Brand-new U.S. Marshals Museum opens in Fort Smith

Brand-new U.S. Marshals Museum opens in Fort Smith

“I have a quote I love and always go back to,” says Leslie Higgins, chief programs officer for the brand-new U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith. “’Ultimately, a museum’s success will not be measured by the number of its visitors, but by the quality of their learning experiences.’

“Education has been an important part of this project since its inception, and it will continue to be a driving force behind almost everything we do.”

The museum, 16 years in the making, opened its doors last weekend at 789 Riverfront Drive, along the Arkansas River. Inside its 18,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space, visitors can learn “the history of the U.S. Marshals from their creation in 1789 to the present,” Higgins says, told by way of both traditional exhibits and interactive experiences in five themed galleries.

“I usually tell kids that marshals are our national police force, like we have local, county, and state law enforcement,” Higgins says. “They will learn about how the marshals have helped our country grow and change through our history. The exhibit galleries contain everything from a timeline to interactive stations like our ‘magic book,’ trivia card game, and training interactive where you get to chase a fugitive!”


Higgins, a native Arkansan, came to Fort Smith in 2011 from Washington, D.C., to become to the first educator for the U.S. Marshals Museum. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education and a Master of Arts in History.

“My passion for history really started in high school with a family tree project, and just continued to grow,” she says. “I considered a couple of other career paths in college, but finally accepted a history degree is what I really wanted.

“I was so excited when I was offered a job at the USMM,” she enthuses. “It’s rare to get to work on a project like this from the ground up in the museum field, so it was an opportunity I could not pass up. It is the perfect combination of my two passions — history itself and sharing it with others, helping people to understand what we can learn from our past.

“And I have fallen more in love with this project over the years as I have continued to meet the men and women of the U.S. Marshals Service — current, former, and retired. It is an honor and a privilege to get to tell their story.”


So imagine you just pulled up to the USMM with a carload of kids. The first thing parents should know is “we have a cafe with items like hotdogs, popcorn and drinks, that you can enjoy with the best view in town — looking out over the Arkansas River,” Higgins says. “We do have outdoors areas that would be great for picnics, but for now you’ll need to bring a picnic blanket. There are benches throughout the atrium. We also have water fountains and water bottle filling stations.”

Then visitors enter the five galleries, described here by Higgins:

To Be A Marshal — In the introductory gallery, guests will learn about who the marshals are and get a basic idea of the kinds of work they do through a timeline beginning with their creation in 1789 through 2020, when they were escorting the first covid vaccines that were shipped out.

Frontier Marshals — This gallery covers the time period most people think of when they think of the marshals, Higgins says. “The times of Judge Parker and ‘True Grit,’ but beyond that as well. We start with the original 13 marshals appointed by George Washington, covered in our ‘magic book,’ and move forward through the early 20th century and the closing of the frontier. In this gallery, guests can learn about the ‘Goingsnake Tragedy’ in our Goingsnake Theatre. They can visit our 19th century marshals’ office, where they try their hand at sending a telegraph message, and visit our saloon, where they can earn chips playing a card table trivia game or listen to the bartender tell stories from the frontier.”

A Changing Nation — The next gallery highlights some of the many different events the marshals have been involved in over their 230-plus year history and includes the courtroom interactive, Marshals Challenge. Here, through three scenarios from marshal history, guests are invited to put themselves in the marshals’ shoes.

Modern Marshals — The final gallery covers the last 50 years or so of marshal history and includes the training interactive, giving guests the opportunity to get a glimpse of what it’s like to chase down a fugitive, and the types of training marshals receive when they join the Service. “Kids love this,” Higgins says.

Campfire: Stories Under the Stars — In arguably the most innovative gallery, visitors “get to sit in on the conversation of four marshals, representing the four centuries of marshal history, as they tell stories to each other about their time in the service,” Higgins says.

“Storytelling is the heart of this museum, and what is one of the best places to tell stories — around the campfire!”


Higgins says expect young visitors to be entertained for about an hour at the USMM, adults for a couple of hours.

“We have a variety of interactives kids will enjoy, and possibly want to repeat several times,” she says. “Later this fall, we will be opening our temporary gallery, so there will be more to see. I also encourage people to take a walk around the outside of the building. We have our statue, ‘The Lighthorseman,’ to check out — a gift from the Five Tribes — and our sidewalks connect to the Riverfront Trail, which is a beautiful walk.

“We will also offer our Junior Marshal program for children visiting with their families. Children will receive a guide to fill out as they go through the galleries, with an oath of office to sign on the back. They can bring their completed and signed guide to the front desk to receive their official Junior Marshal Badge pin!”

Don’t forget to stop at the museum store on the way out, she adds.

“Our store has a variety of items children will love. Some of my personal favorite books are ‘The U.S. Constitution’ and ‘The Bill of Rights’ by Norman Pearl. And my favorite toy has to be our stuffed animals in their USMM shirts or bandanas!”

The museum will also offer programming like day camps and a variety of programs for school groups.

“We have so many plans,” Higgins says. “My dream/goal is that we will continue to offer quality learning experiences for people of all ages, stages, and backgrounds, in an environment where they feel welcome and comfortable.”


U.S. Marshals Museum

WHEN — 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

WHERE — 789 Riverfront Drive in Fort Smith

COST — $8-$13; free for younger than 6


Categories: Galleries