By Ginny Masullo
Sitting in an easy chair, 92-year-old Jesse L. Jones reads 14 books a week. I perused his current stack of books, all Westerns, as I sat opposite Jones in his Springdale home and asked him if he had always read so prolifically. “Only since I was 4,” Jones replied.
Reading is not the only way Jones has given industry to words. Since his retirement (and brain surgery in 1983) Jones has written 72 stories. In 2006 Rock Island Press of Houston published the novel “Me and Slim.” In 2007 Rock Island published two more stories or novellas, “Cedar Canyon” and “Helen McCoy.”
All three of the books are written in first person with voices so clear the reader is sure that each is an autobiography. While all the stories are Western and draw on Jones’ own experiences growing up on a ranch and ranching as an adult, each story is its own.
“Helen McCoy” is told from a woman’s point of view. Jones says he has absolutely no idea where “Helen McCoy” came from, but adds that like the author of “Roots” once said, “my work is all ‘faction.’”
Jones contrasts himself to Zane Grey, saying, “Grey wrote long sloppy sentences. Mine are much crisper.”
Authors who Jones admires and who he credits with influencing his style and knowledge include Ben Green, Will James and Ralph Moody. Jones, obviously well read, writes with a clear spare style that is filled with a wealth of horse psychology and a history of cattle ranching
Jones went on his first cattle roundup when he was 8. He grew up on a ranch and bought his first of three ranches in 1944.
“I had steers every color of the rainbow, even lavender,” Jones says. “People came from all over the country to see my steers.”
Like the characters in his books, Jones has made a considerable sum of money as a trader of horses and cattle. He said he made and lost a million dollars more than once. “You don’t have to be crazy to be a cowboy, but it sure helps,” he says.
A cowboy and rancher is not the only work Jones has done. Besides being a carpenter, electrician and bricklayer, Jones drove a truck for many years. As he drove coast-to-coast and border-to-border his stories brewed. Finally they found their way to the page on the first model computer that Walmart carried.
Jones’ stories usually revolve around characters with grit. They know hard work, bad luck and most importantly, what to do when good luck finds them.
In “Helen McCoy,” the protagonist and her husband encounter a windfall of gold. But because they already feel that they have enough, all they purchase is a good lead of rope, shovels and bolts of fabric. Because they want to preserve the land from prospectors, they hide the gold and do not rely upon it for their livelihood.
“I had my baby to look forward to and there might be another one someday,” says Jones’ Helen. “Living alone as we did we had no need for fancy doings. We had enough clothes to keep us warm and decent and what more did we need. You might say we were as happy as a hog in a mud hole.”
The cover of “Slim and Me” features the author features a picture of the author at 22. He is holding his first child and stands in the West Texas lands that he writes about. The two cowboys in this story are the smartest around and are hired time after time to catch wild horses and cattle that nobody else could or would go after.
Rich with horse lore, the two cowboys progress from using horses, to jeeps and finally an airplane for their roundups of wild range animals.
Jones never names a specific place in any of his stories, but anyone who has spent time in the Southwest will recognize the area by his descriptions.
On July 10, Jones and his wife celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. He credits his wife for her patience.
About turning 92, Jones says, “Perhaps the worst thing about being old is the inability to think old. You continue to think young.”
Like any true writer, young or old, Jones continues to write.
His books can be found on the web at rock-island-press.com or lulu.com.