By Ray Shelly
Looking out my window, I started thinking about all the violence surrounding our police officers lately. That has to take a toll on the families of each officer who wears a badge.
I can only wonder what goes through the mind of the loved ones as they kiss the officer goodbye. I mused for a moment about my own experience, giving her a goodbye kiss .as she is hoping for my safe return hoping.
Prayers for a loved one’s safe return go back to the creation of policing, which was established in Boston, April 1631. It was called “The Watch” and consisted of six watchmen, one constable, and several volunteers who patrolled at night.
On September 24, 1789, President George Washington signed into law the Judiciary Act, which established the federal court system. Two days later, Washington appointed 13 U.S. Marshals, one for each young colony, to carry out the court’s orders. Justice . be enforced. And, of course, many didn’t like justice. It didn’t suit their needs, creating a further need for prayers for a safe return.
Let’s fast forward from 1789 to 1883 and the U.S. Deputy Marshals working out of the Federal Court of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Their area of responsibility included Western AR, and Indian Territory, encompassing 74,000 sq. miles. When a Deputy kisses his wife goodbye, he may be gone for a week, a month, or possibly longer. I cannot fathom the aching heart the wife and children endured, during the absence of their husband/father, for that period.
One example of what I’m talking about is U.S. Deputy Marshal. Addison Beck. He was a Deputy for three years and lived with his wife and two children in Muskogee, Indian Territory (currently Oklahoma). I have copies of an original letter written to his wife, where he tells her this trip for the Marshal’s service will be his last. He has an opportunity to fill an opening at the Federal Jail. Also, he told her he’d purchased a life insurance policy for her and the children, costing $1.25. He was sure longing to give her as much peace of mind as possible.
Unfortunately, Deputy Beck wouldn’t make it home from his last trip. After several weeks of serving warrants, three Deputies (Beck, Lewis Merritt, and William Moody) were near Webbers Falls, Indian Territory, on their way back to Fort Smith with prisoners in tow. The Deputies were informed that Johnson Jack, a wanted fugitive, worked in a cornfield not far from Deputy Beck’s camp.
Deputies Beck and Merritt decided they would make the arrest while Moody stayed in camp with the prisoners.
As Beck and Merritt found and approached Johnson Jack, they noticed he was with another fellow named John Bark. Johnson must have known why the Deputies were there. He pulled his pistol and fired twice, killing Beck instantly. Merritt returned fire, hitting Jack in the chest. At the same time, John Bark fired two rounds at Merritt, who hit the ground and died. Jack and Bark took off as the two Deputies lay mortally wounded.
Notified of the shooting, Deputy Moody went to the cornfield, retrieved the bodies, and brought them back to Fort Smith.
A posse of eleven men was put together and left Fort Smith in pursuit of the killers. Receiving information that John Bark’s brother was tending the wounded Johnson Jack, they surrounded the Bark cabin and forced a surrender.
Johnson Jack was returned to Fort Smith, where he succumbed to his wounds. Before his death, he confessed to Marshal Boles that he’d killed Deputy Addison Beck. But, he refused to tell where John Bark was hiding. Bark was never arrested for his involvement in the deputy’s murder.
Looking out my window, I think of Addison Beck’s wife and see her merging with the wives of present-day law enforcement.