Willard R. Ayers – Deputy Marshal Down

Williard R. Ayers

Willard R. Ayers

A native of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Willard Rufus Ayers was born in Arkansas to Willard N. and Caroline Forrester Ayers in 1847. During the fort’s construction, his father had moved to Arkansas from Vermont to work as a stonemason.

In the early 1870s, Willard and his older brother, Christopher Columbus Ayers, became U.S. Deputy Marshals before Judge Isaac Parker took office. In 1873, Ayers was wounded by a prisoner when he and U.S. Deputy Marshals Perry DuVal and James Wilkerson were escorting prisoners to and from Indian Territory and Fort Smith, Arkansas. DuVal was killed, but Ayers recovered from his wound and returned to work.

Several years later, on August 11, 1880, Ayers attempted to arrest Emanuel Patterson, an African American wanted for larceny. When Ayers went to Patterson’s home near Cherokeetown in the Chickasaw Nation to arrest the man, Patterson asked if he could get some clothes, and Ayers agreed. However, when Patterson returned, he had a gun and killed Ayers. The fugitive then escaped.

However, in 1886, Patterson was arrested and taken to Fort Smith for another violation. He would later admit to killing Ayers but claimed he didn’t know he was an officer but thought he was an enemy trying to kill him. Patterson was convicted of murder in October 1887 and sentenced to be hanged the following April. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison, where he died.


© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also, See:

Fort Smith, Arkansas Courthouse and Jail

Fort Smith, Arkansas Courthouse and Jail

Adventures in the Old West

Lawmen of the Old West

Time Line of the American West

U.S. Marshals – Two Centuries of Bravery


Find a Grave
Owens, Ron; Oklahoma Heroes: The Oklahoma Peace Officers Memorial, Turner Publishing, 2000