ASHLAND, Ore. - A small marble tombstone carved about 150 years or so ago has been in a corner of Doyle and Betty Hutchinson’s garden for nearly 30 years. It’s inscribed with the name of Dr. David Sisson who was killed by an as-yet un-named assassin in Ashland in the spring of 1858. Not only has no one ever been charged with the killing, but his grave marker is the only clue to where he might have been buried. Betty says they found the tombstone at a house they were renting below the Ashland Hills Inn.
Betty says, “we rented there for a couple years and uh, then we bought this property, and when we were gonna move we had heard that they were gonna bull doze that house down. So we didn’t wanna leave the stone there. Afraid that it would get destroyed. So we just brought it with us. A just a few years ago, I called Kay Atwood to let her know where it was. And she took a picture of it. So I just been kinda waitin’ for somebody to make claim to it!”
This week workers from the city’s Mountain View cemetery picked up the marker and plan on putting it on Dr. Sisson’s widows grave. After he was killed, she married another man, Haynes True. Both are buried here and now plans are in the works to put her first husband’s marker next to hers.
Betty says, “we just knew that we were takin’ care of the stone until somebody could, y’know, find a place for it. Where it rightly belongs. I think, with the family. I didn’t know where the family was buried.” She adds, “we just didn’t want it destroyed. We’ve had it for almost 30 years! Just kept it here safe ’till somebody laid claim to it.”
Another family headstone nearby in the Mountain View cemetery, is for Sisson’s 2 year old grandson who drowned. Its very similar in style to David’s marker, and could possibly be from the same small graveyard where the doctor’s remains are still buried.
Betty says, “it was leanin’ up against the pump house, and Ashland Hills had dug into the pasture up there and it mighta been up there in that pasture somewhere.”
Ashland Mills founder Abel Helman welcomed the couple to the community and helped them get established. Sisson’s stock grew steadily, but in March of 1858 a shotgun attack by another man left Sisson seriously wounded. Less than two weeks later someone burned down Sisson’s barn. Five days later his daughter Augusta was born.
Then, just a week after that, someone else, firing from a hillside thicket gunned down Sisson not far from what today is the Ashland plaza. He was buried a day later on the family farm, not far from the current south Ashland interchange. Then, a little over three months later, someone burned down the farmhouse, and Celeste Sisson spent months trying to claim a settlement from Abel Helman who originally owned the land where their boarding house was. She later remarried and the doctor’s grave became lost to memory. But the murder case did not, and research for a book called “Mill Creek Journal” by Ashland historian Kay Atwood, uncovered some tantalizing clues.
In two weeks the Oregon Trails will talk to another historian familiar with the story to see what clues may have been uncovered that could help identify the doctor’s killer in what is surely Jackson County’s oldest cold case murder.