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The Infamous Black Bird Southern Oregon History, Revised


Joseph Lee Hammersley


Joseph Lee Hammersley
    It may be as yet unknown to you that Joe Hammersley is an apostle of peace. If so, you do not know Joe, and have not learned that what you took for a warlike display was really the flapping wings of gentle peace doves that coo on those broad shoulders. Or perhaps you have not seen that bear-like jaw break and the corners drop off as it rounds a big hearty laugh.
    Some wag has suggested that coming from Gold Hill, Joseph Lee Hammersley could not be other than a peaceful, quiet citizen. But then, again, they don't know Ham. For be it here set down that Joseph L. exudes a particular, peculiar brand of peace. He is intensely peaceful--intense, that tells the story. Ham is intense. Not the quiet, calm, folded arms and languid hands kind of peace--but a real, bubbling, ripping brand. He toots this philosophy of peace as seriously as he did brass in the palmier days of Gold Hill when that once-metropolis of the southern Oregon mining world sported a band, and as earnestly as he has pleaded the cause of the Nazarene from the pulpit.
    "Never had a fight nor a row with anybody, nor have I ever taken an insult or backwater. I give 'em reason," which astonishes you when you note the huge frame and deep chest and imagine what a scrapper he must have been when a kid. And this reason is applied with a laugh and the veriest kind of good humor.
    And so we get the first impression of Joseph Lee Hammersley--intensely earnest, intensely peaceful and intensely cheerful. Do you catch them all?
    Ham makes his living in the law. He is office attorney of the Rogue River Electric [Company] and keeps running smoothly the wheels of that and many subsidiary corporations. He drills like the proverbial tarrier, exhumes authorities, formulates, ponders and fights. Yet "the law is a josh" he thunders and then grins and qualifies: "It is a damned josh." Let is be here noted that Ham thinks lawyers are quite necessary. He will not admit that they should be swept into oblivion.
    "The law is a damned josh." Two hard swipes at the air, grinding of teeth, snapping eyes and--"I mean that it is unnecessary. It is something that we should get along without. A lawsuit is the outcome of the combative spirit. Arbitration is the result of higher development of the humane spirit. And in this latter is the spirit of the times. The world gets better as the humane spirit grows.
    "Why don't men settle their differences among themselves--arbitrate--let their neighbors determine the right. They do not invoke the law anyhow. They put their case up to a jury not one member of which knows the law."
    Ham first burrowed into the law with his handsome proboscis twenty-five years ago, but despite all his intensity he has not kept [up] his intake of knowledge between the wormy leaves a quarter century. No sir-ee! He has done many things in that time--played every instrument in a brass band, got married, ran a mine, managed a bank, sold postage stamps, occupied a pulpit, conducted campaigns, orated, read the D. of I. on the Fourth of July, preached and practiced peace, but then 'tis easier to enumerate omissions than commissions in Ham's case--he never taught school.
    Other parts of the world have known Joseph Lee besides Gold Hill. So let's start at the beginning. His father is George R. Hammersley, a Tennesseean by birth and rebel by heritage, who to this day has eluded reconstruction and denounces the "greatest outrage ever perpetrated, etc." Probably the sire's grievance is vivified by a slip which landed him in the Union army for three months. J. L.'s mother came from Iowa, her father being a congressman of distinction, James B. Horrough. From his mother comes the gentleness of peace which J. L. hammers into all comers with his pile drivers of fists, the latter the heritage of his mechanically turned paternal ancestry.
    After that three months' service in the Union army, to this day unaccountable, George R. and Martha Hammersley crossed the hills and plains to Oregon. Joseph L. is a native-born Oregonian. He opened his peepers in Lane County, August 4, 1871. By clever figuring one can deduce that he has just turned forty, with hardly a gray hair and all sound teeth. He would have started immediately to the Rogue, but his family prescribed the nursery and the Lakeview academy. He escaped at sixteen and came to Jacksonville, entering the office of Judge P. P. Prim to absorb the law.
    J. L. studied, dozed, orated and grew languid by turns in the county seat until 1893, when he migrated to the turbulent scenes of the mining world at Gold Hill. His father wanted him to be secretary of the famous Hammersley mine in the Jump-Off Joe district, and the son acquiesced and proceeded to run the mine.
    From that eventful year of '93 J. L. has lived in Gold Hill. Into the eighteen years he has crowded more living than most men could get away with in a couple of lifetimes. He is a living, breathing dynamo--voltage of many ciphers and speed unknown. He has done more things than six biographers could enumerate--and he has done them all with his best energies, mixing laughs with his troubles to keep himself young.
    While there may be no authority for the statement, it hardly will be gainsaid that the word "versatile" was coined for Ham's benefit. Versatile he surely is. Only three months ago he occupied the Gold Hill pulpit on "Tuberculosis Day," and not many hours previously he had filled in for a contest of "seven-up." Not long before that he wiped the dust from his tuba to be fifth man in a "brass" orchestra to play all night for a dance in the hills. He has tooted every band instrument from the sliphorn to the bass grunter, has led the procession and beat the drum. He sings tenor quite as resonantly as he groans bass, and never has failed to substitute for the first soprano when called.
    But J. L. is not a disciple of Bach. He is a lawyer, and to its ramifications has he given the best of his energies. The surplus and byproduct have not been allowed to waste. After fighting a dozen lawsuits, mystifying jurors with logic and legal lore crammed unceremoniously down their throats, J. L. would say: "I am getting lethargic; need a little exercise." And therefore he would go out and run a political campaign, or a bank, or whatever first came within his vision.
    Gold Hill is not a very large city, so J. L. could not afford to let slip many opportunities to rid himself of unused energy. And not many got away. For ten years he was city attorney, for a decade he has been postmaster, sometime in years long since flown he was made a member of the school board. He was the first president of the chamber of commerce and held down two jobs in the Gold Hill bank from April 1904 until April 1911--manager and cashier. He has held first call to the pulpit in the absence of the pastor for all these years, has passed the collection plate and kept up the fire.
    But with all these offices and vocations and avocations, Gold Hill has been unable to consume the energy of this peace-loving human dynamo. So he has played politics. He has been head and heels in every national, state, county and town campaign in twenty years and his clarion enunciations have startled and then absorbed voters from Portland to San Francisco, and then some. In fourteen years he has only twice missed the opportunity of jerking tail feathers from the noble American bird on Independence Day. He never missed a convention--political, religious or just social--and he nearly always is a delegate and a speaker of the day.
    He is a Republican--black--stand-patter--every inch of him. He chooses his spot and there he stands, conjuring forth many worlds to budge him one inch. J. L. belongs to the jolly band of antlered Elks, is an Odd Fellow and has journeyed York Rite Masonry to the Shrine. He is intensely fraternal just as he is intensely political and intensely religious, although he belongs to no church.
    J. L. knows everybody in Jackson County and most everybody in the state of Oregon, and they know "Jovial Joe." And they who don't should take the first opportunity to get acquainted. And they who already are acquainted should get even better acquainted. Beneath the "Jovial Joe" is a big peace-loving, kindhearted, gentle man who is intensely earnest about being good. It must not be overlooked that J. L. is married and proud, you bet! Mrs. Hammersley was Miss Mathilda Carter of Tennessee, and she is a proud wife and happy mother of three.
    The Hammersleys are coming to Medford in November. All the seats of honor at Gold Hill have been occupied. J. L. will stir up here what he thinks should be stirred. And there will be stirring aplenty.
"Medford's Hall of Fame," Medford Sun, August 20, 1911, page 13



Last revised December 14, 2011