In the late 19th century, it became rather common for women, usually younger, single women, to be hired as clerks in offices. They worked at such tasks as bookkeeping, filing, typing and answering that new-fangled thing called the telephone. Even some law enforcement offices had women on staff in clerical roles.
But the Twin Territories that made up Oklahoma led the way when it came to hiring women to serve as deputies and actually strap on a gun and make arrests. Newspaper accounts during the decades just before and after statehood tell of more than one woman who was filling this role in an area that was still quite dangerous.
We know of two women serving as deputy marshals in Oklahoma Territory in the 1890s. Working for the federal court in Guthrie, Mamie Fossett and S.M. Burche assumed the duties generally reserved for men in that day. These two young women had arrived in Indian Territory during the Land Run, each seeking a homestead. This fact alone shows that the women were courageous and willing to take risks.
Burche and Fossett were described in newspaper accounts as young, well-educated, fearless and independent. When they were sworn into office, it was not to work as clerks, but to serve writs, make arrests and wield a gun. And they did so with great success.
Another woman making newspaper headlines was F.M. Miller. She worked for the Paris, Texas, federal court that had jurisdiction over the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations in Indian Territory. Miller was described by the Muskogee Phoenix as a young woman who “wears a cowboy hat and is always adorned with a pistol belt full of cartridges and a dangerous looking Colt pistol which she knows how to use.”
Deputy Marshal Miller caught the attention of the Phoenix when she transported prisoners from Talihina to the federal jail in Muskogee. She too was considered a successful deputy who had made a number of arrests while working in the “most dangerous territory in the Union.”
Two sisters from Dewey also were noted in the newspapers. Lula and Blanche Rogers were the daughters of U.S. Deputy Marshal William Rogers, who served the federal courts in Fort Smith and then Muskogee. These young women were appointed as deputies and worked alongside their father.
They actually began assisting him before their appointment as law enforcement officers. Rogers worked the “whiskey trail” out of Kansas. Lula and Blanche helped to search females who tried to transport bottles of the rotgut by slipping it into pockets sewn into their petticoats.
The Rogers sisters had a reputation for being “as good with a gun as any soldier.” They only served for a few years but made over 50 arrests between the two of them. At the time of their appointment in 1913, they were the only two female officers in the entire state and were held up as role models for their bravery and valor.
Reach Jonita Mullins at firstname.lastname@example.org.