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· John Wesley Jones (1856-1926)
It’s October 13, 1927 in Hutchinson, Kansas. Julia Whiteside, 59, meets her husband, Houston, 81, at the door.
“The radio just announced that Ruth Elder is safe!” said Julia. “They were rescued from the ocean off the coast of the Azores. The American Girl had a broken oil line.”
“Is George Haldeman well?” asks Houston.
“Yes, they were both picked up by a Dutch steamship.”
“All of McPherson will be glad to hear that,” remarked Houston, thinking of the Jasper Joseph Haldeman family who used to live north of Reno County before George went off to war and became an aviator.
“Where have you been?” asked Julia.
“I ran into Ethel Jones Miller of Langdon, she’s a daughter of John Wesley Jones who died last year.”
“The minister?” asked Julia.
“Yes, and ex-sheriff,” said Houston. “Without a formal education, he accomplished a great deal. He came to Reno County in 1875 with very little, searching for a place to homestead.”
“He was remarkable,” agreed Julia Whiteside, “but so was his wife, Eliza ‘Jennie’ Johnson.”
“I had a law degree,” said Houston; “he had five months of schooling.”
“But he married the right woman, a former school teacher,” said Julia. “She taught him reading, spelling, grammar, and arithmetic.”
“John W. Jones settled west of Langdon in Grove Township,” said Houston. “Back then, twenty-eight miles was a considerable distance to travel to our county seat. J. W. used to recall how as a laborer he would work all day gathering bison bones from the prairie and haul them to Hutchinson or Sun City to trade for fence posts and other supplies.”
“What a way to make a living,” Julia commented, “collecting bison bones with a horse and wagon.”
“Since he wasn’t 21 yet and still single, he didn’t qualify for a homestead claim, but he established a homestead anyway,” said Houston. “He was better off than many in his community. I believe, to get started, he had some financial support from family back in Illinois.
“That support helped him purchase a steam thresher and custom cut for farmers in the area. It also meant that J. W. was able to build a four-room, framed, two-story house, when many of his neighbors lived in dugouts or sod houses.”
“It’s a wonder people weren’t jealous of him,” said Julia.
“He certainly had perseverance,” said Houston. “There were many pioneers that couldn’t make it work, who returned to God’s country—the place they had called home before coming to Kansas.”
“He was a lucky man,” said Julia. “When he met Jennie Johnson, he was anxious to learn. She helped change his life.”
J. W. Jones was the first Reno County sheriff who lived in the western portion of the county,” said Houston. “It was smart of the Republican party to select him—a “west end” man—because there was a growing alarm by residents outside of Hutchinson, who believed county government was wasting the hard-earned money they paid in taxes.”
“There’s still that opinion,” said Julia. “The taxes take care of those who live in Hutchinson and ignore those living in the country.”
“Speaking of taxes,” Julia continued, “Deprived of schooling, J. W. had a passionate desire that his children might be educated. They were among the first from the neighborhood to go off to high school and college. Unable to attend school himself, he was a leader in boosting for good schools. He served for four years on the school board.”
“I wonder if the county residents appreciated that their taxes were helping pay the sheriff’s salary,” said Houston. “They sure weren’t happy about the second bond issue it took to complete the earlier courthouse and jail in the 1870s.
“Jones won the election because he was a solid Republican, but he also won because of his reputation. He was capable, a clean-cut gentleman, industrious, and trustworthy. By hard work, energy, and good management, he improved his farm, and acquired good stock.”
“After two successful elections for sheriff, I’m glad that John and Jennie were able to move to Hutchinson for four years,” said Julia, “Their move to Hutch was a huge change for the entire family. At least they got to live in the sheriff’s residence when it was practically new, not like Cora and Fay who have problems with the upkeep, especially the unsecure jail cells.
“Cora and Fay Brown don’t have any children to raise; Jenny had five children growing up at the jail. That’s counting Roscoe, who was born in 1890 about a week after J. W. took office for his first term.
“John Wesley Jones was baptized into Christ at the age of 16,” said Houston. “Later in life, he served fifteen years as pastor at Pratt, Fowler, and Lewis, and was remembered for the good work he accomplished.
“I wonder if the death of Roscoe in 1906, the youngest child of Jennie and John, led him to the ministry,” asked Houston.
“I know there were ministers in their family,” said Julia. “Roscoe was sixteen, going off to Manhattan to attend the State Agricultural College, when he got sick with a bad cold and sore throat. He returned home to Langdon, where he died of diphtheria.
“Five years later, Jennie was also at home, where she died after a ten-day struggle with pneumonia.
“I’ve read about John Wesley, the famous Englishman, who organized the Methodist Church. On his death bed in 1791, as he lay dying, his friends gathered around him, Wesley grasped their hands and said repeatedly, ‘Farewell, farewell.’ At the end, he said: ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’
“Late in life, Reverend John Wesley Jones, former Reno County sheriff, said he found his greatest joy and usefulness in his fifteen years in the Christian ministry.”
At the Langdon Cemetery (Maple Grove), the Jones family marker proclaims “Blessed are they that die in the Lord.”
“Yes, they are blessed indeed,” Julia quotes from the Book of Revelation, “for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”
Note: My script-writing style of historical non-fiction requires a lot of research. For this week’s blog, I read and studied many Hutchinson newspapers, the Langdon Leader, the U. S. Census, and a dissertation titled, “Langdon, Kansas: The Aging of a Rural Town,” (1978) by James E. Sherow.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.