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John B. Jones: "Transformed His Indian Fighters into Lawmen"
John B. Jones is the "father" of the modern Texas Ranger service. While Stephen F. Austin laid the foundations of the Ranger tradition, Jones transformed his Indian fighters into lawmen. To accomplish this task, he mastered the administrative, logistical, financial, and political details inherent in forming any new military organization. He instituted an enduring system of personal discipline, organizational accountability, and admirable performance. Not merely a bureaucrat, the major commanded his Rangers both from his first-floor office in the state capitol and in the field, personally inspecting the line of companies several times each year. Writing on the Frontier Battalion, Dr. Harold J. Weiss, Jr. observed that Jones "presided over its transformation into a state law-enforcement agency. More than any other man, the rangers owed their march toward institutional continuity to him." The force he created has survived through multiple reorganizations and name changes, and continues to serve the citizens of Texas today.
He was born on December 22, 1834, in Winnsboro, Fairfield District, South Carolina. Henry Jones, his father, had been born in the same area on August 22, 1807. His mother, Nancy Elizabeth (Robertson) Jones, the daughter of a prominent planter and officer in the War of 1812, was born on November 16, 1812. They married on September 16, 1832. In addition to John, their children included Polly R. Jones, born on August 30, 1833; Caroline Robertson "Carrie" Jones, born on February 1, 1837; Francis E. "Fannie" Jones, born on April 17, 1839; Ann P. Jones, born on December 5, 1840; Benoni Robertson Jones, born on December 10, 1842; and Mickle C. Jones, born on December 20, 1844.
The family moved to the Republic of Texas in 1838, settling on 1,143 acres near Gilleland Creek in Travis County. Henry Jones became a prominent figure in the early days of the Republic. He served under Colonel Edward Burleson at the actions of Brushy Creek and Plum Creek, and commanded a militia regiment before and during the Vásquez Invasion. He was military commander of Austin in 1842, and, in the affair known as the "Archives War," prevented the removal of the official documents from that city. The Joneses moved to Matagorda County that same year, settling on 1,120 acres near Caney Creek to farm sugar, cotton, and tobacco. For over a decade, thirteen to twenty-eight slaves were forced to work the land. Starting at age twelve, Jones, affectionately known to his sisters as "Bud," attended school in Matagorda, and at Old Baylor Baptist academy in Independence, Washington County; Rutersville College near La Grange in Fayette County; and Mount Zion Collegiate Institute in Winnsboro.
Founded on January 9, 1777, the Mount Zion Society was granted a charter to operate its public school as a college in 1785, but never functioned above the preparatory level. With its strict rules and discipline, the academy was quite different from the rough and tumble environment that had characterized John's earlier school life. James Wilson Hudson was the revered president of the institution, which offered the sons of prominent Upcountry families the foundations for a classical education. Homesick and miserable, Jones felt little appreciation for Latin, Greek, English, or mathematics, and he wrote his father numerous times begging to be allowed to return home. Colonel Jones finally yielded and gave his son permission to leave the school. Following his father's instructions, John stopped in Macon, Georgia, where his sisters were attending Wesleyan Female Academy. There he learned his sister, Polly, had recently died of typhoid fever. Another tragedy awaited him after he arrived home when Nancy died on February 5, 1848, due to complications in birthing her seventh child. To make matters worse, the baby girl also perished.
By 1856, Colonel Jones had purchased four separate tracts of land in Navarro County situated along Richland and Pin Oak Creeks. Encompassing 4,746 acres, the property became known to the family as "the Rancho." John obtained another five hundred acres on Richland Creek in his own name. After Henry completed his acquisitions, he moved onto his lands with his children and twenty-three slaves. South of the confluence of Richland and Rush Creeks, the colonel built his plantation house atop a hill surrounded by "good land" and numerous trees. John and his father decided to go into business together and divided their responsibilities. The colonel raised cotton, hogs, and cattle, and operated a saw mill. John devoted himself to the raising of the partnership's blooded horse herd. "As a horseman, I have never seen his equal," wrote his niece, Helen Halbert Groce. "His steed and himself seemed to be one — in perfect rhythm and harmony in every movement. He was simply irresistible on horseback." The business arrangement proved profitable as John's ranch increased to eleven hundred acres by 1860. He also owned one lot in Corsicana and one slave. Henry's holdings in the same year totaled 4,774 acres, thirty-two slaves, four hundred horses, and twenty head of cattle. The real estate was valued at $41,820, and his personal estate at $68,266.
Despite his commitment to the ranch, Jones decided to become a Mason, and was initiated into the Dresden Lodge No. 218 on October 3, 1857. Active in lodge affairs for two years, Jones was elected Worshipful-Master for the years 1859 and 1860. He then turned his interest to the Masonic organization at the state level. He attended the meeting of the Masonic Grand Lodge at La Grange in June 1860, where he was elected Grand Lecturer for the central portion of the state. He was also appointed to the committees on petitions, credentials, and charter lodges.
Standing five feet, eight inches in height and weighing 135 pounds, Jones had a slightly protruding forehead over large, dark eyes, and a narrow face boasting a thick, drooping moustache. Mrs. Groce remembered: "I can see him now, the perfection of neatness; dark well- kept suit, white shirt, black bow tie, heavy black moustache and hair, smooth olive skin, piercing, twinkling, sparkling, penetrating black or brown eyes that seemed to see through your soul." A true gentleman in speech and manner, Jones spoke with a soft, measured voice. Furthermore, he abstained from tobacco and liquor and, while a temperate man in his comportment, he loved sponge cake, fresh buttermilk, and strong, black coffee. He was a devoutly religious man who declined to curse and seemed bereft of a sense of humor, although he was never perceived as stodgy.
The Navarro County Agricultural & Mechanical Association, of which Jones served as secretary, sponsored the county's first fair. The event opened on October 16, 1860, and lasted two days. Among the exhibits were showings of livestock, farm implements and products, sewing, and various items of domestic manufacture. While hailed as a success, the fair would be the last one for some years because of the coming war.
As the secession crisis swept through the southern states, Jones and his father actively supported Texas severing her ties to the Union. Indeed, Henry had been a founding member and vice president of the Matagorda chapter of the Southern Rights Association over a decade previously. On February 21, citizens of the county chose overwhelmingly by a vote of 631 to thirty-eight in favor of separation. After the surrender of Fort Sumter, Jones journeyed to Virginia to join the assembling army of the new Confederacy. He supposedly discovered a regiment of Texas cavalry, under Colonel Benjamin Franklin Terry, was organizing in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and he went to join his fellow Texans there. If such a scenario occurred, Jones remained only a short time in Terry's camp, too brief to have been added to the September 26 muster-in roll. Although virtually every account on Jones asserts he was a member of the Eighth Texas Cavalry ("Terry's Texas Rangers"), the rolls in the Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers confirm he was never formally enlisted in that regiment.
Traveling to Galveston, he enlisted as a private in Captain Marcus Delafayette Herring's company, Joseph Warren Speight's Texas infantry battalion on January 4, 1862. Speight's battalion of three companies, of which Herring's became Company B, was organized and mustered into Confederate service as the First Texas Infantry Battalion on February 18. In a letter to Brigadier-General Paul Octave Hébert, dated March 16, Speight noted his men were armed as best as circumstances would allow, but the weapons were of inferior quality. Indeed, some had no arms at all. By April 16, while at Camp Speight near Millican on the Central Railroad, another seven companies had been added to the battalion, which was then reorganized into the Fifteenth Texas Infantry Regiment. Speight was appointed colonel, James Edward Harrison lieutenant-colonel, and John W. Daniel major. That same day, Jones was appointed regimental adjutant with the rank of first lieutenant. His monthly base pay was set at ninety dollars while he received another ten dollars for acting in his staff role. Incidentally, commanding Company K was Captain Richard Coke, a man who would play a significant role in Jones's life twelve years later.
On June 29, Speight's troops began their march from Millican through East Texas and finally arrived at Austin, Arkansas, near Little Rock, where they established Camp Nelson on October 17. Brigadier-General Henry Eustice McCulloch was ordered to organize an infantry division, and the Fifteenth was assigned to the division's Second Brigade under Colonel Horace Randal. The regiment marched to Camp Bayou Meto near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, on November 23.
Lieutenant-General Theophilus Hunter Holmes, newly appointed commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, planned to defend all of Arkansas. To that end, he posted one corps to take a position near the Boston Mountains to deter any possible invasion from Missouri. He also dispatched one brigade of Texans and one of Arkansawyers to the unfinished stronghold of Arkansas Post to defend the Arkansas River line. The balance, including McCulloch's division, was kept in reserve at Little Rock. The immediate danger appeared to be a large Union army assembling at Helena. Holmes sent McCulloch's division to DeVall's Bluff on the White River to dissuade any contemplated offensive. Heavy, freezing rains ensured any engagement with the enemy would be impossible. When the Federal advance failed to appear, the division was recalled to Little Rock.
On December 15, McCulloch's men were ordered west to reinforce Major-General Thomas Carmichael Hindman's troops retiring from Prairie Grove. After marching about four miles, the Texans were instead directed to a new camp near Little Rock. The next day, the Fifteenth was detached and instructed to report to Brigadier-General William Steele, who had assumed command of the Indian Territory at Fort Smith.
Before undertaking the journey, Speight was assigned to command a brigade, on January 7, 1863, made up of his own regiment, as well as the Twenty-second, Thirty-first, and Thirty-fourth Texas Cavalry Regiments (Dismounted) and Captain Henry Clay West's Arkansas battery. Jones was placed on detached service from the regiment to be acting assistant adjutant-general of Speight's brigade on January 10. His appointment would be confirmed on April 2, to take rank from April 18. After a grueling march through eight to twelve inches of snow, the brigade arrived at Fort Smith and established its camp on January 15. The ranks were thinned by desertions, illness, and losses from enemy actions. From there, the Confederates went into winter quarters at Camp Kiamichi near Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation.
In April, Jones and his fellow soldiers were redirected to hinder the forward movement of Union troops from New Orleans. The brigade marched to Shreveport, Louisiana, arriving on May 14. Appalled at their condition and lack of discipline, Lieutenant-General Edmund Kirby Smith sent the Twenty-second and Thirty-fourth Texas dismounted regiments to a camp of instruction to receive further infantry training. The Fifteenth and the Thirty-first were ordered to Grand Ecore two days later to reinforce Major-General Richard Taylor. After garrisoning Simmesport for two weeks, the two regiments were paired with Brigadier-General Jean Jacques Alfred Alexandre Mouton's brigade. Participating in an offensive in the Bayou Lafourche country, undertaken to reduce pressure on besieged Port Hudson, Mouton swiftly drove the Yankees out of Thibodaux and dashed to seize Raceland, Des Allemands, and Boutte Station. Despite the campaign's limited success, Port Hudson ultimately surrendered on July 9. The brigade went into camp at Vermilionville and Speight returned to Texas on sick leave. In his absence, Lieutenant- Colonel Harrison of the Fifteenth Texas assumed temporary command of the brigade.
On September 28, the Rebels received orders to prepare for a two-day march across the Atchafalaya to commence at four p.m. The battle plan envisioned an encirclement of the Federal position at Mary Catherine Stirling's Botany Bay Plantation on Bayou Fordoche. Brigadier-General Thomas Green's dismounted cavalry troopers were to attack the enemy front, Mouton's and Speight's brigades were to cut off any Yankee withdrawal along the Morganza road, the Third Cavalry Regiment, Arizona Brigade was to do the same at Baton Rouge, and James Patrick Major's brigade was left in reserve at the river crossing to secure the Confederate line of retreat.
The following day, Speight's six hundred men assaulted the rear of the enemy position at Stirling's Plantation. They advanced through high sugar cane under heavy fire and took cover in a ditch in front of the Federal line. Meanwhile, Major Hannibal Honestus Boone's two hundred mounted troopers dispersed the Yankee cavalry, then supported the infantry by attacking the enemy in the front. The entire Texan line discharged their rifles, and Lieutenant-Colonel Harrison ordered a charge. The Rebels rushed four hundred yards across a field, shouting wild Texas yells. While the Yankees were pushed out of the sugar house and the slaves' quarters, the Texans could not dislodge them from their breastworks by frontal assault. Harrison ordered Jones to take fifty men and make a demonstration on the enemy's left flank. Jones's detachment clambered over the levee and opened fire on the bluecoats who were retreating down the works and into the woods. Enemy reinforcements appeared over the levee and the Texans again climbed to the other side to escape the Yankees' fire. The two sides fought at close quarters for an hour before the Union troops were driven from their positions; 462 were forced to surrender. The Rebels lost twenty-six killed, eighty-five wounded, and ten missing, of which the Fifteenth Texas lost fifteen killed, fifty-two wounded, and one missing.
General Green, commanding the Confederate forces on the Atchafalaya, wrote a report on the engagement and commended, by name, the brigade's senior officers, as well as its adjutant:
The heavy loss maintained by Speight's brigade shows the desperate nature of the conflict, and it is not out of place to mention here even where all distinguished themselves, the gallant bearing and activity of Lieutenant John B. Jones, Assistant Adjutant-General of Speight's Brigade.
Jones received further praise for his actions at Stirling's Plantation. Lieutenant-Colonel Harrison wrote to Colonel Samuel Smith Anderson, Kirby Smith's adjutant general:
I wish to call the attention of Lt. Gen'l Smith through you to Lt. Jno. B. Jones, adjutant of the Regt. Lt. Jones has been Adjutant of this Regt. from its organization until Speight's Brigade was organized about ten (10) months since. He has since that time acted as Brigade Adjutant, and aid [sic] to Col. Speight. Lt. Jones is a young man of high moral and intellectual worth. A good disciplinarian and drill officer. I know of no young man of superior merit. In our recent engagement on the Farouche, being in command of the Brigade, he was most efficient rendering me invaluable services, and bore himself with daring gallantry throughout, worthy of all praise and after the enemy had fled, he mounted Maj. Boone's horse (who had been severely wounded) and led a cavalry charge upon the routed enemy capturing two field officers and from one hundred & fifty (150) to two hundred (200) others. There was no other officer present and the surrender was made to Lt. Jones. He had with him in this charge not exceeding twenty privates of Maj. Boone's command, whom I induced to follow him. Knowing his merit, I respectfully recommend and ask his promotion to the rank of captain.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Ranger Ideal Volume 2"
Copyright © 2018 Darren L. Ivey.
Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments,
Timeline of Texas Ranger History (1874–1930),
Chapter 1 John B. Jones: "Transformed His Indian Fighters into Lawmen",
Chapter 2 Leander H. McNelly: "No Quarter Given",
Chapter 3 John B. Armstrong: "The Strong Right-Hand of Two Ranger Captains",
Chapter 4 James B. Gillett: "Unflinchingly Faced both Indians and Outlaws",
Chapter 5 Jesse L. Hall: "An Enviable Record of Courage and Action",
Chapter 6 George W. Baylor: "A Life of Adventure and Conflict",
Chapter 7 Bryan Marsh: "A Fearless Law Officer",
Chapter 8 Ira Aten: "A Code of Duty and Service",
Chapter 9 James A. Brooks: "A Resolute, Steely Nerved Lawman",
Chapter 10 William J. McDonald: "Faced Death with a Calm Certainty",
Chapter 11 John R. Hughes: "A Relentless Manhunter and Intrepid Lawman",
Chapter 12 John H. Rogers: "A Man of Conviction and Faith",