Deputy Sheriff Charles H. Basye is shown in front of the Jackson County Jail in Jacksonville on April 5, 1917, two months before he was killed.

Name of deputy killed in 1917 to go on state memorial

Nearly a century after he was murdered, Jackson County Deputy Sheriff Charles H. Basye's name will be placed on the Oregon Fallen Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Salem.

The Board on Public Safety Standards and Training on Thursday unanimously approved adding him to the list of more than 170 Oregon law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty since the 1880s.

Basye, beaten to death by an escaping prisoner armed with a flat iron at the county jail in Jacksonville on June 12, 1917, is already on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C.

His name will be added to the Salem memorial during the annual ceremony honoring fallen law enforcement officers on May 6, 2014, at the Oregon Public Safety Academy, where the memorial is located.

He was nominated by Ron Walch, an investigative specialist with the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

"I'm ecstatic he is being recognized for this honor," said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters. "There wasn't something like this during his lifetime. This is a good way to honor his memory."

Eriks Gabliks, director of the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, agreed.

"No one really knew about his death until it was pointed out by Jackson County," Gabliks said, referring to Walch's nomination. "Our goal is to honor every fallen officer — city, county, state, tribal or federal — who was out there protecting Oregonians."

The story of Basye is particularly poignant, he said.

"This was western law enforcement in its infancy," Gabliks said. "You have this person who wants to break out of jail, strikes and kills the jailer with a clothing iron, takes his gun and leaves with another inmate who he holds hostage before killing himself."

The killer was John Lee Ragsdale, born in Cedarville in California's Modoc County on June 19, 1865. He was a farmer in the Lake Creek area, according to articles in the Mail Tribune in 1917.

On June 4 of that year, the paper reported that Ragsdale and another prisoner, Irving Oehler, who also went by the surname of Cravendore, attempted to commit suicide in the Jackson County Jail in Jacksonville, the county seat at the time. The jail was in the building that now houses an art center adjacent to the old courthouse.

Oehler, who had recently been sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary for forgery, had swallowed poison.

Ragsdale, facing 20 years in prison for criminal assault on his stepdaughter, had cut both his wrists with part of an old case knife, according to the article.

"Prompt work on Irving Oehler, alias Cravendore, by Charles Basye, the jailer, saved his life," the paper noted that day. A physician was called in to dress Ragsdale's wounds, and the inmate was out of danger, it said.

"However, a close watch is now being kept on him to prevent any further attempt at self-destruction," it added.

But the story on June 13 reveals that Ragsdale killed Basye, who had apparently been trying to help the Ragsdale family, then killed himself.

"On a marble slab piled high with roses and wildflowers, tokens from mourning friends of several decades' duration, reposed Wednesday afternoon in Perl's undertaking parlors the remains of Charles H. Basye, the Jackson County jailer who died late Tuesday afternoon from a series of ghastly wounds inflicted with an old-fashioned, 5-pound clothes ironer," reads the opening line of the story.

It added that the iron was wielded by "J.L. Ragsdale, the convicted prisoner, for whom Basye was endeavoring to perform a kindly offer in telephoning Ragsdale's family when struck down by his prisoner."

The flat iron that killed Basye had been used by prisoners to press their clothes, it explained. After striking down Basye, Ragsdale stole the deputy's .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver, it noted.

"Employes of the courthouse rushed to the jail and found Basye lying in a pool of blood," the story read. "County Recorder Florey and Carl Newbury jumped into an auto and started down the road to Medford in pursuit armed with a 30-30 rifle. J.A. Norris, courthouse janitor, also started, armed with an automatic revolver."

A band of small boys, all 10 or younger — Archie Rock, Angus Walsh, Rulard Hartman and Clyde Walsh — had followed the escaping prisoners and were able to direct Newbury and Florey to them, it continued.

"Newbury stopped the car so suddenly that it threw Florey out," it said, noting he was knocked unconscious but recovered several hours later.

Oehler, who surrendered, claimed he had been forced at the point of a gun to accompany Ragsdale, the article said.

Ragsdale committed suicide in the brush just south of Jacksonville with the gun he had stolen that afternoon while surrounded by a posse and members of the Oregon National Guard.

"The authorities are of the opinion that it was J.L. Ragsdale's intention to break jail, force Irving Oehler to drive him to his home in Lake Creek, and there kill the members of his family and himself," the article stated, noting he had repeatedly threatened to kill his family.

Ragsdale, whose wife had just divorced him, had seven children of his own as well as a stepchild.

Basye, born on Oct. 15, 1869, was survived by two adult daughters and a sister. A blacksmith by training, he is buried in the Missouri Flat Cemetery in the Applegate Valley.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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