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August Singler: Sacrificing his life for his duty

On this morning 97 years ago, no businesses opened in Medford. Only mourners walked the streets.

It was Friday morning, April 25, 1913. Townspeople as well as folks from far and wide were gathered to pay tribute to a fallen hero.

Jackson County Sheriff August D. Singler, 36, of Jacksonville, had been killed in the line of duty, leaving behind his wife, Rose, and their eight young children.

"They closed the whole town down — that was quite an honor," observes Bill Singler Sr., 81, of Medford, the sheriff's grandson. "They shuttered the town for him."

The surname rings a bell with people across the nation these days because Kyle Singler — Bill's grandson and August's great-great-grandson — was named the outstanding player for the Final Four in the NCAA basketball tournament last month. The Duke University star from South Medford High School led the Blue Devils to the national title.

And Kyle's younger brother, E.J. Singler, was a standout freshman on the University of Oregon's basketball team this year. The brothers came by their abilities honestly: their father Ed

(this name has been corrected) grandfather Bill Sr. and great-grandfather Rudy were all known statewide for their athletic prowess at Medford Senior High School back in their days.

August Singler originally hitchhiked from South Bend, Ind., to Oregon in 1901 to visit a brother and sister, according to a family scrapbook kept by Bill Sr. 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 grab a train to Oregon. He would work two jobs — selling patented medicines and working for the Singer Sewing Machine Co. — to earn enough to buy three acres off Lozier Lane in Medford.

Shrugging off the fact he knew next to nothing about building a house, he promptly constructed a two-story home for his growing family. They lived in the house for six years until they moved to Jacksonville.

"He delivered all his children at home, except the first one," his grandson says, then adds, "He was a real do-it-yourselfer."

August Singler pinned on his first badge in 1909 when he was appointed constable for the Medford District, which was part of the sheriff's office, Bill Sr. notes. His most striking characteristics were his "industriousness, optimism and integrity," the Medford Sun newspaper reported.

For the next four years, he rode herd on bad guys, scofflaws and other folks of ill repute during what was a rough patch in Southern Oregon history.

Once, after a logger shot another logger in a lumber camp dispute near Butte Falls, the sheriff and his brother, William, went into the camp and arrested the culprit. Upon returning to Medford, the brothers were confronted by a mob of the victim's friends at the corner of Main and Central. But Sheriff 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.

"He was the very first law enforcement officer in this area to use fingerprinting," his grandson said. "When he was down in Sacramento to pick up some prisoners, he learned how to do the finger-printing process."

Later, he picked up some blood hounds that tended to bay at the moon, much to the consternation of his neighbors.

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

The underdog won by a substantial margin in the primary as well as the November general election. August and Rose moved their brood, including the baying bloodhounds, to Jacksonville, the county seat.

Four months into his first year, 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 Marshall had attempted to arrest him, Jones drew his revolver, disarmed the lawman and escaped.

On April 22, the sheriff, armed with a warrant, 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 Mail Tribune the next day.

"The fellow was behind a pot-bellied stove," Bill Sr. says. "When my grandfather opened the door, Jones shot him."

The bullet struck the sheriff just under his left armpit, passed through both lungs and lodged against his ribs, the Tribune reported. A second bullet smashed into a knuckle in the officer's right hand.

"My grandfather was right-handed, so he had to shoot back with his left hand," Bill Sr. explains.

Although mortally wounded, the sheriff 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. He was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital in Medford where surgeons removed the bullet.

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

"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 April 25 funeral, which included a procession nearly 12 blocks long to 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.

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

August Singler: Sacrificing his life for his duty