If you happen to find yourself researching the family history of a man employed in law enforcement in the small towns of nineteenth century America, you may find a wealth of mentions in local newspapers. All the better if those newspaper excerpts can be gleaned from a publicly accessible source such as the Library of Congress' Chronicling America project.
In our case, we've been perusing Dakota area newspapers from 1881 through 1904, the years our man Marshall Jackson had been living and working in Pembina County. The date range was gleaned from census records, both in the United States and in Canada, where "Marsh" moved, after his twenty-plus year stay in what had just become the state of North Dakota.
The 1900 U.S. census had indicated Marshall Jackson was serving as constable, but assertions in the Winnipeg newspaper, on the event of his death, had pegged him as a former sheriff in North Dakota. All I could find, though, was a series of articles in The Pioneer Express detailing his candidacy—and subsequent loss—for sheriff in Pembina County.
Still, there were ample entries in the local paper giving every indication that he was active in local law enforcement. Take, for instance, this entry on September 19, 1902:
Marshall Jackson, of Neche, was notified to look out for Frank Forbes, an escaped insane patient of the Jamestown hospital, who was committed from Hyde Park some time since.
Marsh's name was peppered liberally among the usual small town cop stories. In one instance reported on June 15, 1900, a local farmer was approached about purchasing some cows from two men who had just come over the county line. After the deal was struck, the purchaser discovered his bargain of "a couple of cheap beeves" was really the property of a neighboring farmer, who identified them as such.
Upon that discovery, the man, now out his money and having returned the stolen property,
immediately telegraphed Marsh Jackson, county constable, of the trouble. In the evening, Mr. Jackson arrived and it only took him a short time to secure a clew to the direction taken by the thieves....
Cattle thievery wasn't the only crime to make local headlines in Pembina County. On October 24, 1902, a store in Neche was broken into and the cash register stolen. A series of other stores in town were also hit that same night. However,
One of the suspects was arrested by Marshal Jackson near Altona the next day and now occupies quarters in the village jail pending examination.
Even the more pleasant aspects of a police officer's duties were covered in the local paper. The "international picnic" of the "A.O.U.W. of Manitoba and North Dakota"—held to be "one of the most successful"—included among its accolades on July 6, 1900, a nod to our man:
Marshal Jackson performed his duty, and the peace of the day was not marred in the least.
This January 27, 1899, report may have been another example encompassing all in a day's work for local law enforcement.
Marshal Jackson of Neche brought over a man named Robert J. Embery to the county jail, in default of bail, under charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. Embury was in a scrap with another man and Deputy Marshal Neil McKinnon attempted his arrest when Embury assaulted him with a leaden billy.
Wait! Deputy Marshal?
If some of these news reports—alternately featuring spelling as Marshall or Marshal—offended the sensibilities of your editorial eye, you are not alone in being irked by this irregularity. Though we could have excused it—just as the swapping of "Embery" and "Embury" in the above news story—to poor copy editing, it seems there was something more at play here.
Like this example. Remember the stolen cash register reported on October 24, 1902? Here's another detail:
Marshal Jackson, of Neche, on Tuesday brought over the two burglars who went through LaMoure & Co.'s store. They are pretty tough-looking characters. One of them became a little belligerent, which resulted in a black eye for him and a broken finger for the marshal.
Oh oh. Could this have been Marshal Marshall? But I thought he was constable. He was, after all, collecting fees for his services as constable.
So far, in sketches of the big picture of local law enforcement, I had run across mentions of the office of sheriff and that of constable. I hadn't picked up on the possibility that there was also a position there called marshal. It was time to consider whether Marsh was the marshal, or whether someone else was.
It didn't take long, in Chronicling America's easy to navigate newspaper resource, to find a "clew." There, in the May 10, 1895, edition of The Pioneer Express, was a whiff of local politics to waft in our direction:
On Saturday night a caucus was called to put in nomination officers for the ensuing year. It needed not a very intelligent man to see which way the wind blew. The fight was on the clerkship and marshal.
So there was a position of marshal out in this pioneer region. The question now became: who was the marshal? Marshall? Or some other Jackson?
In that very 1895 column discussing the machinations of local politics, we find our answer. The "hottest fight for years" resulted in "a strong ticket elected" which included, for marshal, a man identified by the name of C. Jackson.
Whether Mr. C. Jackson retained his position after that year's election, I can't tell. But further inquiry led to some details which either will serve to confuse or clarify whether Marshall Jackson was ever known as marshal in these parts. It seems—at least on November 2, 1900, the eve of another election—that perhaps the editorial staff of The Pioneer Express had finally made peace with their Ls:
Marshall Jackson of Neche has made an enviable record as a peace officer while acting as constable and marshal of Neche village. He is a teetotaler, does not drink or smoke, and is one of the most active men we know of. He will make a good record as sheriff.
It seems the predictive power of their editorial staff is exceeded only by their editorial prowess in such political matters.