your writing projects.

Kathy Otten said...

I stopped to post this link on Facebook and when I did a photo of a German Shepherd beside a carved pumpkin popped up. Is that your dog? Cause he look like mine and if you go on my facebook page you will see the two dogs together.

Elaine Cantrell said...


I love posts like yours. I've done quite a few of them. Uh, not about the marshals, though. I did some Civil War Stuff, a section on the Victorians, and recently some posts on the 1940's.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Elaine,
I love the Civil War stuff. And I've read many of your blogs. History fascinates me and inspires me to write about those people who might have been.

Bobbi Carducci said...

I look forward to reading your book. I love the characters already.

Elaine Cantrell said...


The dog isn't mine, but isn't the pumpkin cute? A friend of mine sent me the pictures.

Kathy Otten said...

Thanks Bobbi. I hope you like it.

Kathy Otten said...

Yes, the pumkin is great. Whoever carved it is fantastically talented.

Unknown said...

KATHY--I'd never heard of the biggest man-hunt in history. U.S. Marshals have begun to fascinate me, and now I pay attention when I see or hear of a book with one as the hero.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this group and all the trappings they move with to carry out such a feat.
Very good-Celia

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Celia,
When Parker was appointed as Federal Court judge in 1875, he was coming in after years of coruption. Indian Territory was overrun with all kinds of scum and the Indian Police couldn't do anything about it. Parker opened old cases, issued warrants and sent out his deputies. For some reason Parker gained notoriaty as the Hanging Judge, but except for a few like deputies like Heck Thomas, Bill Tilghman and Bass Reeves the difficult job his deputies did went unnoticed. The Texas Rangers and the Canadian Mounties became famous instead.

Paty Jager said...

Good information and a wonderful story of two lost souls finding each other!

Anonymous said...

Love the excerpt and the research is fascinating. Great work!
Liz Arnold

Linda LaRoque said...

Hi Elaine and Kathy,
Wonderful info about the marshalls and I enjoyed your excerpt.
Good luck with sales!

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Paty,
Thanks for stopping by and for all your support.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Liz and Linda,
Thanks for stopping by and for your good wishes.