Governor Daniel Webster Jones: An Unexpected Progressive

By Ledbetter, Calvin R. | The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Governor Daniel Webster Jones: An Unexpected Progressive


Ledbetter, Calvin R., The Arkansas Historical Quarterly


ALTHOUGH DANIEL WEBSTER JONES has not attracted much historical attention, he deserves more than to be remembered simply as the last Confederate veteran to serve as Arkansas's governor. Despite his service in private legal practice as a railroad attorney, Jones engineered passage of a bill and a constitutional amendment providing for state regulation of railroads at a time when the companies were the linchpin of Arkansas's economy. The passage of the railroad commission bill, and the defeat of the powerful lobby that opposed it, offered hope to those progressives in Arkansas who would successfully enact much of their reform agenda during the twenty years after Jones's governorship ended in 1901. Jones also supported the building of the current state capitol, defended it vigorously against continual attacks by Jeff Davis, and signed a pioneering antitrust bill. A highly capable war governor and two-term attorney general, presidential elector, and state representative from Pulaski County, Jones articulated a vision for the state that favored strengthening agriculture rather than trying to industrialize with the help of northern capital.

Jones was born in Bowie County, Texas, on December 15, 1839, the son of Isaac N. Jones, a practicing physician, and Elizabeth W. Littlejohn, who, like her husband, was originally from North Carolina. The family moved to Washington in Hempstead County, Arkansas, and also purchased a large plantation in Lafayette County. Isaac Jones had brief encounters with two well-known contemporaries. One was James Black, creator of the famous Bowie knife, who lived with the Jones family after seeking treatment for his failing eyesight. The other, according to a newspaper story, was Davy Crockett. Crockett, evidently short of funds, passed through the community in Arkansas where Dr. Jones lived before leaving for Texas and exchanged watches plus thirty dollars with Jones. The thirty dollars went to Crockett who valued his watch as being worth that much more than Jones's watch. Dr. Jones wrote to Mrs. Crockett in 1836 after the Alamo and expressed his condolences for her husband's death and returned Crockett's watch.1

Isaac Jones practiced medicine in Washington and supervised the plantation in Lafayette County, which in 1850 included fifty-seven slaves. Jones held nine more slaves in his Hempstead County household. There were eventually nine children in the family.2 Dan Jones grew up in Washington and attended a local academy there. He began the study of law at age twenty under Judge John Eakin, who later became a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.3

When Arkansas joined the Confederacy in May 1861 Jones enlisted as a private in an Arkansas regiment in the Confederate Army. He fought at the battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri in 1861, but served mainly in Mississippi and Tennessee. He was elected a major in his regiment in July 1862. Later, badly wounded in the battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Jones was taken prisoner. He recovered from his wounds and was freed in a prisoner exchange.4 Jones then took part in the Vicksburg campaign, having attained the rank of colonel. The Federals again took him prisoner after the Confederate surrender of Vicksburg and again released him.5 By the end of the war, Jones had risen in rank from private to colonel and had compiled a distinguished military record, a priceless political asset in post-Civil War Arkansas. In his later political career, he was often called Colonel Jones, which could only help his electoral prospects among veterans and others.

On February 9, 1864, Jones married Margaret P. Hadley from Hamburg in Ashley County. They had five children-three sons, Claudius, Daniel, and Howard, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Bobbie.6 After the Civil War, Jones completed his legal studies and was admitted to the Arkansas bar in September 1865. He began his law practice in Washington and in January 1866 was appointed prosecuting attorney for Hempstead County by Gov. …

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