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Sheriff Singler's Legacy

Diana Maddox Walker gently lifts a carefully folded white cotton shirt with dark pinstripes out of a box.

"There's the bullet hole," she says, pointing to a hole the width of a pencil. "The bullet went in on my grandfather's left side, up through his lungs and lodged in his right ribs.

"I wish I had gotten to know him," says Walker, 71, of Talent. "From everything I've learned about him over the years, he was a good man, a truly remarkable man."

Jackson County Sheriff August D. Singler died on April 23, 1913, following a shoot-out with a wanted man in a rural cabin near Jacksonville. He was 36.

Singler, who killed his adversary, was the first law enforcement officer and the only sheriff in Jackson County killed in the line of duty.

He left behind his wife, Rose, and their eight young children, including eldest daughter Zita, then 8. She would grow up to become Zita Singler Maddox and Walker's mother.

"My grandmother Rose was the one who really suffered," Walker says. "She raised all of their children by herself."

Yet in all the years she knew her grandmother, who died in 1966, Walker recalls just once Rose saying anything even remotely close to a complaint.

"She told me one time that her husband had been a lawman and sometimes he took chances," Walker says. "She wished he had thought about it a little more before he jumped right in.

"But she said he was a law enforcement officer who was going to go out and do his duty no matter what," she adds. "She said if he had lived he would have been as famous as Wyatt Earp because of his exploits. He loved being a law enforcement officer."

Singler is believed to be the first sheriff in Oregon killed in the line of duty, according to the Oregon State Sheriffs Association. The second was Umatilla County Sheriff Tillman D. Taylor, who was shot and killed during a jail break by five inmates on July 25, 1920. Three of the inmates involved were hanged; the other two were given life sentences.

"A sheriff has always been the public lawman for citizens because they elected the sheriff," says C.W. Smith, a former Jackson County sheriff. "A sheriff represents a community. They speak to the strength of the community."

And Singler spoke volumes, Smith says.

"He was a very young man with a substantial family," Smith says. "For him to go do what he had to do in harm's way reflects his unswerving strength and bravery. He paid for it with the ultimate sacrifice."

The man who stands tall in the annals of Oregon law enforcement was born May 28, 1876, in Millersburg, Ind.

In 1901, he hitchhiked from South Bend, Ind., to Oregon to visit a brother and sister, according to family lore. The family patriarch went back to Indiana, then returned to Oregon in 1903 to find a place to settle.

He wired Rose, pregnant with their fourth child, and told her to pack up the kids and hop on a train bound for Oregon. Meanwhile, he started working two jobs — selling patented medicines and working for the Singer Sewing Machine Co.

"When he first moved to Oregon, he did whatever work he could find to feed his family," Walker says.

He earned enough to buy three acres off Lozier Lane in Medford.

Never mind there was no house on the property or that he knew little about carpentry. He rolled up his sleeves and began building a two-story house where the family would live for six years, Walker says.

"He would study something and figure out how to do it," she says of her do-it-yourself grandfather. "After he saw the midwife deliver their first child, he delivered the other seven babies they would have."

In 1909, he was appointed constable for the Medford District, then part of the sheriff's office. Like everything he did in life, he gave his new job his all, his granddaughter says.

A century ago, there were plenty of scofflaws in the region to make it a dangerous profession, she says. She has a scrapbook Singler kept of wanted posters of murderers and armed robbers.

"We had some pretty bad criminals back then," Walker says. "But he went by cars, buckboards and trains to get them. He used whatever he needed to."

Singler introduced the art of fingerprinting to Jackson County and was the first lawman to use bloodhounds in the area.

"It was said the Singler children kept the neighbors awake during the day and the hounds would keep them awake at night," Walker says.

His exploits as a constable were noted in local newspapers at the time.

In the Mail Tribune on Nov. 22, 1910, it was reported that Singler was headed to Dunsmuir, Calif., to pick up a man named Warren, accused of larceny in Medford. Singler had been scheduled to pick up Warren a few days earlier but the inmate had escaped the Dunsmuir bastille by cutting a hole in the wall. He was recaptured just before Thanksgiving.

As a result, Singler missed Thanksgiving dinner with his family.

"There will be no chopping out of jail, or escaping, after I get him on the train, " Singler told the paper before boarding the train.

"I usually am of an even disposition, but when a fellow makes me miss my Thanksgiving dinner in making a getaway, that isn't any getaway at all, it makes me sore, so that all the turkey Warren will have will be in his imagination," Singler said.

"There may be a few bones to be grilled when I get home, but I am doubtful."

On July 23, 1911, the Tribune reported that Singler arrested a laborer at a railroad camp near Butte Falls after the man shot a fellow worker. The constable, who was assisted by his brother, William Singler, disarmed the gunman before taking him into custody.

When they returned to Medford, the brothers were confronted by a mob of the victim's friends at the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue. Singler refused to back down in the face of vigilante justice and took his prisoner to jail to be tried in a court of law, the paper reported.

His most striking characteristics were his "industriousness, optimism and integrity," the Medford Sun newspaper reported.

In 1912, he decided to run for county sheriff against a popular incumbent, Wilbur Jones, entering the primary as a Republican. His campaign literature included a family portrait with a caption reading, "The Party I am Working For."

Having never run for office before, he was clearly the underdog.

"They were Catholic and there was prejudices against the Catholics at that time," Walker says. "There was Ku Klux Klan activity then."

But the underdog won by a substantial margin in the primary. And in an election held Nov. 9, 1912, Singler decisively defeated Jones in the vote for sheriff, having a lead of 828 votes. The vote was 2,699 to 1,871.

In a letter to the Tribune following the election, Singler thanked his supporters.

"I will use my utmost endeavors to perform the duties of the office of sheriff with impartiality and fairness to all, in a most efficient and economic manner, in the interests of the taxpayers and the community at large," he wrote.

August and Rose Singler moved their brood, including the baying bloodhounds, to Jacksonville, the county seat back in the day.

When her husband became sheriff, Rose took the job of cooking for the county jail inmates. She was paid 35 cents a meal.

On April 22, 1913, Sheriff Singler learned that a wanted man named Lester Jones was hiding out in a cabin about a mile south of Jacksonville. Jones, 19, had been accused of theft in Jacksonville a year earlier.

But when the Jacksonville town marshal attempted to arrest him, Jones drew his revolver, disarmed the lawman and escaped.

Armed with a warrant, Singler cautiously approached Jones' cabin. George Launspach, a fellow who lived near the cabin and led the sheriff to it, remained at the bottom of the hill, according to an article in the Tribune the next day.

Jones, who was hiding behind a pot-bellied stove, shot the sheriff in the chest when he opened the door.

A second bullet from Jones' gun smashed into a knuckle on Singler's right hand.

Although right-handed and mortally wounded, Singler switched hands and shot Jones six times, killing him.

The wounded officer "turned and walked down the hill nearly 100 yards, when he reeled and fell," the Tribune reported, adding that he told Launspach his wound was fatal. Singler was taken to Medford's Sacred Heart Hospital, where surgeons removed the bullet.

Walker recalls her mother's memories of officials coming to their home that night to tell Rose and her children about the shooting.

"Mom was 8 years old then," Walker says. "She remembers they all huddled behind her (Rose) when she went to the door. She was told, 'Mrs. Singler, your husband has been shot but it's not that serious.' "

But the sheriff knew differently. Shortly before he died, he signed his last will and testament, written while he was on his death bed.

"Women didn't have a lot of rights back then," Walker says. "He wanted to make sure Rose was taken care of."

He died the next morning at 8:35 a.m. with Rose at his side.

"Of course, they could have saved him today," Walker says. "But the world was different back then."

The town stopped all commerce for his April 25 funeral.

"So great was the crowd at the church that only half could be accommodated, while hundreds stood along the course of the funeral cortege with bared heads," the Tribune reported of the funeral, which included a procession nearly 12 blocks long to his burial in the IOOF/Eastwood Cemetery in Medford.

"Father O'Farrell ... paid a glowing tribute to a man who sacrificed his life rather than falter in the performance of his duty," it concluded.

One-hundred years later, on April 12, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden recognized Singler's service and sacrifice with an entry in the Congressional Record, which reads in part:

"It should be recognized that Sheriff Singler deserves a place in history. His pride for his community, concern for his neighbors, and leadership are still reflected in those who understand what it takes to preserve the peace.

"He was said to be a gentleman in every way, and carried himself in a way that demanded respect. May his name not be forgotten, but let him be placed among other recognized lawmen of the past."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.

August Singler