FORT SMITH — This week, more than 80 former and active duty members of the United States Marshals Service Association and more than 100 of their family members have gathered in Fort Smith for the group’s national conference.

FORT SMITH — This week, more than 80 former and active duty members of the United States Marshals Service Association and more than 100 of their family members have gathered in Fort Smith for the group’s national conference.


The event is being held in conjunction with today’s groundbreaking ceremonies for the U.S. Marshals Museum, which Louie McKinney, USMSA president has called an historic event.


Many of the former marshals are spending the entire week in Fort Smith, taking in the sights and enjoying time with other former marshals and friends from around the country.


"We’re from all over," said Jackie Grable, USMSA secretary, as she guided crowds of former marshals from tour buses to the National Historic Site.


Grable, who served in the administrative side of the U.S. Marshals Service, traveled from Houston. "I’ve been here, setting up, two times and it’s just beautiful here," she said with a grin, enjoying Tuesday’s cool afternoon temperatures. "I’m coming back, I’m telling you, it’s beautiful."


"There’s a lot of history here," she said, "and there’s a lot of history with the guys here, too."


Several of the former marshals have been in the area before. In 1988, many found themselves in Fort Smith for the sedition trials of 14 white supremacists, said Grable’s husband Chuck Grable, a retired U.S. marshal. The 14 defendants were acquitted on charges that included conspiracy to kill a federal judge and FBI agent and overthrow the federal government and establish an all-white nation.


Excitement for the groundbreaking ceremony was abuzz among every tour group, with numerous former marshals and deputy marshals ready for the opportunity to remind citizens that the marshals service didn’t go the way of the pony express — it has grown and changed and is ready to be noticed.


Today’s ceremony coincides with the 225th anniversary of the formation of the Marshals Service.


"We are lost in the shuffle," said Rudy Gabele, who became a deputy marshal in 1976, one of the first women in the service. "Everybody thinks ‘FBI, FBI,’ but the marshals are getting more and more known. … And it’s important that we remember the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the United States.


"I remember when I first became a deputy, people were surprised, saying ‘Marshal? Wow, we still have those?’ And that was in ‘76. So we’ve come a long way," Gabele said.


Gabele, who drove to Fort Smith from Chicago with her sister Dorothy Tarulis, noted the friendliness of the people of Fort Smith.


"It’s wonderful. Everyone is so nice and I’m so happy that they are putting the museum here," she said. "There’s plenty to see and do here, and it’s nice to leave the big city."


"I’ve loved it; I haven’t found anybody who isn’t polite and friendly," echoed Tarulis. "It’s a good thing that it’s going to be here; in a big city it would have gotten lost."


The groundbreaking ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. today at the museum site, 121 Riverfront Drive. Speakers will include U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman, U.S. Congressman Steve Womack, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe and U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton.


"Together, we’re commemorating the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency, and we’re looking forward to honoring the men and women of the service by telling their stories, here on the banks of the Arkansas River," Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders stated in a Tuesday news release.