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History Snoopin': Don't bring your guns into town

How ironic that John Bilger and Aaron Magley’s motto for their Jacksonville hardware store was “Live and Let Live.”

Had Matt Shannon and Dan Courtney adopted it, both would have lived a long, long life.

Just after noon, Sept. 28, 1881, on the wooden sidewalk in front of the California Street hardware store, Shannon and Courtney were nose to nose in a loud and heated argument. Perhaps it was about the Soda Springs Hotel, east of Ashland.

Courtney and his wife had run the hotel for more than a year and a half before the circuit court ordered the property sold to pay off an outstanding debt. The sheriff conducted a cash-only auction on the courthouse steps June 10, 1879.

At the same time, Shannon was shoeing horses for the Oregon & California Stage company at his Jacksonville blacksmith shop, but when the shop caught fire and partially burned, Shannon announced he was selling out and, with his wife, was taking over the Soda Springs Hotel.

Two year later, Shannon sold his interest in the hotel and returned to Jacksonville just two weeks before the hardware store confrontation with Courtney. It was bad timing. Courtney’s wife had just died of breast cancer a month earlier.

“After a few words over some business disagreements,” said an Oregon Sentinel newspaper reporter, “Shannon struck at and knocked Courtney into the door of the store.”

With Shannon now on top of him, Courtney drew a five-shot Smith & Wesson pistol from under his coat and pulled off two quick shots. A later autopsy showed that the first bullet struck Shannon in the right breast and the second, the fatal shot, passed through his right cheek and lodged in his brain.

Courtney was immediately arrested, taken to jail, and arraigned that same day on a charge of manslaughter, with bail set at $2,000.

A collection was taken up to pay Shannon’s burial expenses, and he was interred in the City Section of the Jacksonville Cemetery.

Frank Krause, editor of the Oregon Sentinel, was furious over the shooting and vented his frustrations in a nearly full-column editorial.

“It is another addition to that long list of bloody arguments, which are continually calling out against the practice of carrying concealed weapons. A business transaction between two men is the occasion of some disagreement. Hot blood and high words, a scuffle, a pistol shot, a thud upon the ground — and one soul has winged its eternal flight.

“ No sane person believes for one moment that it is necessary for anyone to carry a pistol on the streets of Jacksonville as a matter of personal protection. It is almost universally true that concealed weapons are a mark of cowardice and the dodge of a bully. A brave, honest, peaceable man who has the moral courage to run rather than lift his hand to shed his neighbor’s blood, finds no need of pistols, and if he did, would carry them boldly and without concealment.

“ Don’t come out in God’s glorious daylight with the dark possibility of murder concealed in your pocket.”

Two months after the shooting, following a two-day trial, three jury votes, and a day and a half of consideration by the jury, Courtney was found not guilty based on his right of self defense. He was released and “immediately took his departure for Northern Oregon.”

Dan Courtney remarried in 1885 to a Roseburg woman and spent the rest of his life mining and farming there. He died Jan. 4, 1912.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. The Southern Oregon Historical Society is hosting Bill for a book signing on Saturday, June 23, in the SOHS Research Library. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.

Bill Miller