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Fattig roots branch out in history of Jacksonville

As a Jacksonvillian, I would be the first to admit to bias when it comes to our handsome hamlet.

Never mind that we live half a dozen miles south of town and can claim ownership only by virtue of having a box in the Jacksonville post office.

Yet my family has been connected with the community for more than a century. Indeed, one ancestor resides in the picturesque cemetery while two others spent time in what was the Jacksonville jail back in the day.

We'll get back to the cemetery occupant and the felonious Fattigs in a bit.

With Jacksonville about to celebrate its sesquicentennial, you can't help but contemplate its colorful history during a visit to the old town. Of course, its history has long been a draw for folks visiting the region.

In fact, after a fellow from South Africa escorted one of our daughters back from Uganda — where she had become ill a few years ago — the place he wanted me to take him first was Jacksonville. It didn't disappoint.

It's my good fortune to drive through Jacksonville every work-day morning and evening. It invariably buoys my spirits both coming and going.

There is just something about the stately majesty of the U.S. Hotel, the grandeur of the courthouse turned into a museum, the white church steeples poking up through the trees.

You have to appreciate the faded white advertisements painted on red bricks, such as "Bloch Bro's West Virginia Mail Pouch Tobacco" and the one around the corner for Levi's jeans.

Jacksonville's history is like a cup of tea: the longer it brews, the richer it becomes.

Autumn makes you want to walk Jacksonville's sidewalks to see things like the 1854 Methodist Episcopal Church, the town's oldest wood-framed structure; the old, brick-lined well that was uncovered a few years ago and which is covered with a Plexiglas dome; or the old metal rings in the sidewalk where folks once tied their horses.

My appreciation for Jacksonville is likely linked to my Kerby roots. Like Jacksonville, Kerby was a gold mining boom town that began in the early 1850s. Sadly, little remains of its early structures.

As a youngster in the 1950s, I recall our father, born in Ashland in 1906, bringing our family over to Jacksonville. He pointed out Peter Britt's house on the hill overlooking the town, talked about the old mining tunnels under the streets and took us through the museum. I remember thinking that Britt's home looked like a gingerbread house.

History is relative, of course. I've talked to New England natives who scoff at Jacksonville as a late bloomer. Yet I've stood in the stone-age tomb of Newgrange in Ireland, which was built about 5,000 years ago, roughly 500 years before the oldest pyramids of Egypt.

As with all towns, Jacksonville has had its disgraceful moments. Chief among them were acts of racism against minorities, particularly against Chinese immigrants and American Indians.

Yet, warts and all, the colorful cast of characters who streamed into Jacksonville over the years became part of its history.

It begins with miners James Cluggage and James Poole, the argonauts credited with discovering gold in what would become Jacksonville in 1851. The list of notables would have to include the brave Sisters of the Holy Names of Jacksonville, who stepped in to nurse the sick and dying during the deadly small pox epidemic of 1868-69. Perhaps the most famous Jacksonville product was Pinto Colvig, the fellow would become known around the world as Bozo the Clown.

My Jacksonville connections are more infamous than famous.

My paternal great uncle Jacob Fattig, a permanent resident of the city's picturesque cemetery, died March 16, 1921, at 69 years old. He was my grandfather Jonas' older brother. My grandparents, who homesteaded in the Applegate Valley more than a century ago, would have driven a wagon into Jacksonville to shop.

The scant information on the cemetery roll indicated Jacob Fattig died 2.5 miles south of town. Just what that means will likely remain a mystery.

But there is no mystery to how my uncles Alfred and Charles Fattig came to be behind bars in Jacksonville. Both were World War I draft dodgers who ignored the summons by the Jackson County draft board on June 10, 1918. They were members of the Dunkard Church, and opposed military service on religious grounds.

After hiding out in the mountains, Alfred turned himself in at the county courthouse in Jacksonville in July 1920. Charles followed suit a year later.

Both spent a few days in the Jacksonville jail, now the children's museum, before being sentenced in federal court in Portland. They endured nine months each at the hardcore Rocky Butte jail east of that city.

I suspect they preferred the Jacksonville jail to the Big House.

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