The danger of 'boyish, wild ways'

Lester Jones, the teen who killed Sheriff August Singler, wears a hat and stands in the middle of the front row with his Jacksonville classmates.

The life and times of August Singler, the first law enforcement officer and only sheriff in Jackson County killed in the line of duty, are well-known.

But what about the man who shot him?

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It's not unusual that Lester Jones' burial was not reported in the newspaper, but what is unusual and almost unbelievable is where he was buried — just a few yards to the southeast from August Singler's gravesite in Medford's Eastwood Cemetery.

Lester Jones, 19, fired three bullets that fateful day on April 22, 1913: one that missed, one that grazed Singler's knuckle, and one that pierced the sheriff's lung and lodged against a rib. Singler emptied his revolver at Jones and he fell dead, all six bullets finding their mark.

Jones was born in Texas in July 1893. He was the fourth child of six born to Oliver Jones and Amanda Curry, who at the time was 16 years old — 19 years younger than her husband. At the turn of the century, the family moved to Arizona, where, after nearly 19 years of marriage, Oliver and Amanda separated. She remained in Arizona, while Oliver brought Lester and daughter Lola with him to Jacksonville.

Times were hard for Oliver, who found odd jobs wherever he could and was seldom home to watch over or guide his children. Lola married an orchard owner who was 21 years her senior in 1907 and, three years later, ran away with one of her husband's hired hands and was never seen again.

Lester didn't do well in school, but he had no problem finding trouble. Those who knew him said he was a "lone wolf, not making or seeking friends." Neighbors said he had a violent temper and would fire his rifle at the feet of anyone who argued with him.

Each night, he would begin "a veritable bombardment with rifle and shotgun" and on one other occasion, he "awoke the quiet of that section by exploding dynamite at midnight."

"He lived in a crude and almost uncivilized manner," said Charles Prim Jr., a former schoolmate, "spending much of the money he earned in buying ammunition with which he practiced shooting."

Five months before he and Singler killed each other, Lester was accused of breaking into some Jacksonville homes. When the sheriff, Singler's predecessor, came to arrest him, Lester pulled a gun on the lawman, forced him to walk a half-mile, and then made his escape to California. Singler had gone to arrest Lester just days after the boy had returned to Jacksonville.

Preparing to bury his son, Oliver came to the Mail Tribune with a letter to the public in which, as every parent might do, he tried to rationalize what his son had become.

"Lester Jones knew no fear, but he was not vicious," Oliver said. "He had no mother to raise him, or train him. "… He picked up some boyish, wild ways, but no worse than other boys. "… My boy was not a criminal nor was he a desperado.

"I could make this stronger, but they are both dead," he said, "and so we will end this part of it."

Oliver buried his son, sold his property and moved away, living without a family for the rest of his life. He died in January 1945 at age 96 in Los Angeles. He always claimed to be a widower, but his younger wife lived on until June 1947. She died in Arizona at age 79.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.


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