Ranger John B. Jones was born on December 11, 1834 to Col. Henry Jones and Nancy Elizabeth Robertson Jones in South Carolina, the only son of five children. The family moved to Texas in 1839, settling near current day Austin. Mrs. Jones’ brother, Dr. Joseph William Robertson had settled in the area a couple of years earlier and at the time he was practicing medicine from a log cabin around what is now Congress Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets in Austin. Henry Jones had served in the militia and commanded a regiment under future President of the Republic Mirabeau B. Lamar. He had fought at the battle of Plum Creek and others and was elected to the first Texas Legislature that convened in February, 1846.
John Jones’ educational background included a school in Matagorda, old Baylor at Independence and Rutersville College near LaGrange before he briefly returned to South Carolina to attend college at Mt. Zion Collegiate Institute at Winnsboro. In time, the family moved again, this time to near current day Corsicana where he grew up on the family ranch.
At the outset of the Civil War, Jones enlisted as a private in Benjamin F. Terry’s Eighth Texas Cavalry. He remained there for a while and then transferred to the Fifteenth Texas Infantry, where he served as adjutant and held the rank of captain. He later advanced to the rank of major, the rank he held when the war ended.
At the end of the war, he returned to Texas, Jones was asked to investigate the possibility of finding a safe haven in Mexico for former confederates. He went to Mexico, made his inquiries and reported back that the idea was not feasible, returning in the midst of the Reconstruction era. The rights of former confederates were curtailed, as they could not vote or hold office for a number of years. Jones was elected to the state legislature as a representative in 1868 but was not allowed to serve by the Radical Republicans who then controlled the political landscape. The political climate in Texas changed in the 1870s, as evidenced by the election of Richard Coke of Waco, as governor. The fourteenth Texas legislature funded the cost of six companies of Texas Rangers called the Frontier Battalion, created in 1874 to fill the security gap left by Union forces in the west. The goal of the Battalion was to defend the state against marauding Mexican groups, Indians and outlaws. Jones was appointed by Coke on May 2, 1874 to be in charge of the force. Each company was to be comprised of 25 – 75 Rangers.
In his adulthood, Jones was slightly built and only five feet eight inches tall, but was highly regarded for his leadership skills. It was said of him that he preferred negotiation to bloodshed. This sentiment notwithstanding, Jones had acquired the reputation of being a tough fighter and a steady and confident administrator. Under Jones, the Rangers were successful in countering the raiding Plains Indian groups. They participated in fifteen such engagements in the first six months of their operation. The Rangers’ success on the field was evident as the number of battles steadily declined under Jones’ leadership. In addition to bringing a considerable level of peace to the threat of Indian incursion, the group was called upon to manage domestic feuds and incidents. Among these were the Mason County War (officially ranchers versus rustlers, but believed to be primarily attacks on German immigrants by other Anglo settlers), Kimble County which had been besieged by outlaws, the Horrell-Higgins feud, the El Paso Salt War. Along with other lawmen, members of the Battalion were also involved in pursuing the outlaw Sam Bass, who was mortally wounded at Round Rock on July 19, 1878.
Jones was appointed Adjutant General of Texas by then Governor Oran M. Roberts in January of 1879. The following month, he was married the widow Ann Holliday Anderson, mother of seven, who had survived the death of her former husband, a planter on the Brazos River. Mrs. Anderson had prospered, moved to Austin and lived in a frame house at 1010 San Jacinto in Austin. However, their marriage was short-lived, as Jones rather shortly thereafter became ill and died at the age of 47. There was some controversy regarding his death, but no post mortem was performed and no official cause of death was ever noted. John B. Jones is buried in the historic Oakwood Cemetery at 16th and Navasota in Austin, Texas.
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