In the Line of Duty
United States Marshal Robert Forsyth may have expected trouble. He took two of his deputies with him to Mrs. Dixon's house in Augusta, Georgia on January 11, 1794, because the Allen brothers, Beverly and William, had reportedly been seen there.
The forty-year-old Forsyth, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, knew how to take care of himself, but in the four years he had served the new federal government as the first marshal in the District of Georgia he had experienced little, if any, difficulty or resistance.
Most of his work had consisted of routine administrative duties in support of the federal court. His search for the Allen brothers was no different. The Marshal merely wanted to serve them with some court papers in a civil suit. Nonetheless, Forsyth took the precaution, for whatever reason, of taking two of his deputies with him.
"These two episodes, separated in time across the expanse of two centuries, illustrate the violent side to the history of U.S. Marshals and their Deputies."
When the three officers entered Mrs. Dixon's house, they found the Allens talking with friends. Wishing to spare the brothers embarrassment, Forsyth asked to speak to them privately outside. Instead of following the marshal, however, the brothers ran up to the second floor and darted into the nearest room, bolting the door behind them. While they waited for Forsyth and his Deputies to come after them, Beverly Allen loaded, primed, and cocked his pistol.
Forsyth and his Deputies went after the brothers. Hearing their approach. Beverly Allen aimed his pistol toward the door and squeezed the trigger. Before the sound of the gunshot could echo off the walls, the ball splintered through the wooden door and struck Forsyth fair in the head. He was dead before his body hit the floor, the first of 400 or more Marshals killed performing their duties.
Although the two Deputies promptly arrested the Allens, the brothers later escaped from the local sheriff and were never brought to trial.
A hundred and ninety years later, on February 13, 1983, Marshal Kenneth Muir and his Deputies set up a roadblock on the outskirts of Medina, North Dakota. They had a warrant for the arrest of Gordon Kahl, a Federal fugitive wanted for refusal to pay his taxes. As the leader of the violence-prone Posse Commutates group, Kahl, in effect, declared a private war on the United States government.
Coming down the highway. Kahl and his carload of supporters slowed before Muir's roadblock. Barely had the car stopped before Kahl and his companions opened fire with automatic weapons. The gun battle raged only a few minutes before Kahl made his escape, leaving Marshal Muir and Deputy Robert Cheshire dead on the North Dakota road.
Four months later, Kahl himself was killed in another shootout with Marshals, FBI agents, and local police in Arkansas.
These two episodes separated in time across the expanse of two centuries, illustrate the violent side to the history of U.S. Marshals and their Deputies. For more than a century after the establishment of the federal government in 1780, U.S. Marshals provided the only nationwide civilian police power available to the president, Congress, and the courts.
See also the investigation of Robert Forsyth's death.