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As It Was: Ashland Tackles Lawlessness in 1874

Ashland’s charter of 1874 provided for the care of vagrants, a town marshal, fire protection, and a jail. Life in Ashland, population 300, had been chaotic with too many drunks, frequent fires, and poor sanitation. Just like today, the town was on a major travel route that attracted homeless outsiders. The nearest lawman was a day’s ride away in Jacksonville, the county seat.

The city hired a cabinet-maker, W. C. Daley, as its first marshal and tax collector and required him to attend all city meetings. But some people still drank too much, fired their guns within the city, allowed their cattle to run the streets, and robbed stores their owners had left unlocked with their windows open. When town shootings continued to cause problems, Ashland banned firing guns in the town.

The city passed 41 laws over the next 11 years. A new marshal noted in October 1876 that the jail had never been occupied and wasn’t very secure.

One inmate had escaped by carving a hole in the inch-thick door and taking his blanket and mattress with him.

Source: Atwood, Kay. The Ashland Police Department: a History. Ashland, Ore.: Southern Oregon University Library, 1998. Print.

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Maryann Mason has taught history and English in the U.S. Midwest and Northwest, and Bolivia. She has written history spots for local public radio, interviewed mystery writers for RVTV Noir, and edited personal and family histories.  Her poetry has appeared in Sweet Annie & Sweet Pea Review (1999), Rain Magazine (2007), and The Third Reader, an online Journal of Literary Fiction and Poetry. In 2008 she published her first chapbook, Ravelings.  She organized a History Day for Southern Oregon.