David Kennedy:Shaping the U.S. Marshals Museum Narrative

I n 2015, the U.S. Marshals Museum took a significant step toward realizing its vision of becoming a cornerstone for the exploration of American law enforcement history with the appointment of David Kennedy as its curator. Kennedy, bringing a wealth of experience from his tenure at the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center in Enid, Oklahoma, was selected to spearhead the development and care of the museum’s collections and exhibits. His appointment marked the beginning of a new era in the museum’s journey, aligning with its mission to educate the public on the pivotal role of the U.S. Marshals Service in the American narrative.

An Expert's Journey Through History

David Kennedy’s academic and professional journey reflects a deep commitment to historical preservation and education. With a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Texas at El Paso and a Master of Arts in History from Montana State University, Kennedy’s scholarly foundation is robust. His previous role as curator of the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, further honed his expertise in managing historical collections and crafting engaging narratives. Kennedy’s authorship of “Guns of the Wild West: A Photographic Tour of the Guns that Shaped our Country’s History” and his advisory role for Katherine Brevard’s “The Story of Guns: How They Changed the World” underscore his authority on historical arms and their impact on American history.

The Vision for the U.S. Marshals Museum

Under Kennedy’s guidance, the U.S. Marshals Museum has embarked on an ambitious journey to not only care for its collections but also to integrate innovative exhibit designs with the museum’s architectural vision. Located on the picturesque banks of the Arkansas River near downtown Fort Smith, the museum is a testament to modern design and historical reverence. The $50 million, 20,000-square-foot facility, conceptualized by Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock and Cambridge Seven Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts, serves as a beacon of education and exploration into the storied past of the U.S. Marshals Service.

A Platform for Education and Engagement

Kennedy’s responsibilities as curator extend beyond the preservation of artifacts. He is instrumental in fabricating exhibits that narrate the rich history of the U.S. Marshals Service and its integral role in shaping the United States. Through careful coordination and integration of exhibit design, Kennedy ensures that each display not only educates but also captivates museum visitors. His role in coordinating the installation of exhibits was crucial in bringing the museum’s vision to life, especially as it transitioned from construction to its grand opening in 2023.

Contributions to Documentaries

Kennedy’s expertise and insights have not been confined to the museum’s walls. His participation in documentaries such as “In Search of Bass Reeves” and “In Search of the U.S. Marshals” has positioned him as a leading voice in the exploration of the Old West and the history of the U.S. Marshals Service. Through these documentaries, Kennedy has extended the reach of the museum’s educational goals, bringing the stories of legendary lawmen and the evolution of American law enforcement to a broader audience.

Legacy and Impact

Since its opening, the U.S. Marshals Museum has benefited from significant support, including a $1 million donation from Donnie Pendergraft and family, and an anonymous $5 million pledge that helped break ground in September 2014. These contributions, alongside Kennedy’s stewardship, have solidified the museum’s position as a critical repository of American law enforcement history. His leadership in developing the museum’s exhibits and collections has ensured that the legacy of the U.S. Marshals Service is preserved and celebrated for future generations.

A Custodian of American Law Enforcement History

David Kennedy’s role as curator of the U.S. Marshals Museum embodies a commitment to preserving the rich tapestry of American law enforcement history. Through his academic expertise, professional experience, and involvement in historical documentaries, Kennedy has played a pivotal role in educating the public about the U.S. Marshals Service’s significance. The museum, under his guidance, stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of the marshals who have played a crucial role in the American West’s development and the broader narrative of justice in the United States.