Law and order is a popular theme of primetime television drama. In early 1885, Jacksonville, Oregon witnessed its own bit of drama during a sordid murder trial played out in its newly built courthouse.

That previous November, Ashland grocer Lewis McDaniel was shot-gunned at close range while walking home after dusk. Eight days later, Louis O'Neil was arrested for the murder. No one saw him do it, but there was little doubt of his guilt. O'Neil wasn’t even surprised when arrested. His boot tracks were found at the crime scene, and the murder weapon found nearby belonged to him. Moreover, he and McDaniel's wife had been having an affair.

O'Neil was tried in the Jacksonville Circuit Court in February 1885. His lawyers took the case to the Supreme Court after the judge sentenced him to death by hanging. That court denied his hearing, and he was sentenced a second time in January 1886. In preparation, the Jacksonville Fire Department surrounded the Jacksonville jail yard with a 16-foot high board fence.

Father Blanchet, a local priest, visited O’Neil, at which time he allegedly confessed to the murder.

On March 12, 1886, as the Fire Department stood guard with rifles, about 200 people witnessed Louis O’Neil’s execution.

Source: Webber, Bert and Margie, Jacksonville Oregon, Antique Town in a Modern Age. Webb Research Group, 1994.

— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.