Chief Wilson N. Jones

Wilson N. Jones

Wilson N. Jones as Principal Chief of the Choctaws, 1890 to 1894.

Wilson N. Jones was born in Mississippi in 1831,and probably had the most colorful life of any past Chief. His family was forced to Indian Territory Oklahoma with their tribe in 1833. They settled on Little river where Jones grew to manhood. His mother was a Battiest, a well known French-Choctaw family represented in eastern Oklahoma. The father, Capt. Nathaniel Jones, was an annuity captain in charge of the payments to the tribe, and was also a member of the Choctaw national council while it met at the first council house at Nanih Waiya, not far from the present town of Tuskahoma, Okla.

In 1849 Jones left his parent’s home and set up for himself, first as a farmer in the Little River country. Starting with nothing, he had within a few years accumulated about $500 capital, the beginning of his fortune. But, it was not until after the Civil War, when he moved to a location on Shawnee Creek in the extreme eastern portion of what is now Bryan County, Okla., that Jones began to prosper on a large scale.

Even then he suffered a number of reverses. In 1867 he took a partner named Myers and entered the cattle business. It was four years before they had finally gathered a herd of about 1,000 head, which Myers drove overland to the cattle market in Kansas. In Kansas Myers sold the cattle, pocketed the money and Wilson never saw his money nor Myers again. Jones had lost the labor of four years and was left saddled with the debts of the ranch. To the credit of his character, he set out to recoup his losses and to pay the debts. He had acquired such a reputation for honesty and fair dealing that within a few years he was once again on the road to financial success.

After the coming of the railroad in 1872 he embarked in the mercantile field to supplement his cattle business. He had a large store on Shawnee Creek and another operated by a partner, at Caddo on the railroad. But his financial troubles didn’t end. Through the mismanagement of partners, the Caddo store failed,and Jones had to pay $20,000 to satisfy demands of St. Louis merchants. However, everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, and such losses hardly gave a temporary check to his growing wealth, nor did it drive him away from the mercantile field in Caddo.

By 1890 he had become the richest man in the Indian Territory. At that time he had 17,600 acres of land under fence in the region between Caddo and the Boggy River. His cattle on the ranch numbered more than 5,000 while he had about 600 acres under cultivation. In addition to the cattle he had always from 75 to 300 horses in his pastures. Other interests included a cotton gin, and investment in the coal business, then developing along the Katy railroad.

After his wealth was well established, Jones built a large two-story residence on a beautiful site near Shawnee Creek, a short distance from the present town of Cade, Okla. It was probably the most elaborate mansion in the Indian Territory in those days. It had two wings, each containing quite a number of rooms. One room, about 30 feet long and wide in proportion, is said to have been used as a courtroom while Jones was a Choctaw official. Sturdy chimneys provided fireplaces in every room. Great verandas with walnut post and balusters, almost surrounded the house. Beneath it was an ample cellar used, so tradition says, as a place of confinement for prisoners who were tried in the courtroom upstairs. More probably it was used as a place of storage for Jones apple crop, for he had a large and productive orchard not far away. This house, though neglected in recent years, and long ago out of the hands of the Jones’ family, still stands as a monument to it’s builder.

Although lacking in formal education, Jones was blessed with shrewdness and wisdom and rose quickly in Indian politics. In 1884 he become trustee for the Pushmataha District; in 1887 he was elected treasurer of the Choctaw Nation, and in 1890 was elected Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation. He was re-elected principal chief in 1892 after one of the most bitterly contested struggles in Choctaw political history.

Jones, a member of the progressive Party known as the Eagles, was opposed by Jacob Jackson, a member of the National Party commonly known as the buzzards. The Buzzards represented the full-blood conservative elements in the Choctaw Nation. The election was unusually bitter because whichever party won would have charge of the distribution of a per capita payment of more than $100 to every Choctaw man, woman and child. The election was close, and there were charges of fraud on both sides. On the face of the returns Jackson seemed to be the winner but the returns were canvassed by the National Choctaw council, staffed by men favorable to Jones.

(Picture Caption)

Wilson N. Jones home at Cade, Oklahoma. It was used by Jones when he was Principal Chief and was considered one of the finest mansions in the territory. Court trials were held in one room.

Pending the assembling of the council in 1892, the wildest disorder prevailed over the Choctaw Nation. Several Jones supporters were assassinated, and when attempts to arrest the alleged murderers were made, the Jackson adherents armed to prevent it. The Jones supporters likewise armed themselves, and for a time it seemed that civil war might break out in the Choctaw Nation. However, the federal government sent a company of cavalry from Fort Reno to preserve order during the council meeting. Meanwhile, Jones, who was Principal Chief and running for re-election, captured and imprisoned a large group of Jackson supporters in the garret of the capital at Tuskahoma. When the council convened Jones controlled it and Jackson was counted out.

The attempts by Jones to punish the alleged assassins led to further trouble in 1893 which developed into the Antlers War. However, because of federal intervention, only one Choctaw execution took place as result of the election troubles, though at first nine men were sentenced to death.

The administration of Jones was memorable for the radical changes made in the Choctaw system of education, including the establishment of three new academies. A boarding school for boys was established near Hartshorne, and in honor of the chief was named Jones Academy. A similar school for girls was founded not far from the National capital and appropriately named Tuskahoma Academy.

At this time, Jones became familiar with the medical staff in the Sherman area. Doctors in Sherman would travel through the Choctaw Nation giving aid where needed.

A school named Tuskaloosa Institute was authorized for the education of Choctaw freedmen, former slaves who had recently been recognized as Choctaw citizens. Two of the older schools, Armstrong Academy and Wheelock Seminary, were set apart as an orphan home and schools for boys and girls, respectively,

The later years of Jones life were darkened by family troubles. But, tragedy seemed to beset his private life almost from the beginning. In early youth he married a daughter of Colonel Pickens, a well-known Chickasaw Nation leader. Two children were born, both of whom died young, soon to be followed by their mother. In I855 Jones married Louisa LeFlore, granddaughter of the district chief, Thomas LeFlore. Four children were born, two of whom, W. W. (Willie) Jones and Annie Jones, grew to maturity. Annie later died in her senior year at college. Willie received the best educational opportunities. He (Willie) killed a prominent Caddo, Okla., citizen in 1885. Then three years later while returning to Texas with a crowd of revelers he was shot in a gun battle and his body found on the sand of the Red River. Willie had a son, Nat, who eventually become the heir of Wilson N. Jones.

Louisa LeFlore Jones died in 1864, and Jones married for the third time in 1876. This time he married a widow, Mrs. Belle Curtis, daughter of Colonel Heaston of Arkansas. She bore him two children, and they too, died in infancy, though Mrs. Jones survived her husband.

In the late 1890’s Jones purchased a house in Sherman, formerly the home of Judge Thomas J. Brown of the Supreme Court of Texas at the site of Grayson County State Bank. Jones had long transacted business on a large scale with Sherman banks and business houses.

When he died in 1901, the Jones estate was valued of about $250,000. The will, after providing certain other bequests, stipulated that if Nat Jones died before the age of 30, then his share of the estate would go to create a Wilson N. Jones Memorial Hospital in Sherman to serve North Texas and Southeast Oklahoma.

A copy of the will is in the permanent hospital file. It was drawn up Sept. 13, 1900 and witnessed by Sherman businessman F. A. Batsell and P. R. Markham. Wilson had arranged that Nat would receive his share of the estate in three stages, $10,000 at age 21, $25,000 at age 25, and the rest of the estate at the age of 30. After Wilson died, Nat received the first two payments, but before turning 30 Nat fell to his death from the ninth floor of an Oklahoma City Hotel. Speculations continue whether Nat fell or was pushed from the hotel window.

The will was vigorously contested by the relatives and was in court for many years. Finally, in 1917 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the Wilson N. Jones Memorial Hospital board of trustees should receive their share of the estate, which amounted to about $140,000.

Historic message from 1891 Choctaw Chief Wilson N. Jones

from May 1992 Bishinik, pg. 5

Wilson N. Jones
Executive Office
Choctaw Nation
October 8, 1891

To the honorable members of the Senate and House of Representatives in General Council assembled:

Under the dispensation of an all-wise providence you have assembled in these legislative halls in the capacity of legislators to act for those who have elected you to represent them. In taking the responsibility upon yourselves it now becomes your duty to benefit the people as a whole. Let all bickering and strife be laid aside and all party lines ignored. Look only to the interests of your Nation and people. Let all your legislation tend to create and maintain harmony among your people and preserve and protect their common interest.

No contagious disease has visited our people during the past year, and we have been blessed with unusual good health for which we should be thankful.

Reports from every part of this Nation show that there has been an unusual acreage of corn and other cereals; that while other sections have been visited by that dread enemy of the farmers … the boll worm … we should be thankful that such has not been the lot of the farmers of this Nation and be encouraged in agricultural affairs.

The reports of the National Treasurer and the National Agent show that the finances of the Nation are in a healthy condition and increasing; that while the appropriations of the last General Council were greater than ever before there is still a healthy balance. The report of the National Treasurer shows that the receipts of the fiscal year ending July 31st, 1891 were $310,099.24; that the expenditures during the same time were $191,083.66, leaving a balance of $118,015.58, which if wisely expended is sufficient for all wants during the coming year.

I would recommend that an act be passed requiring all collectors to deliver to the Treasurer all monies collected by them within thirty days after the close of the quarter for which such collections were made; also that collectors and inspectors must in every instance give receipts in duplicate and that one of said receipts be immediately sent to the Treasurer by the contractor and the licensed trader.

Our trustees report that the schools are all in good condition and are fulfilling the purposes for which they were established. If, in the examination of the reports of the several district trustees you deem additional legislation in reference to schools necessary, I hope that you will give the matter your best attention and legislate as seems best.

The treasurer’s book shows that there is a balance of $22,165.47 on hand after the expenditures of the late net proceeds payment. I would recommend that this balance be finally disposed of and that the sum should be of the greatest benefit if placed in the general treasury to be used for school purposes.

It will be remembered that a delegation was appointed to proceed to Washington City, D.C., and in conjunction with the old delegation sign releases and conveyances and other things necessary to secure the amount due from the sale of the leased district. I was one of the new delegation with the others. I proceeded to Washington City. We called upon the Secretary of the Interior. The President was absent. The Secretary of the Interior said that he would have all things ready for the inspection of the President on his return. When the President returned, the Secretary of the Interior went away and the President said the matter was of such an intricate nature and so difficult to be understood properly he could do nothing until the return of the Secretary of the Interior and advised us to return home and when in the routine of business he reached the matter he would notify us of his readiness to take it up. So we returned and awaited the call but up to the present time we have received no call. Capt. J.S. Standley, one of the old delegates, remained to watch the progress of the case but in the absence of any report by him l am unable to state to you just what the condition of the case is, but that the case remains in status quo. I presume the report will be made in due time.

In regard to this class of our citizens I would say that as we have them in our midst as citizens it becomes our duly to provide neighborhood schools for them. This we have done. In addition to these schools although we are not bound by any agreement to do so, yet as a matter of justice to them I deem it necessary that we erect and furnish one high school for their exclusive benefit. Therefore I recommend that you do pass an act authorizing the building of such a school and appropriate as much money as necessary for such purpose; Said building to be ready for occupancy by September I, 1892 and to be under the control of the national authorities as other such schools of this Nation are.

We, the Choctaws of this country, were once inhabitants of the same country occupied by these. We were fortunate enough to emigrate to this country which we now call our own. A remnant of our tribe are still in Mississippi and is not an imperative duty, yet bound by the ties of relationship as we are, we should aid them as best we can. Humanity demands that we do so. If in your judgment it seems best you will legislate in such a manner as to aid them.

Questions are continually arising as to the rights of citizens on the public domain. Abandoned fields or claims are often a bone of contention. I would recommend that an act be passed declaring that abandoned fields and claims after a certain number of years are parts of the public domain and subject to entry as other public lands are. Also that a certain limit around the academies of this Nation be protected as the property of the Nation for the exclusive use and benefit of the schools. This becomes necessary owing the custom now growing, of fencing as close as possible to these schools. The Nation needs the limit for national stock, wood and other necessaries in conducting these academies.

It will be remembered that the last General Council authorized the building of two new academies, they are now in progress of erection and will be ready for occupancy by September 1, 1892. I recommend you pass an act to furnish these academies with suitable desks and other school furniture and appropriate such a sum as may be necessary to render them first-class schools. I would also recommend that an Act be passed authorizing the appointment or selection of the children that attend these academies in the same manner as are the students of the other academies of this nation.

At a former session of the General Council an act was passed allowing the sum of $50 per annum to each blind, crippled or idiotic Choctaw who was unable to obtain the necessaries of life by the labor of his own hands, and had no property to furnish such. While this was an act of humanity it has become a sad fact that some are disposed to abuse the privilege beyond reason. Instead of being a benefit as it should be to some, it has had the effect to raise an army of indigent Choctaws, ever increasing in number. I would recommend that you take this matter into consideration and adopt such measures as will benefit those who are really needy and be a bar to those who would unjustly claim the benefits under the law. If at any time any new matter comes up which needs your consideration I will present it to you in a special message.

Hoping that harmony and peace will prevail and that in all your deliberations you will look only to the best interests of your Nation and people.

I am sir, your most obedient servant.
Wilson N. Jones
Principal Chief
Choctaw Nation

submitted to Bishinik by Loyce Bell

Former Chief Wilson N. Jones

From Leaders and Leading Men of Indian Territory, Choctaw and Chickasaw, Volume I by H.F. O’Brolme

(Special thanks to Luther Harris for submitting the following article)

The former principal chief of the Choctaws, Wilson N. Jones, was born in Mississippi in 1831 and was the youngest son of Nathaniel Jones, who emigrated to the Choctaw Nation in 1833. Nathaniel was annuity captain, and afterward served as a member of the legislature at the early councils, when the Council House was situated at Nana Waya.

The subject of our sketch belonged to the Ok-la-fa-lay-a clan. In 1849 he commenced farming without any capital whatever. His results were very limited for the first few years, but he soon began accumulating enough to secure a fair start. He succeeded so far as to be in a position to open a mercantile establishment on a capital of five hundred dollars. In 1866 or 1867 he took a Kansas man named Jim Myers as partner, who contributed three or four hundred dollars to the stock. After four years of hard labor they succeeded in accumulating money enough to purchase a thousand head of cattle. Myers drove the cattle to market and disposed of them in Kansas, probably at Fort Scott, but forgot to return and divide the proceeds with his partner.

The consequence was that Wilson Jones lost his labor of four years, a sum amounting to at least five thousand dollars. But Mr. Wilson went bravely to work again, and collecting what debts were due to the house and three hundred dollars worth of cattle, turned in by Mr. W.W. Hampton, satisfied his creditors and saved the business, enabling him to purchase a fresh stock of goods. There being little money among the Choctaws at the time, Mr. Jones was obliged to take stock In payment for his sales; but he had a fine range and permitted his cattle to accumulate year by year. When the railroad was located he opened a store at Shawnee, fifteen miles from Caddo, where he continued in business thirteen or fourteen years with great success, increasing his stock, until he was the largest cattle owner in the Indian Territory. At one time, he loaned B.J. Hampton and L.A. Morris five thousand dollars to start in business at Caddo. They used his name in purchasing their goods, and failing in business, Wilson Jones was held accountable for the amount, nothing being left to liquidate the debts (said Mr. Jones) but a few remnants. He also said that he had to pay as much as twenty thousand dollars to satisfy the demands of the St. Louis merchants for similar debts as the Hampton-Morris.

In 1884, Wilson Jones was elected district trustee, and in 1887, treasurer, which office he held until 1890, when he was elected Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation.

He was first married to Col. Pickins’ daughter, by whom he had two children. In 1855 he married Louisa LeFlore, by whom he had four children. In, 1876, Mr. Jones married Isabell Heaston, daughter of Col. Heaston, of Bennett County, Arkansas, by whom he had two children.

Former Chiefs of the Choctaw Nation

Wilson N. Jones

Wilson N. Jones was born about 1827 in old Choctaw Nation, Mississippi Territory. He was the youngest child of Nathaniel Jones of Mississippi. His mother’s first name is unknown, but she was from the Battiest family, which makes him of French descent.

Jones’ first wife was a daughter of Col. Pickens, a well known Chickasaw leader. Two children were born of this marriage, but both died young.

His second wife was Louisa LeFlore and they were the parents of Annie Bell and Willie Jones. Willie was killed, leaving one son, Nat Jones. Nat committed suicide by jumping from the top of a ten story building in Oklahoma City.

Wilson Jones had a sister named Lizzie, who married a white man, Thomas Griggs, Jr.

Jones’ third wife was Martha L. Risener, the daughter of George and Mary Rebecca (Bonner) Risener from Tennessee.

His fourth wife was Mrs. Bell Curtis, widowed daughter of Col. Heaston of Arkansas. Two children of this marriage died in infancy.

Wilson Jones served as Chief from 1890 to 1894. He achieved the highest office of his people, was the richest man in the territory, and endowed a hospital that bears his name and is still one of the major hospitals in the region.

He died January 1 1, 1901 at the age of 74. He is buried near his home place in Cade Community, Bryan County.

Although Wilson Jones had little formal education, his administration is remembered for the strides made in education during his tenure. Many Choctaws had been educated in schools outside the Nation. Chief Jones was insistent that Choctaw schools be run by Choctaw educators. Three new schools were established during his administration.

A boarding school for boys was established near Hartshorne, and was named Jones Academy. A school for girls was founded near the Capitol and was called Tuskahoma Academy, and a school for freedmen was established and given the name Tuscaloosa Institute. Two older schools, Armstrong Academy and Wheelock Seminary, were set aside as Orphan’s homes and schools for boys and girls, respectively.