Marshal Office - 1 step

Old Cowtown Museum Tour

Marshal Office - 1 step

Wichita, Kansas 67203, United States

Created By: Old Cowtown Museum


The Marshal’s Office located in the Business District of Old Cowtown Museum interprets the growing formal law enforcement in Wichita. In 1870 Wichita was a 2nd class city with 2000 inhabitants The newly created city council drafted ordinances and appointed Ike Walker the first marshal on July 25. William Smith succeeded Walker within less than a year but resigned after only 2 days ostensibly to pursue other prospects. Mike Meagher accepted the position and served ably for three years.

Experiences with cattle herds passing by on their way north to Abilene shaped the city ordinances passed in 1870. The opening of the 1872 season saw Wichita, already a trading center and now a rail terminus, poised for ascendancy among Kansas cattle towns. Wichita shaved ninety miles off the trip to Abilene or to Ellsworth, the previous destinations for herds to be shipped to eastern markets.

Becoming a cattle town changed law enforcement. Wichita maintained a five person police force through most of the 1870s. During cattle season Wichita’s police force would temporarily increase through the hiring of “special police”, or citizens authorized to maintain order.

The city needed laws to keep the peace, and yet had to be somewhat selective in enforcement so not to make the cowboys feel unwelcome. Alcohol and firearms were a deadly mix. To assist them, in 1871, the City Council spent $13.50 to purchase 50 brass tags for the sole purpose of checking guns. The Marshal would give the individual a number and lock up his gun; the man would then return the number to the Marshal on his way out of town and retrieve his weapon.

The signs at the river crossing on Douglas Avenue and at Douglas and Emporia posted June 7, 1871 on a 3’ x 4’ board read: Notice – All persons are hereby forbidden the carrying of firearms, or other dangerous weapons within the city limits of Wichita under penalty of fine and imprisonment. By order of Mayor. Signed J. Meagher, “Marshal”.

Prostitution was regulated through a series of regular “fines” that amounted to a licensing function. Brothel owners and individual girls were expected to pay for the privilege of operating in the town and the police could say they were enforcing the laws.

There was not a lot of violent crime and the jail was often used as a drunk tank. The Wichita City Eagle publisher Marshall Murdock complained in the Eagle about the cost of the jail and the lack of occupants.

Without the cattle trade, officers were left to their usual duties: peacekeeping, warrant service, night watches, arrests, fine collection though additional duties could include street repair, dog catching. The top reported complaints in 1876 were pot holes in the street, kids drag racing on Douglas Avenue on Friday night, postal rates going up and service going down. A divorce case drawing a lot of attention in court.

By the end of the 1880s, policemen were wearing uniforms, rather than just a badge and there was a move to disarm them as there was so little need for that level of enforcement.

Wyatt Earp is Wichita’s best known law enforcement officer even though his service can be considered less than glamorous. He served as an “Assistant Marshal” and “Special Policeman”. He worked to keep the peace and collect debts, although he also repaired sidewalks and streets and shot stray dogs.

In January of 1876, He assaulted his boss political rival and was promptly fired. By May of 1876, Earp had left Wichita and was on to Dodge City, Kansas. In 1879, he left Dodge City for Tombstone, Arizona Territory.


Marshal Office Lobby

Brass Tokens exchanged for firearms


This point of interest is part of the tour: Old Cowtown Museum Tour


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