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U.S. Marshal

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In most countries, a marshal is a high-ranking (or the highest-ranking) military officer. A United States Marshal, however, is a federal law enforcement officer, charged with apprehending fugitives from federal law, protecting the federal courts and ensuring the smooth function of the court system.

The United States Marshals Service was the first federal law enforcement agency created in the young U.S.A., in 1789. While its primary duty was to the judicial system, the Service also acted as the local-level representative of federal laws. For example, the Marshals took the census every ten years until 1870.

Marshals have the ability to deputize ordinary citizens (but not military personnel) at need, popularly known as "forming a posse." In films and television, many marshals' deputies are clueless, which will inevitably exasperate the marshal when he finds out. Sturgeon's Law strongly suggests that this happened in Real Life as well.

Since a marshal is directly responsible to the federal government, they're not as likely to be influenced by local politics as The Sheriff or a police chief. That said, many U.S. marshals have also been sheriffs or town marshals before or after their federal service.

Note that the difference between something like the FBI and the US Marshals is that the marshals are expected to go off into the wilderness, usually alone, take into custody and bring back to justice whoever they are sent after. It pretty much requires that you be a total badass. So while an FBI agent might or might not be a badass, a US Marshal always is - even if he looks like a nerd. Big duties assigned to the Marshals Service today include Witness Protection and prisoner transport across state lines; that said, a surprising number of them spend most of their time doing pretty mundane work like doing security at federal courthouses (manning the scanners that sprouted at the courthouse entryways after 9/11) and serving court papers and enforcing judgments on litigants in federal cases (if somebody sues you in federal court, and wins, and you refuse to just cut a check despite having plenty of stuff, it's a US Marshal who will be seizing your car or your house or your prize fancy cat to pay the judgment; if you don't have a lot of stuff but do have a steady income, it'll be the Marshals who arrange the garnishment).note  They are not, however, the Air Marshals assigned to flights to counter hijackings, which is a separate service entirely.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Carrie Stetko from the Whiteout comics and movie. (In Real Life, U.S. Marshals actually do have jurisdiction in Antarctica, although as of 2008, none are permanently stationed there.)
  • Several U.S. Marshals appear in the "Apokolips Road" story arc of Birds of Prey escorting metahuman prisoners. They do pretty well, considering they're way out of their weight class on Apokolips.
  • Wynonna Earp from the comic book of the same title. Wynonna is a descendant of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp, and she's the top special agent for a special unit known within the US Marshals known as The Monster Squad.
  • In The DCU, the 21st century 'Pow-Wow' Smith, descendant of the 19th century lawman of the same name, is a US Marshal.
  • J.D. Hart from Jonah Hex.
  • Comic Books Marshall Bass depicts the romanticized of life of Bass Reeves, the first black man to ever work as a marshal west of the Mississippi.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Marshal Strickland in Back to the Future Part III, who looks almost exactly like Wild Bill Hickok.
  • In Breakheart Pass, Pearce is a deputy U.S. Marshal who more less forces his way aboard the train with his prisoner. Pearce is actually a Dirty Cop, and his prisoner is an undercover Secret Service agent.
  • Vince Larkin in Con Air is one who is depicted as a Badass Bookworm. Larkin's job is to supervise prisoner transfer flights with him clashing with DEA Agent Malloy when the plane is hijacked by the prisoners.
  • One shows up in Django Unchained, in Daughtry. He is a reasonable and conscientious lawman, contrasted with the town sheriff who is in fact a wanted fugitive with a bounty on his head.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser, working on the Witness Protection program.
  • In Forty Guns, the Bonnell brothers are a trio of U.S. Marshals who arrive in Tombstone to serve a federal warrant. When their prisoner is murdered while in their custody, they get drawn into the web of intrigue surrounding the county.
  • Sam Gerard from The Fugitive movie and its sequel U.S. Marshals. He leads an entire team of deputies who are tasked with locating and apprehending fugitives.
  • Clint Eastwood's character in Hang 'Em High.
  • In Iron Man 2 Tony and Happy find an attractive woman standing by his new car. When Tony asks who she is, she replies "Marshal". It's only when she informs Tony he's being Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee that we realize it's not her name.
  • The eponymous hero of Johnny Reno is a U.S. Marshal forced to defend a wanted outlaw from a lynch mob determined to see that he never sees the inside of a courtroom.
  • In Last Train from Gun Hill, U.S. Marshal Matt Morgan tries to bring the son of an old friend, an autocratic Cattle Baron, to justice for his role in the rape and murder of the Morgan's Native American wife.
  • Outland. The protagonist played by Sean Connery is a Federal Marshalnote , though his character resembles more The Sheriff in this Space Western inspired by High Noon.
  • Karen Sisco from Out of Sight. She gets her man, in more ways than one.
  • Pacific Rim: The use of the word "Marshal" for the higher-ups in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps (and the use of the word "Ranger" for the Jaeger pilots) was done both to evoke Westerns and because director Guillermo del Toro is a pacifist who wanted to avoid giving the organization a militarized vibe.
  • Stockburn of the Clint Eastwood Western film Pale Rider is a corrupt, villainous variant.
  • In Primal, a team of U.S. Marshals are sent to escort Richard Loffler back to the U.S. to stand trial. None of them survive the assignment.
  • Shotgun (1955) opens with outlaw Ben Thompson arriving in town to kill the two men responsible for sending him to prison: US Marshal Mark Fletcher and his deputy Clay Hardin. He succeeds in murdering Fletcher, but Hardin survives and immediately rides out after Thompson and his gang, intent on bringing them to justice.
  • McCarty in Silver Lode claims to be one of these, and has the papers to back it up. He's lying, and the papers are forged. He uses his fake credentials to arrest Ballard, who killed his brother (in self-defence) two years previously.
  • Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, which is Truth in Television. He was supposed to serve warrants for the cowboys who killed his brother Morgan, but it proved to be legal cover for his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Artemus Gordon in Wild Wild West. And, as it turns out, Coleman the train engineer.
  • Harry Pfaffer in Burn After Reading is a US Marshall.

  • In the later Anita Blake novels Anita, Edward (or rather his legal identity, Ted Forrester) and other licensed vampire slayers are granted federal marshal status, mainly to take care of the legal hassles of a slayer chasing a vamp over state lines. Actually one of her more plausible upgrades.
  • Morgan Kane, protagonist of the most commercially successful Norwegian book series to date, is a US marshal for most of his career.
  • Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule in Shutter Island (and its film adaptation). Or is it?
  • Elmore Leonard has written several prominent Marshal characters, many of whom have appeared in other media, including Raylan Givens, Karen Sisco and her father Marshall (retired, and yes, he was "Marshal Marshall Sisco.")
  • Rooster Cogburn from True Grit and its two adaptations, "the meanest one, double-tough, knowing no fear".
  • Deputy Marshal Custis "Longarm" Long, of the long-running Longarm paperback series. The Marshal himself in the stories is William Vail, and sometimes lends a hand.
  • In the Waco series by J.T. Edson, Waco - having held a variety of law enforcement positions - ends his career as a U.S. Marshal.
    • Deputy U.S. Marshal Solomon Wisdom 'Solly' Cole appears a supporting character in several of Edson's novels.
  • In Portlandtown, The Marshal was one most of his life, and people still respectfully address him as such.
  • In River of Teeth, Gran Carter is a U.S. marshal, but seems to be rather unimportant to the events other than introducing information about Adelia Reyes, whom he is pursuing for murder. Turns out he is behind requesting from the federal agent that Adelia be added to the crew in order to bring her to the Harriet and into easy reach of Carter, since she's managed to slip his pursuit for years now.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke.
  • Frank Ragan of The Dakotas is a US Marshal. He has three deputies.
  • Jack Carter was a US Marshal before he became Sheriff of Eureka.
  • The Red Shirt traveling with Kate in Lost, Marshal Edward Mars as portrayed by Fredric Lehne.
  • Mary Shannon and Marshall Mann of In Plain Sight.
  • First Sam Cain and then Teaspoon Hunter of The Young Riders. They had a habit of deputizing the entire cast, which meant they could have a lot more action plots than if the express riders had stuck to delivering the mail.
  • Raylan Givens of Justified. He basically thinks he's a modern-day Wyatt Earp and actually pulls it off very well.
  • A&E has Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force a documentary show about the Joint Fugitive Task Force of New York/New Jersey.
  • The title character of Karen Sisco and her father Marshall, a retired Marshal.
  • Breakout Kings
  • The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.: Brisco County, Sr. was a US Marshal.
  • Chase (NBC)
  • In Time Trax, Lambert's cover in present day was as a U.S. Marshal, as it is the role of that office to apprehend fugitives.
  • The Pretender's Jared occasionally used a cover identity of "Jared Earp, U.S. Marshal".
  • Eagleheart
  • One episode of Dangerous Roads showed US Marshals who drove a prisoner-transport shuttle bus.
  • The US Marshals are seen in Person of Interest, guarding HR's boss prior to his trial. Reese goes through them like a knife through butter. Even their SWAT Team.
  • In Cimarron Strip, Jim Crown is a U.S. Marshal assigned to bring order to ungoverned, virtually lawless territory known as the Cimarron Strip: the last free homestead land in the U.S. To make matters more complicated, the local sheriff has resigned, making him the only law in the territory.
  • In Black Saddle, Gib Scott is a Deputy US Marshal who comprises the only law enforcement in that region of New Mexico. This sometimes makes him allies with, and sometimes puts him at odds with, Clay Calhurn, the town's only lawyer.
  • In Hec Ramsey, Hec was a legendary Deputy US Marshal who used to ride for Hanging Judge Isaac Parker before resigning to accept the position of deputy police chief of New Prospect.
  • In Wynonna Earp, the title character is deputised into the US Marshal "Black Badge" division to help them deal with the Revenants, since she's the Earp heir, the only person capable of killing them.
    • The episode "Everybody Knows" features the ghost of Bass Reeves, the first black US Marshal.
  • The Marshal, which ran for a little over a season in 1995, starred Jeff Fahey as Winston MacBride, a US Marshal whose job involves think-on-your-feet detective work.
  • Yancy Derringer: In "Ticket to Natchez", Yancy helps US Marshal Duke Winslow escort an army payroll that is to be taken to Natchez, Mississippi, on Yancy's riverboat, the Sultana. The real Duke Winslow is dead and the Marshal is an imposter planning to steal the payroll.
  • Lawmen: Bass Reeves recounts the life and career of Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi. Several other Deputy US Marshals are also supporting characters.


  • Matt Dillon of Dodge City in Gunsmoke — who described himself in the radio episodes as "the first man they look for, and the last they wanna meet. It's a chancy job, and it makes a man watchful - and a little lonely."
  • James Whipple of Lightning Jim and his deputy marshal Whitey Larsson.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech has the Colonial Marshals, which are based on the US Marshal system: independent lawmen answerable to the New Colony Region's federal government, usually serving as a mixture of pirate hunter and wandering judge, as they were required to memorize the laws they upheld and also empowered to make binding rulings. They also had to be qualified Mechwarriors, in order to be assigned one of the eponymous Marshal Battlemechs for the purposes of kicking around pirates and ensuring people respected the Marshal's authority.
  • Blue Planet: The GEO Marshals on Poseidon act similarly to the US Marshals. They are the leaders of GEO law enforcement, and each one of them is a certified badass.
  • U.S. Marshal is an option for player characters (detailed in the Law Dogs source book) in Deadlands.
  • In Transhuman Space, because the U.S. colony on Mars is spread thin, it has resurrected the idea of the deputised marshal providing a degree of law in the wilderness. The Personnel Files supplement includes a team of three such deputies as pregenerated characters.

    Video Games 
  • Marshal Johnson in Red Dead Redemption. His actual role in the plot is that of The Sheriff of Armadillo, and he doesn't act much like a real U.S. Marshal would. At one point he even says that he can't do anything about early game Big Bad Williamson because he commits his crimes in the next county over. This is despite real Marshals having jurisdiction over the entire state or territory they're deployed in. Presumably the game designers confused him with the "town marshal" who only has jurisdiction in one locality.
  • Alien: Isolation: The "Colonial Marshals" in charge of law-enforcement on Sevastopol Station appear to be an offshoot of the Trope Namer, suggesting that at least someone in Congress realizes that there are certain things Weyland-Yutani and their competitors should not be entrusted with.

    Visual Novels 

    Western Animation 
  • Even though it is a Space Western, this is pretty much the Galaxy Rangers' job description.
  • Bravestarr is a Galactic Marshal (which is practically the same thing) assigned to the town of Fort Kerium on the planet of New Texas.

    Real Life 
  • Frederick Douglass. Yes, that Frederick Douglass.
  • Dallas Stoudenmire (1845-1882), successful City Marshal who tamed and controlled the remote, wild and violent town of El Paso, Texas; became U.S. Marshal serving West Texas and New Mexico Territory just before his death.
  • Virgil and Wyatt Earp, Deputy Marshals for the Arizona Territory (Virgil first, Wyatt after his brother's death.) Virgil was also the town marshal for Tombstone.
  • James "Wild Bill" Hickok, Deputy Marshal of Fort Riley, Kansas.
  • Bat Masterson, later in life, was appointed a Deputy Marshal for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan, the Bronx, and the lower Hudson Valley) by Theodore Roosevelt, to give him a relatively peaceful post where he'd still be a lawman.
  • Bass Reeves, Deputy US Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas. Credited with over 3,000 arrests, Reeves is often considered one of the greatest Marshals to ever serve.


Video Example(s):


Marshal Strickland

Marshal Strickland forces Buford Tannen to hand over his firearms.

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