Benjamin and Alice 1892-1940

The work of a curious fellow
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In June of 1892 Nathan Jones originally of Clay County Missouri, died in Mugginsville, California. Ben, who had been raised by Nathan and Phoebe Ann as though their child, not their grandchild, was eighteen and had no interest in running the Jones farm in Mugginsville so Nathan’s wife Phoebe Ann sold out and moved to Yreka.

Ben had a knack for selling and took a job in Yreka at the general store. This kept him occupied for about two years. The position of deputy sheriff came open and at the age of 21 Ben went into law enforcement. In 1896 a new sheriff came in so Ben was out.

He went north to Oregon and came to rest at The Dalles on the Columbia River, the place where the Oregon Trail became a waterway. There he worked in a sawmill until the Wasco County sheriff decided that The Dalles needed another deputy stationed there. Ben applied for the job and was hired on the strength of the recommendation from Yreka.

As a lawman Ben was asked to investigate a complaint lodged by a merchant against a citizen of the town. The man allegedly took a shot at the merchant who was trying to collect a debt. The man making the complaint identified himself as Benjamin Franklin Jones, a lumber dealer from Mount Angel over in Marion County. In the course of interviewing the merchant Ben remarked on the coincidence of their names.

The Mount Angel man asked where Ben was from and Ben said he was the son of Nathan Jones and grew up in Mugginsville down in California. The fellow was quiet for a while then he said, “Well there are a lot of Joneses around.”

Being a deputy sheriff didn’t pay much and left a good bit of time for other activities so Ben looked for work on the Mills Ranch just east of The Dalles. Warren Mills was a business man in town as well as the ranch owner. Ben was acquainted with him because Mr. Mills ran his businesses pretty close to the legal boundary. He sometimes came in to the office consult with the sheriff on the gray areas in which he operated. He know better than to ask a lawyer because they tended to be black and white about such matters.

Ben stopped by the Mills office in town.

“Hello Deputy Jones,” said Mr. Mills. “What can I do for you?”

“I am looking for a job that I could work along with being deputy. I can do about any ranch work and I do a bit of blacksmithing but I would need to be able to come and go a enough to take my shift at the Sheriff office two days a week and to be available on short notice if the sheriff needs me. Really I’m just looking for a way to be useful when deputy work is slow and make a little extra money.”

Mills Ranch002
The Mills Ranch east of The Dalles

“Well on the ranch I need men to work full time. You know how ranching goes. There is always something to fill the time. I was thinking about taking on some help here in town. I could use a man to be an extra set of eyes and ears for me in watching over my enterprises, someone I could send to help out my employees or to collect from my sometimes delinquent customers. With that kind of work you would be right here in town most of the time if the sheriff needed you.”

So Ben became a sort of foreman in Mr. Mills’ in town operation. He dealt with the Mills stables, the River Front Hotel, the Mills Overland Shipping company and the Dalles-Portland passenger boat. Ben was energetic and discrete, both characteristics the Mr. Mills valued. He handled people in such a way that even adversaries liked him. He never mentioned the surprising number of young women who stayed at the hotel, or the amount of material that traveled off the bill of lading in the shipping company.

Ben remained at The Dalles until June of 1903 when he was approached by a traveling salesman peddling railroad stock. The traveling salesman was sick of traveling and Ben wanted to see the world. Ben gave notice to Mr. Mills and left his employ on good terms. He and the salesman worked out a deal with the man’s company, which dealt in rail stocks of all the major carriers and some mining stocks, and Ben became a commercial traveler.

Ben would ride the rails at no cost anywhere he wanted to go and try to convince folks to buy stock in the railroad or mining companies. He got a discount on the market price and registered any sales at the nearest telegraph office where he got the next day’s price. His customers received their certificates and dividends by mail. He could stop in at any participating bank to deposit the proceeds to the company’s account, withholding his commission.

The system worked for the central broker by extending the sales of stock to people who would never have the opportunity to deal with a stock exchange. For the commercial traveler the job paid well enough if the salesman was hard working and trustworthy, and had a knack for selling.

Ben had those qualities so he did well enough. He would have done better financially if he had not had a string of girlfriends stretching from San Francisco to Portland, Maine. He crisscrossed the country spending his money about as fast as he made it. By the fall of 1909 he was tired and looking to settle down.

BFJ 19090000 (365K)
Benjamin F. Jones about 1909

It was late September in Portland, ME when Ben took some time off for a rest. He was having trouble with his Portland girlfriend so he drifted north to Topsham where he took a temporary job as he did from time to time for a change and to supplement his income. He went to work handling pulpwood in the Pejepscot paper mill. There he made the acquaintance of Jim Wagg from the neighboring town of Bowdoin.

Jim Wagg was a sociable 20 year old and recognizing that Ben was without family or friends in the area, he asked him to spend some time with Jim’s family on the farm in Bowdoin. Ben was as personable as ever so he became a frequent and welcome visitor. In particular he was welcomed by Jim’s eighteen year old sister Alice.

ALJ_Dogs 19160000 (418K)
Alice in about 1916

Alice was fascinated by the attractive older man from the wild-west, as she imagined everything west of Massachusetts to be. Ben was fascinated by the innocent young country girl so different from his usual run of girlfriends. In a few months the fascination became love and they married on 12/25/1909.

Ben and Alice lived in Bowdoin, Maine, Lynn Massachusets, Harpswell Maine, The Dalles Oregon, and back to Bowdoin during their marriage. They had one child, Benjamin Everett Jones born September 25, 1918. On December 25, 1939 Benjamin Everett Jones married Freda Mavis Small, uniting the four families documented here.

Ben died suddenly on January 1, 1940. On November 6, 1940 James Delmar Jones was born in his mother’s father’s house in Litchfield Maine.

From the time of her marriage into the 1970s Alice kept a diary which documents the events described in the preceding paragraph and much more about rural life in the United States in the first two thirds of the twentieth century.

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