The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised

The Medford Bastille

    Marshal Murray arrested Fred Clark, aged nineteen years, and Clyde Smith, aged eighteen, last Friday upon a warrant sworn out by John Perdue, charging them with the theft of some tools, which were stolen last February. The culprits were placed in the city bastille, where they were kept until Sunday night, when they made their escape. The escape took place while they were at supper at the Star Restaurant. The marshal had taken them to the restaurant, and they were in the wash room preparing for the evening meal when the marshal asked Mr. Anderson, proprietor of the restaurant, to keep watch of them for a minute or two while he stepped down the street for his cane, which he had left. As soon as the marshal was out of sight the boys proceeded to get out of sight themselves. They hit only the high places in their race out of the back door and down the alley. Mr. Anderson, with an eye to business, called to them to not go until they had had their supper, but they probably did not hear him or were not hungry, as they did not stop. A search was made for them but they could not be located and, so far as the authorities are concerned, they haven't been located yet. The stolen property, we understand, was found and has been returned to Mr. Perdue.
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, April 20, 1900, page 7

    The city bastille is usually occupied these nights by one or more guests whose street perambulations are not conducted in accordance with laws and regulations in such cases made and provided. The morning following they are usually escorted to the city limits and invited to move on.
    Chief of Police Johnson was recently presented with a real regulation "Billy" club, with which to uphold the peace and dignity of the city.
"Additional Local," Medford Mail, February 22, 1901, page 6

    Chief of Police Johnson has a new star which contains the true insignia of his office--that of Chief of Police.

"Additional Local," Medford Mail, March 15, 1901, page 6

    Chief of Police Johnson has been doing a fairly good business during the past couple of weeks in the collection of dog taxes. He has rounded up $45 in cold coin and informs a Mail reporter that there are several score more more of the canine family in the city which is now on the trail of.

"Additional Local," Medford Mail, April 19, 1901, page 2

    Henry W. Smith, who was confined in the city jail Sunday for disorderly conduct, made an attempt to regain his liberty by the fire route, building a fire so that it would burn the door and woodwork in order to free the hinges. He had prepared kindlings and started the fire in good shape, but his ruse did not prove successful, as the fire department was called out and the blaze extinguished. On Monday County Judge Dunn was called to inquire into the sanity of Smith, it being thought that he was not exactly right mentally. The judge decided that Smith was a sane man and held him to appear in the circuit court on a charge of attempt to commit arson. He has a bad record, having one time been in the county jail for several months.

"City Happenings," Medford Mail, April 19, 1907, page 5

    Material is being placed on the ground for the new city hall, and the old jail is being torn down this week. Work will be pushed as rapidly as possible on the new building, which when completed will be a credit to the city. The plans provide for offices for the executive officials, council chamber, police court room, fire house and a jail.
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, October 25, 1907, page 5

    The cells for the city jail arrived during the first of the week and are installed. The new cells are being fitted with clean bedding and new cots, so that the offenders who are the first to "do time" will be placed amid surroundings as cleanly and inviting as are to be found in any well-appointed lodging house.

"City Happenings," Medford Mail, April 3, 1908, page 5

    The wood pile has taken the place of the rock pile, and from now on all those who are compelled to work out the amount of their fines will do so with a bucksaw and put in a good ten hours a day. The city officials have put in a lot of cordwood, which was brought from the supply at the city water plant, and have it on tap in close vicinity to the city lockup.
    The police got tired of serving meals to prisoners who had nothing else to do but kill time while waiting for the time when they would be free men once more. Now they just lock them in the old jail building with a nice pile of wood and tell them to "do nothing but saw wood." From the way business has been improving in the recorder's court, it would appear that the stock of wood will not last many months.
    George Riley, the man they don't speak of so highly, appeared before Recorder Benj. M. Collins this morning. He is the Irishman who got in both an argument and a fight with "John Anderson, My Joe John," over the merits and demerits of the Scotch and the Irish, and he caused Anderson to appear as if he had been used for the purpose of cleaning up the whole of Seventh Street--and then some.
    The recorder thought that Anderson had been punished enough and let him go with a warning, but he socked a fine of $30 to Riley. Like most of the others who appear, he had spent all his money and said he guessed he would have to serve his time in jail.
    "We have a nice little job waiting for you," said the recorder, as he sized up the strapping and scrappy Irishman. "You can just work on the rock pi--I mean the wood pile, for 15 days." Everyone present laughed at the break the recorder had made except Mr. Riley, and he glared around the room as if he failed to see what there was to laugh about.
Medford Mail, September 18, 1908, page 5

    E. J. Curry alias Fisk, a man who was under arrest here on the charge of having broken into a clothing establishment at Albany, Ore., last Sunday night and taken from $300 to $500 worth of goods, with which he fled to Medford and was arrested here Tuesday by Chief of Police Adams and Deputy Sheriff George Alden, sawed the lock off his cell door at the city prison sometime last night and walked out of the building to freedom.
    His absence was discovered early this morning when an officer went to take him out to a restaurant in time to turn him over to Sheriff Richards of Linn County, who had planned to take him back to Albany on the early morning train. No trace has been found of the erstwhile prisoner, who is thought to be a professional criminal.
    Sheriff Richards did not wait, but left on the train for Albany, taking with him the main part of the loot obtained in Sunday night's burglary and recovered by the police in this city.
    It seems that Curry made a small file out of the spring in his cheap watch, and as he is a small-sized man easily put his hand and forearm through the cell bars around to the cell lock and by hours of sawing managed to saw out the lock. Then he deliberately walked out of the prison, as the one entrance to the corridor opens onto the street and is never locked inside because prisoners are not kept in the corridor.
    According to Curry's own story told to Chief Adams, the latter says, following his arrest, he committed the burglary at Albany last Sunday night by breaking a skylight and letting a rope ladder down through it into the store. Thus he worked at his leisure and carried out several suits of clothes, fine underwear, an overcoat, scarfs, ties, shoes and suitcases. This plunder he packed into suitcases, and then donning a new suit and a $65 overcoat he boarded the southbound train, which stops at Albany about 4 a.m., and came to Medford, the train reaching here about 3:30 o'clock Monday afternoon.
    Curry then went to the Hotel Medford where he registered as from Alaska, and on Tuesday he sold two of the suits to a local second-hand dealer and tried to sell others on the street so cheaply that a report of it reached Chief of Police Adams. The latter officer started a quiet investigation and kept his man under surveillance until finally having become satisfied that he was a crook, he and Deputy Sheriff Alden placed him under arrest.
    By dint of much questioning, especially after he had found most of the stolen goods in Curry's room at the hotel, the prisoner, the chief says, finally came clean with the story of the burglary. A notebook found among his effects showed that Curry had recently been in Denver, Cheyenne and Casper, Wyo., and that he came to Albany from Casper.
    When first accosted by Chief Adams the suspected man put up the stall that he had just been retired from army service in Alaska, and in buying new civilian clothes, got too many of them, therefore he was selling them cheap. It is claimed that fourteen suits were stolen from the Albany store.
    Adams allowed Curry to keep wearing the suit he had on, rather than have him go naked, but the stolen overcoat was taken from him. Hence unless Curry has been able to get other clothing he is wandering around in the thin summer suit he was wearing when he walked out of the city prison.
    Curry is described as 34 years of age, weight 145 pounds, height 5 feet 6 inches and dark hair and complexion. He has rather a foreign look, but talks good English.
Medford Mail Tribune, December 27, 1923, page 1

Youths Held for Auto Theft, Pound Off Lock with Bed Rail--
Pair Hiding Till Flood Subsides--Wanted on Federal Charges.

    Procuring a piece of iron from the jail bed, G. W. Pilcher, 17, and Stanley Hagen, 18, alleged car thieves arrested here last week and held for federal authorities, hammered their way to freedom from the city prison last evening by shattering the cell door lock. Although descriptions of the two youths were immediately sent out, they have not been captured yet.
    Pilcher is accused of stealing a Chevrolet touring car in San Diego and to have deserted from the navy, while Hagen is accused of stealing a car in Seattle. The former was arrested by the local police while the latter was apprehended by State Traffic Sergeant O. O. Nichols. They had been incarcerated at Jacksonville, but were brought to Medford last night preparatory to leaving for Portland to face federal charges.
    Their escape was not discovered until officers came to bring the youths their evening meals. The lock, which had every appearance of being strong, was found in several pieces.
    Local officers worked somewhat on the theory that the boys would steal a car in the city and leave by the highway, but no theft was reported and now due to the condition of the highway and the fact that no trains are operating, it is believed that the pair are hiding somewhere nearby until the present floodwaters have receded.
Medford Mail Tribune, February 21, 1927, page 1

    Apparently having in mind the successful attempt of G. W. Pilcher and Stanley Hagen, alleged youthful federal car thieves, to break out of the city jail last Sunday evening by hammering the cell lock to pieces with a piece of the jail bed, Lyle Poole and Fred Reavis, parole violators from the state training school, in a like manner made an unsuccessful attempt to break from the city prison late yesterday afternoon. They are now in the county jail and will probably be taken to Salem tomorrow.
    They were
to have been taken by motor yesterday afternoon to the training school and were left in the city jail a short time, not over an hour, according to Chief of Police McCredie. In that time the youths had succeeded in tearing off two pieces of iron from the jail bunk and were about ready to commence operations on the cell lock when they were discovered. The lock, however, say the police, was made of such strong material that it would have been impossible to hammer open. The pieces of iron can be seen at the police station and indicate that much force was necessary to pry them loose. Medford Mail Tribune, February 23, 1927, page 1

    There are other creepy things besides those incidental to movie mystery plays, and they are small and numerous in Medford's city prison, despite that the latter is thoroughly cleaned often--sometimes. And among the moneyless and homeless traveling fraternity there are some men whom nothing could please. As witness:
    A fairly well-dressed young man belonging to the temporary hobo class during a rainy night recently applied at the police station for a place to sleep, and was conducted into the prison, given some blankets and then gratefully lay down on one of the cell cots to sleep. The only other occupants of the prison were several other hobo sleepers, and rhe prison was left unlocked.
    A half hour later the finicky young man surprised the policeman on duty by entering the police station and while scratching his itching body in various places, politely saying:
    "Thanks tor the accommodations but I can't use 'em. They (the
creepers) are too much for me."
    Then he disappeared into the rainy night, while the several other
hoboes continued to slumber and scratch.
Medford Mail Tribune, March 19, 1931, page 3

Last revised January 22, 2024