Texas Ranger John B. Jones and the Frontier Battalion, 1874-1881 (Frances B. Vick Series)

Texas Ranger John B. Jones and the Frontier Battalion, 1874-1881 (Frances B. Vick Series)

by Rick Miller

ISBN: 9781574414677

Publisher University of North Texas Press

Published in Biographies & Memoirs/Professionals & Academics

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Sample Chapter



The young men huddled along the shallow dry ravine as they listened to the pop-pop of gunfire from the Indians facing them on the crest of the ridge ahead. The shots whistled above them, uncomfortably close, occasionally striking one of the horses abandoned to their rear. The hot Texas sun was unmerciful and the men had long run out of water to quench their thirst. One of their force, Billy Glass, badly wounded only yards in front of them, piteously called to his comrades for help.

They had ridden into an ambush, perhaps as a result of the negligence of their commander, Major John B. Jones, in failing to enforce a more disciplined pursuit of the marauding party they had been trailing. Barely organized two months, these were men of Texas' new Frontier Battalion, created to meet the Indian threat, and now here they were pinned down in their first major confrontation with the enemy.

In the face of danger, Major Jones, a man of slight stature and often frail health, stood above the ravine, walking along it in spite of the gunfire, calmly directing the fire of his men. In so doing, he exemplified the standard and set the example for courage that was to become the hallmark of these fledgling lawmen. Although they did not realize it at the time, this was the beginning of the legend known as the Texas Rangers, and their quarry was at hand.

The Frontier Battalion was a relatively new creature in Texas, formed only two months earlier and placed under Jones' command and guidance. Given the general hatred throughout the state of Governor Edmund Davis' Reconstruction state police, it was remarkable that the Battalion would subsequently avoid much controversy and become widely accepted (though not always adequately funded) and would tout very real successes against marauding Indians, Mexican bandits, and other outlaws. Much of this success stemmed from the organizational and leadership skills of John B. Jones, a most unlikely candidate for the position. He proved himself a capable administrator, at the same time winning the respect and esteem of those who served under him by sharing their danger and privations in the field. Jones also gained the confidence of the politicians in Texas government who established funding and policy priorities that impacted on the Battalion.

John B. Jones came from good stock and a privileged background. His father, Henry Jones, one of six children born to John and Mary "Polly" (Oates) Jones, was born August 22, 1807, in what was then the Fairfield District of South Carolina, near Winnsboro. Henry Jones' great-grandfather had immigrated from Wales to Ireland, and one of his sons, Henry's grandfather, came directly to South Carolina, landing at Charleston before the Revolutionary War.

A marriage between Henry Jones and Nancy Elizabeth Robertson was celebrated on September 16, 1832. Mrs. Jones, born on November 16, 1812, was the daughter of Benoni and Ruth Ann (Mickle) Robertson, also nicknamed "Nancy." Benoni Robertson, a prominent planter and citizen in the Fairfield area, had been a soldier in the War of 1812, leading a battalion of South Carolina troops. The Robertsons could trace their ancestry to Scottish hero Robert Bruce, as the family originally emigrated from Scotland to Pennsylvania, then moved to Prince William County, Virginia, and then on to Winnsboro in the Fairfield District. Nancy Jones' grandfather, William Robertson, who was married four times, took part in the battle of Eutaw Springs in the Revolutionary War, and her father, Benoni, was one of eight children. She herself was one of thirteen children.

Both the Jones and Robertson families were slaveholders, certainly not unusual in South Carolina during the antebellum period. Slaves were considered personal property, and last wills of various family members reflected bequests of slaves in their possession at the time the documents were drawn. For example, after Nancy Jones' death in 1848, her father, Benoni Robertson, drafted a will bequeathing the slaves "Lizay," "Leah," "Aaron," "Darry," and "Brister" to young John B. Jones and his sisters, the slaves already being in the possession of Henry Jones under a loan to Benoni Robertson from Benoni's deceased daughter. Robertson also bequeathed to his grandchildren "a negro [sic] woman named Henrietta, to be equally divided among them, share and share alike." In 1830 there were a total of 21,546 persons living in Fairfield County, 9,705 of them white and 11,841 black.

Prior to moving to Texas, Henry and Nancy Jones had three children. Polly N., also identified as Mary, was born August 30, 1833. The second child, John B. Jones, was born on December 22, 1834, followed by Caroline Robertson "Carrie" Jones on February 1, 1837. Despite diligent research, John Jones' middle name has proven elusive, but a reasonable guess is that the "B" stood for Benoni. A later brother, who only lived a short time, was given the biblical name of Benoni.

Henry Jones and his family migrated to the Republic of Texas some time in 1838, settling first in Travis County, near Gilleland Creek twelve miles below Austin. His brother-in-law, Dr. Joseph William Robertson, had moved to Texas two years earlier, settling first at Bastrop, then moving to Austin in 1839 where he served briefly as a Ranger and as a representative to the Republic's congress. The Jones family lived here about four years. There is no explanation why the Jones family made the dramatic move from a settled environment in South Carolina to the raw frontier of Texas. Several reasons have been postulated, ranging from possible losses during the Panic of 1837, to the desire of Henry Jones' wife to be near her brother, or even as a result of Jones' vision and desire to "blaze the pioneer trails."

During this time, Henry Jones was a participant in the battle with the Comanche Indians in their daring 1840 raid that culminated in Comanche defeat at the hands of militia companies at Brushy and Plum Creeks in Caldwell County. He was elected as colonel by the members of his particular regiment, an appellation that he would attach to his name for the rest of his life. A daughter, Frances E., called Fannie, was born on April 17, 1839, in Travis County, followed by Ann P. on December 5, 1840. On May 8, 1839, Henry Jones was issued a conditional certificate for 640 acres of land in Matagorda County on the Texas coast; the certificate specified that the sale of the land could not be finalized until certain conditions were met, such as three years of continuous residency in Texas. In 1840 the Travis County tax rolls reflected that Jones owned 1,143 acres and that he was surveying another 1,260 acres. He worked that land and maintained his homestead with twenty-four slaves.

In March of 1842, only six years after the defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto, General Rafael Vasquez and troops of the Mexican Army marched back into Texas and occupied San Antonio. Texas President Sam Houston, who was at Galveston when he heard about the raid, was concerned that the Mexicans would move north and attack Austin. He decided to hold an emergency legislative session at Houston. However, the story quickly took hold throughout Austin that President Houston wanted to designate the city named after him as the new state capitol, and a vigilance committee in Austin warned that any attempt to remove state papers would be met with armed violence. The legislature met at Washington-on-the-Brazos and Houston sent a Ranger company to Austin to remove the archives for safekeeping. On December 30, 1842, the Rangers secretly loaded the archives in wagons and attempted to leave Austin, but not before the vigilantes directed some cannon fire in their direction. The Rangers camped about fifteen miles from Austin but were surrounded by the vigilantes with their cannon, led by a Captain Mark Lewis. A parley was held and the papers were promptly transported back to Austin with no further violence. Colonel Henry Jones was later credited with being in command in Austin during the so-called "Archives War," the vigilantes being led by him, his brother-in-law Dr. Robertson, and others, although no mention of them is made in general histories of the event. In 1861, without explaining his role, Henry Jones promised to write a "true history" of the "Archives War," although he apparently never did so.

Colonel Jones' involvement in the Archives War can be questioned, since, in 1842, the Jones family had already moved once again, this time to Matagorda County where Colonel Jones established a farm and grew sugar and cotton. Nancy Jones gave birth there to another son, Benoni Robertson Jones, on December 10, 1842, but the infant lived only until the following July. Another son, Mickle C. Jones, was born on December 20, 1844, but also died at an early age on August 5, 1849. At the same time, Colonel Jones gained in political prominence, serving as a representative from Matagorda County in the first state legislature held after Texas became a state and attending the regular session in Austin from February 16 to March 13, 1846. On February 19, the Republic of Texas formally entered into the American Union as a new state. Colonel Jones took his seat on February 24 and was named to the committees on county boundaries, state affairs and finance, and the militia, as well as the committee overseeing the Land Office.

Nancy Jones died in Matagorda County on February 5, 1848, at the age of thirty-six, along with an infant daughter, and the 1850 county census recorded Henry with only his five surviving children. Colonel Jones continued to prosper, the citizens of the county appointing him to a committee of five citizens to draw up resolutions protesting the "interference" of the federal government in organizing a "Santa Fe County" out of territory claimed by the state of Texas. He was remembered as one of the first settlers of the county and was a shareholder in the county's "Social Library Tax for 1847."

Young John B. Jones, called "Bud" by his family, began his education, although the record is incomplete. According to a niece, Mrs. Helen H. Groce, that education began in Matagorda County, then continued at schools in the Texas communities of Independence and Rutersville, although when and for how long he attended those schools is unknown. The institution at Independence in Washington County was a prominent Baptist school called "Old Baylor." The school opened in 1846, initially directed by Professor Henry F. Gillette, then, in 1847, by its first president, Henry Lee Graves. The school subsequently became a part of Baylor University.

Rutersville was located seven miles northeast of LaGrange in Fayette County, and it was there in 1840 that Rutersville College was chartered, supported by the Methodist Church. The original faculty was composed of the president, the Rev. Chauncy Richardson, his wife, Charles W. Thomas, and Thomas S. Bell. There were men's and women's divisions, the facilities sitting on fifty-two acres donated by the town. By 1844–1845, enrollment reached a high of 194 students. Advanced students were exposed to a curriculum that included various foreign languages, calculus, logic, philosophy, surveying, geology, and botany. Most students, however, confined themselves to more elementary subjects. The college was described as presenting "educational advantages of a superior character" with "pure atmosphere."

Early on, the school was located in an area frequently visited by marauding Indians. As one incident involving the college soon after it opened was described,

Two young boys in the neighborhood, while hunting horses were attacked by Indians, and one of them, Henry Earthman, was killed; his brother Fields escaped and brought the news to the school. The excited boys joined in the search for the body, which lay a mile away in a dreadfully mutilated state. The scalp had been taken, the hands cut off and thrown into the grass, and the heart, with ligaments unsevered, laid on one side of the body; it was found to have a bullet in the centre [sic], and was, no doubt, exposed in a spirit of bravado to show how unerring was the aim of the red man. Nearly all the boys in the school, ranging in age from fourteen to sixteen, joined in the pursuit of the Indians, which lasted about three weeks. In fact, one of them still living says they did little but hunt Indians while at school at Rutersville prior to 1842.

However, in addition to the threat of periodic Indian attacks, the emergence of the Mexican War and the establishment of the competing Baylor College in 1845 led to a decline of students at Rutersville. By 1848, Fayette County had withdrawn its support for the college, and faculty members were accused of misconduct. In 1856 the college merged with a military institute, then was later purchased by a German conference of the Methodist Church, before it finally closed for good in 1894. Again, when John B. Jones attended this school is unknown.

Colonel Jones apparently decided that his son should go back to South Carolina for his higher education, where he could stay with one of the Colonel's sisters at Winnsboro. The Mount Zion Society had initially incorporated a school in Charleston, South Carolina in 1777, primarily for the education of orphans. However, the school became a college in 1787 and subsequently moved to Winnsboro. In January 1853, the president of the Mount Zion Collegiate Institute was J. W. Hudson, who was also professor of Roman literature and English. Tuition for a session, which ran from January 1 to October 31, was ninety dollars and included board. Extra tuition might be required for certain courses, such as chemistry or French.

Mount Zion's philosophy was "to improve and confirm the moral character, through the imparting of knowledge, and to see that learning morals, and religion go hand in hand." There was a rigorous curriculum that leaned toward the classical, Latin grammar, philosophy, and Hebrew taught to advanced students, and a more common curriculum used for other students. In addition there were strict rules of conduct:

Duelling, challenging, fighting, quarreling, tricking, kicking, pushing; all stealing, pilfering, secreting, detaining, abusing; all intoxication, all unlicensed visits to the taverns, street and houses in town or country; all betting, horse racing, gaming or cards or dice; all breaking of doors, corridors, chests, trunks, and boxes, the property of others; keeping in any part of the college any species of war armor or ammunition, any loaded whip or stiletto, crossbows, or arrows, darts, clubs, knives, or any kind of weapon forbidden by the teachers; practicing any kind of diversion or relaxation on the Sabbath except Psalmody in the rooms, or decent walking in the background—all these misdemeanors are punishable with penalties such as reproof, degradation and suspension.

Young Jones apparently was not happy with his stay and studies in South Carolina, perhaps even homesick. In 1851 the sixteen-year-old sent a flurry of letters home to his father, pleading to be allowed to return to Texas. Henry Jones finally relented and agreed to permit him to withdraw from Mount Zion and to return home, asking him to make a side trip to Macon, Georgia, where his four sisters were attending the Wesleyan Female Academy, a school for young ladies. However, upon his arrival at the school, the young man learned that his sister, Polly, had died of typhoid fever. Unnerved by the news, he reportedly fainted. Recovering, he continued his trek back to the homestead in Texas.

Although the Jones family was headquartered in Matagorda County, Henry Jones was also purchasing land as early as 1841 in Navarro County, east of Waco and McLennan County. In April of that year he purchased acreage from the widow of John A. Barkley, as well as additional properties in 1846. In May of 1846, he leased 790 acres in Navarro County to Samuel Bowman, provided Bowman cultivated at least five acres, built a "comfortable cabin," and prosecuted all trespassers. Colonel Jones also required Bowman to surrender the premises, except for 200 acres, on May 20, 1851. In 1856, Jones moved his family and slaves to western Navarro County, purchasing one tract of 4,609 acres several miles west of Corsicana, the county seat, and another tract of 4,000 acres near the Hill County line.

Excerpted from "Texas Ranger John B. Jones and the Frontier Battalion, 1874-1881 (Frances B. Vick Series)" by Rick Miller. Copyright © 2013 by Rick Miller. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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