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Oregon Trails: Hero Sheriff

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TALENT, Ore. — Monday marks the one hundredth anniversary of one of the darkest days for law enforcement in Southern Oregon; it also marks the day a legend was created.

Diane Walker is one of 28 grandchildren of former Jackson County Sheriff August Singler. Singler has the dubious honor of the being the first lawman killed in the line of duty in Jackson County, and one of the first in Oregon.

Some say that had he survived he may have equaled the fame of the legendary Wyatt Earp a generation before. 36-year old August Singler rode into the sheriff position on a wave of popular support in the 1912 election. He used a campaign promise like no other.

“In fact, the Ashland Record noted that he was the only candidate in the election that said he was running for the job because he wanted the job and he wanted to feed his 8 kids,” said Singler Historian, Andy Nillson

“People really liked him because he had such a sense of humor, and he was always willing to help,” said Diane Walker. “They said that the Singler children kept the people aroused during the day, and the bloodhounds kept them awake at night!”

Singler already had a reputation as a tough, smart lawman. Local newspapers referred to him as “super sleuth” and “Sherlock Holmes.” When a 19-year old local tough guy named Lester Jones showed up in town, Singler decided to make the arrest himself. Nobody else wanted to do it. So, early in the evening of April 22nd, 1913, Singler and a neighbor drove out to this property, just south of Jacksonville, where Jones was holed-up in a small cabin.

“And there were three steps leading up to the front door, and as he walked up those steps and opened the door, Jones fired the first time and hit the sheriff under the left arm,” Nillson described. “The bullet passed through his body, puncturing both lungs. I think the sheriff fell off of the steps, maybe fell all the way to the ground, but returned fire, and emptied his revolver – six shots – and hit Jones with all 6 shots. Jones in the meantime was firing back at him, and probably falling from being hit. Hit Singler one more time in the right hand and then collapsed to the floor of the cabin, and he died at the scene.”

Sheriff Singler managed to stumble back down to his friend before collapsing on the ground. He was rushed to the new, modern sacred heart hospital in Medford. Doctors managed to remove the bullet from his right side, proclaiming the surgery a success. This is the shirt he was wearing at the time, still with the bullet hole in the left side.

“According to what my mom said, that he knew his wounds were fatal. They, they operated on him in hopes they could save him,” said Diane.

But Sheriff Singler died in the morning after being wounded. He left a wife, 8 kids and two hound dogs. The whole county mourned and the largest funeral ever in Jackson County wound its way 12 blocks through Medford to the IOOF Cemetery. Diane walker says he was very selfless, and was always ready to act when and where he saw a need.

“My grandmother always said that’s possibly a reason he got shot because he was, when he decided to do something, we went out and did it, and he might not have taken as much caution as what he should have,” Diane said.

Diane also said his death devastated his family. They were living in a small house behind the old jail at the time. Singler’s brother took over as sheriff, but the county offered little support, and many in Jacksonville were not supportive of his widow either.

“Mom said they’d come to the door, some ladies would knock on the door and say, ‘You can’t raise that many children. You can’t do this,’ and mom said Grandma would start crying and all the kids would be gathered around her skirts and they’d all be crying and hiding under her skirts. It was pretty sad. It was devastating.”

But she did raise those kids, and today the sheriff and his widow leave a legacy that they’d be proud of. It was a hundred years ago this weekend that Lester Jones and Sheriff August Singler faced off in a furious gunfight at a cabin near the edge of the woods, just outside of Jacksonville. Both men ended up dying, but Sheriff Singler is remembered today by a memorial plaza between the jail and the Jackson county justice building.

Sheriff Singler only served as sheriff four months before he was shot and died in April 1913. He is reportedly the first lawman in this area to use fingerprinting as a crime fighting tool, and introduced the use of bloodhounds to track suspects and missing persons. Singler is the great-great grandfather of former South Medford basketball standout players Kyle and E.J. Singler.