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Oregon Trails: Remembering Oregon’s Finest

May 18, 2012

By Ron Brown

JACKSONVILLE, Ore. — It was nearly a hundred years ago, on April 22nd, 1913, that one of the first lawmen to die in the line-of-duty in Southern Oregon was mortally wounded in a shootout near Jacksonville and in the 99 years since, many more have died protecting the public in our area. This week, those lawmen and women were honored during police Memorial week. 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.

“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,” explains Singler Historian Andy Nillson. “And he wanted to feed his 8 kids!”

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 scofflaw named Lester Jones showed up in town, Singler decided to make the arrest himself. 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 this cabin.

“And there were three steps leading up to the front door, and as he walked up those steps and opened the door, he was reaching up with his left hand. As he opened the door, Jones fired the firs time and hit the sheriff under the left arm. The bullet passed through his body, puncturing both lungs,” Nillson describes. “I think the sheriff fell off of the steps–maybe fell all the way to the ground, but returned fire, and emptied his revolver–6 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 down to his friend before collapsing on the ground. He was rushed to the new sacred heart hospital. Doctors managed to remove the bullet from his right side, proclaiming the surgery a success. But sheriff Singler died the morning after being wounded. He left a wife, 8 kids, and 2 hound dogs. The whole county mourned and one of the valley’s largest funerals ever wound its way 12 blocks through Medford to the IOOF cemetery. In May of 1993, Singler Plaza and a monument on the plaza near the jail were dedicated in his honor.

A number of years ago, when Singler Plaza was dedicated, a monument was also dedicated. It contained the names of 8 lawmen who had died in the line of duty in Jackson County, but there was one name missing: a man who was killed in the line of duty just four years after Sheriff Singler.

June 7th, 1917, was a pleasant spring day in Jacksonville. Until about 2:30 in the afternoon when a prisoner in the county jail yelled that someone was injured. Sheriff’s and clerk’s employees ran to the jail and found Charles Basye, the jailer, dying in a pool of blood at his desk. Quickly the alarm was sounded and courthouse employees came running and quickly fanned out, looking for J.L. Ragsdale and Irving Oehler.

Ragsdale, a Lake Creek rancher, had been sentenced that morning to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing his stepdaughter. He tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. Then, about two p.m., he called for jailer Basye to help him make a call home. Along the hallway he spotted an old iron on a shelf and tucked it under his arm. As Basye was making the call, the desperate Ragsdale, smashed the iron several times into Basye’s head, and then grabbed the jail keys and a gun. He then went back into the jail where he took an inmate hostage.

Irving Oehler, a jail inmate at the time, described being taken hostage:

“I didn’t pay much attention and was looking out the barred door at the front of the jail when Ragsdale came out. He had a gun in one hand and the jail keys in the other. He was pale as death and his hands were covered with blood. He told me to ‘come out here and do what I tell you or I’ll put day-light through you.’”

The two tried to steal a car from in front of the courthouse, but it wouldn’t start, so Ragsdale forced Oehling at gunpoint to start walking toward Medford. Four young boys saw what was going on, and while one ran for help, the others helped a quickly formed posse track the two outlaws.

Two men in a car, including County Recorder Chauncey Florey spotted the pair heading through the weeds to some brush. Slamming on the brakes, Florey was thrown to the ground and injured. His companion went on after Ragsdale and Oehling and yelling for them to stop, Oehling threw up his hands. But Ragsdale ran further into the blackberry brush. As re-enforcements arrived and surrounded the area, a single shot was heard. Then there was silence. Facing years in prison, divorce from his wife and loss of his ranch, he vowed not to be taken alive. A search turned up Ragsdale’s body, with a single shot to the head with the jailer’s pistol.