Ask the Marshall

What were the pay scales for Old West lawmen?

What were the pay scales for Old West lawmen?

Ted R. Holland
Cornelius, North Carolina

“Each marshal received a base annual salary of $200 through much of the 19th century,” historian Larry Ball tells me. Yet he could earn up to $4,000 annually, by earning a percentage of fees for serving subpoenas, warrants and handling other court matters. “However,” Ball adds, “he had to share such fees with his deputies.”

Those fees included “serving papers, $2; arrests, $4; mileage, 5¢ per mile. These amounts were gradually elevated,” says Texas historian Bill O’Neal.

The income of a local sheriff came primarily from collecting taxes. This could be lucrative in areas where railroads and mines were located.

A Tombstone town deputy marshal earned $15 to $25 a week, Ball says. Virgil Earp was hired as town marshal in 1881 at $150 a month, plus a percent of taxes collected, licenses issued and fines levied.

Regarding Texas Rangers, O’Neal says captains were paid $100 a month; lieutenants got $75; sergeants took in $50; and corporals and privates took home $40 a month (although the state legislature later cut private pay to $30—less than a cowboy made).

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