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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 4
December, 1936
CHIEF WILSON NATHANIEL JONES.

by John Bartlett Meserve.

Page 419

De Toqueville, the eminent French statesman and scholar visited the United States in 1831 studying our political institutions and in 1835 his famous work, Democracy in America, was first published in Paris. He was in Memphis, Tennessee, and witnessed an early detachment of emigrating Choctaws embark for the West and left for us his painful impressions:

1"At the end of the year 1831, whilst I was on the left bank of the Mississippi at a place named by Europeans Memphis, there arrived a numerous band of Choctaws (or Chactas as they are called by the French of Louisiana).

Those savages had left their country, and were endeavoring to gain the right bank of the Mississippi, where they hoped to find an asylum which had been promised them by the American Government. It was then the middle of winter and the cold was unusually severe; the snow had frozen hard upon the ground, and the river was drifting huge masses of ice. The Indians had their families with them; and they brought in their train the wounded and the sick, with children newly born and old men upon the verge of death. They possessed neither tents nor waggons, but only their arms and provisions. I saw them embark to pass the mighty river, and never will that solemn spectacle fade from my remembrance. No cry, no sob was heard amongst the assembled crowd; all was silent. Their calamities were of ancient date, and they knew them to be irremediable."

The illustrious French economist preserves for us a contemporary picture of those simple, disheartened folk, the red natives of our soil as they were being thrown, with apparent abandon, over the garden wall into unexplored jungles, to survive or perish amid the weeds and vices of a misdirected civilization. How admirably they surmounted their difficulties



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is a matter of their history. The parents of Wilson Nathaniel Jones were among the solemn Choctaw exiles who crossed the "mighty river" during the decade succeeding the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty of 1830.

Captain Nathaniel Jones, a mixed blood Choctaw Indian whose father was a Virginian by birth, lived on the Pearl River in Greenwood Le Flore District, Mississippi. He married into the famous Battiest family of French-Choctaw origin and, with his family, came with one of the Choctaw removal caravans to the old Indian Territory in 1833 and settled on the Little River in what is today McCurtain County, Oklahoma. The captain was a character of some prominence, and served as an "annuity captain" in charge of the distribution of Government payments among the Choctaws and also as a member of the Choctaw National Council in the years when it met at the old capital, at Nanih Waya, near the present town of Tuskahoma, Pushmataha County, Oklahoma. He died, probably in the decade preceding the Civil War.

2Wilson Nathaniel Jones, the youngest son of Capt. Nathaniel Jones, was born in the old Greenwood Le Flore District in Mississippi about 18273 and came with his parents to the West in 1833. His educational advantages were very limited and in 1849 he embarked in farming for himself upon lands in the Little river country. He rendered no service, either military or otherwise, in either the Union or Confederate cause during the Civil War. After the Civil War, having accumulated five hundred dollars by the sweat of his own brow and frugal habits, he located on Shawnee creek in the eastern part of what is today Bryan County, but which was then Blue County, Choctaw Nation, where he engaged in farming and later opened a mercantile establishment.4 This location, some







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three miles west of the present inland town of Cade, became the center of his future business activities. Money was a very limited commodity among the Choctaws during those years and the young merchant conveniently accepted stock in exchange for his merchandise. This situation became the inspiration for his more extended entry into the cattle business which was at that time beginning to overshadow the economic life of the country. The career of Wilson N. Jones bids invitation to an interesting period in the life of the old Indian Territory.

The two decades immediately succeeding the Civil War witnessed the cycle of the gigantic cattle industry upon the vast, unoccupied prairies of the Southwest. They were years of notorious vice, of which it is of no avail to speak in undertones. The era was feudalistic in its analogy as we cross the threshold of romance, adventure, and sordid tragedy. Self constituted authority appropriated the open ranges and cattle barons lived in medieval comfort surrounded by armed retinues, not all of whom drove the bawling herds. Jealousies were provoked as the use of the range was disputed by armed competitors. Cattle rustlers darkened the picture, feuds were engendered among the cattle men and cool, calculating murder was not uncommon. Each cowman made and enforced his own regulations for his occupancy of the open range and their enforcement became a source of real and potential trouble. A careless practice of branding the wrong calves was also provocative. The picture is further emphasized by the cow towns which sprang into being along the trails. These hastily assembled settlements were fashioned to accommodate the sordid impulses of the hour. Even hitherto quiet, peaceful, rural towns found themselves overshadowed by a new life. Whiskey was plentiful, gambling, open and notorious, dance halls and honkytonk theaters were the social centers and the red lights lingered to glimpse the dawn. The old Indian Territory, as then constituted, was in the very heart of this hectic life as across its domain passed the cattle trails from Texas north to shipping points in Kansas. Its influence was demoralizing to

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the Indians as it brought them in contact with vile characters among the whites and greatly impeded their progress.

The town of Caddo, situated in what is today the northern part of Bryan County, Oklahoma, was, at that time the principal settlement between McAlester and the Red River and in the center of a rich cattle grazing area. After the M. K. & T. Railway came through in 1872, it became the shipping point to eastern markets for cattle from the adjacent ranges of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. At Caddo, Government supplies were unloaded and freighted overland to Ft. Sill and other western military posts. The busy little town became the rendezvous for cattle men and yielding to its environments probably ran true to form. It could not boast of open saloons because the Government looked after that, but there was plenty of bootleg alcoholics in evidence; and besides, Garrett's Bluff ferry across the Red River near the mouth of the Blue, was not far away and Texas, a white man's country, lay just beyond.

The cattle business of Wilson N. Jones developed rapidly and, in 1867, he associated with a partner by the name of James Myers. In four years of diligent effort the partnership accumulated a herd of one thousand head of cattle which Myer's drove overland to the cattle market at Ft. Scott, Kansas. Myers sold the cattle, pocketed the receipts and faded from the picture. Jones not only lost his share of the proceeds but was left with the firm's indebtedness to liquidate. He soon recouped his losses and in a few years was once more on the high road to success. After the M. K. & T. Railway came through in 1872, he enlarged his mercantile business on Shawnee creek and began to diversify his interests. About this time he became the financial sponsor for B. J. Hampton and L. A. Morris who engaged in a business enterprise at Caddo, the venture being carried on in his name. The business failed in 1882 through mismanagement and Jones was left to satisfy St. Louis wholesale creditors in the sum of twenty thousand dollars. He became involved in litigation over the affair, out of which grew

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the case of Jones v. Baer et al.,5 in the United States Supreme Court, in which a memorandum opinion was noted. This case was the first case to be filed in the first Federal Court established in the old Indian Territory and which opened at Muskogee on April 1, 1889 with Judge James. M. Shackleford on the bench. Jones was represented at the trial by Judge S. S. Fears and in the Supreme Court by Hon. Augustus H. Garland. The case went against Jones in both courts, the action of the Supreme Court being divided.

The shrewdness and business acumen of Wilson N. Jones began to evidence itself and by 1890 he was reputed to be among the wealthiest men in the Territory. At that time he had seventeen thousand acres6 of Choctaw lands under fence in the area between Caddo and Boggy river, about five hundred and fifty acres of which were under cultivation. His herd of some five thousand head of cattle ranged the pasture lands. He was the Indian cattle king of the Territory. The other interests of Mr. Jones included his enlarged mercantile store and a cotton gin as well as other investments in the coal business then rapidly developing along the M. K. & T. Railway in the Territory. He was a co-partner with W. H. Ainsworth in a large mercantile establishment at Caddo. The employees upon his ranch were mostly full blood Indians, few negroes were used and no whites, save in the cotton gin, were employed. He was very popular with his employees. His "home on the range," some three miles west of Cade, on Shawnee Creek, was among the most comfortable in the Territory at that time and was one of great hospitality. During this period he exerted a strong influence in the political life of the Choctaw Nation and served as school trustee of his district in 1884 and, in 1887, became the National Treasurer. He was allied with the powerful McCurtain faction during those earlier years. Wilson N. Jones rode the higher altitudes of prosperity.





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The road to fame and fortune was marked with tragedy. Things began to happen which reflect an age of lawlessness which defies prosaic description. 7William W. Jones, the only son of Wilson N. Jones, was born in the Little river country in 1860, attended school at Booneville, Bolivar and Springfield, Missouri, and upon his return home in 1883 became a foreman upon his father's, ranch near Caddo. He was a lovable character but strong drink, to which the young man became an early addict, provoked a reckless career which was terminated only by his tragic death. William Jones or "Willie" as he was known, became involved in a course of very questionable conduct for which there remains no complete explanation or justification. Late in the afternoon of September 18, 1885, Willie Jones and his friend Madison Bouton8 strolled up the Main Street of Caddo in agreeable conversation when suddenly and without warning, young Jones drew his sixshooter and shot and killed Bouton, after which he mounted his pony and rode back to the ranch. Madison Bouton was an intermarried Choctaw, born in Roxbourgh, New York, in January, 1839, came to the Choctaw Nation in 1870 and two years later married Christiana, a daughter of Israel Fulsom, a Choctaw. He was quite extensively engaged in the cattle business at the time of his unfortunate death. He, necessarily, was a rival of Wilson N. Jones in the use of the open range of that section. No provocation has ever been assigned for this cold blooded killing although there were whisperings that the wrong calves had been branded by employees on the Jones ranch, to which Bouton had objected. About this time, at the meager settlement of Mayhew and in the proximity of the Jones ranch, an intermarried Choctaw by the name of Alex Powell was also in the cattle business in a modest way and, obviously, his operations conflicted with Jones in the use of the open range. Powell opened a small store and from his exchange of merchandise with the Indians, began to assemble a rather promising herd





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of range cattle. As an accommodation for any night visitors to his store, he placed a bell in the yard which might be used by any belated customers, whom he hastened to serve when the bell was rung. Two shots burst forth in the dark, one night when Powell opened his door in response to the bell. He survived long enough to identify Willie Jones and Steve Belvin as his assailants. Belvin was a "lieutenant" or scout on the cattle ranch of Wilson N. Jones, and later became sheriff of Jackson County, Choctaw Nation, succeeding Josh Crowder. No excuse or justification has ever been offered for the murder of Alex Powell. At another time, Belvin made an unsuccessful attempt to shoot L. A. Morris, a clerk in the Hancock store at Caddo. Morris, it will be recalled, was one of the partners whose business failure in 1882 had occasioned the heavy financial losses to Wilson N. Jones. Morris became blind in the latter years of his life and died at Atoka a few years ago. No effort seems to have been made by the Choctaw Nation authorities to apprehend and punish either young Jones or Steve Belvin for these outrages. There were no ten commandments around Caddo in those days—mostly rules of the jungles.

Grim fate arrested the hectic career of Willie Jones on the night of January 26, 1888. The young man and a party of friends consisting of Tuck and Chris Bench and Josh Crowder, who was then sheriff of Jackson County, were engaged in a drunken carousal, near Garrett's Bluff on the Red River. The party was badly intoxicated, save Tuck Bench, and as the supply of whiskey became exhausted, they crossed on the ferry into Texas to replenish their supply. The party became belligerent and particularly young Jones and in the melee which ensued after their return to the Nation, Tuck Bench, in anticipation of drunken threats made by Jones, shot and killed him. Sheriff Crowder, half crazed with drink, witnessed the tragedy and is reputed to have offered no interference and the bullet-riddled body of the only son and heir of Wilson N. Jones was found upon a sand bar on the Choctaw Nation side of Red River, near Garrett's Bluff, the next morning. Tuck Bench

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fled the country to Northern Arkansas and did not return to the Choctaw country until after the death of Wilson N. Jones. A feud devolped between the Jones and Crowder factions. For some days after the killing, Crowder and Chris Bench went into hiding. The three men were indicted in the Choctaw district court which convened at its court house in the forks of the Bog gies north of Boswell. Tuck Bench was never apprehended but Wilson N. Jones employed Green McCurtain to aid in the prosecution of Chris Bench and Josh Crowder. They were defended by Hon. William A. Durant. Chris Bench was always in attendance when the case was called but was never tried. Crowder never showed up for trial, and although his bond was repeatedly forfeited he experienced little difficulty in giving a new bond, because there was no procedure in the Choctaw Nation at that time which enabled a collection to be made upon a forfeited undertaking and so his case was postponed from term to term.

Some years later Josh Crowder and a companion were out trapping near Shawneetown on the Red River in what is today McCurtain County, when they were waylaid and killed by some negroes. The negroes later were convicted in the Federal Court at Atoka and sent to the penitentiary for life. The prosecution of Chris Bench seems to have been abandoned. Willie Jones married Emelia, a daughter of James McCauley of Atoka, in 1887. His only son and child, Wilson Nathan, grew to manhood only to meet an unfortunate death at Oklahoma City in 1916 and the tragic story of Willie Jones was ended.9

Wilson N. Jones made the race for chief of the Choctaws in the fall of 1888 on the Progressive ticket and, although he had the support of the McCurtain faction, was defeated by B. F. Smallwood of the National party. The campaign was spirited but not as bitter as was the campaign of 1890 when Jones defeated Smallwood for reelection by a small majority. The cam-



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paign of 1892 when Jones ran for reelection on the Progressive ticket was the occasion for the most, serious disorder that ever occurred in the Choctaw Nation. His opponent was Jacob B. Jackson, the candidate of the National party. The contest approached the status of a guerilla warfare as armed bands of the opposing factions pursued a course of intimidation. Many assassinations occurred and life became unsafe. The standard of political ethics sank to the lowest in the history of the Choctaw Nation. Feeling ran high, the newspapers became vituperative and from the press, one would have thought that the Choctaws were on the road to complete political and social disintegration. In the parlance of the times, both factions were claiming the open range. The interest of the politicians was intensified because of the Leased Land payment which was soon to be made. The result of the election was close and both sides claimed the victory. Both sides were vociferous in claiming that fraud had been committed by the opposition which was an evidence that the Indian was "coming of age." Indian Agent Bennett stepped into the picture in an effort to compose the differences and Jackson offered to submit all contested election returns to the Indian Agent but this offer, Jones declined, and for obvious reasons. The controversy was disposed of by the Council, both houses of which were overwhelmingly of the Progressive party, on October 6, when it declared the reelection of Jones by a narrow margin of seven votes out of a total of 3402 cast. The chief was again entrenched in undisputed possession of the open range. An interrogation point has ever followed this partisan declaration of the Council.

An aftermath of the bitter controversy came in the following December when the so-called Jones-Locke or Antlers war broke out. One Willis Jones was forcibly taken from the Choctaw authorities by Jones's opponents and removed to the home of V. M. Locke, an intermarried white man living at Antlers, where members of the National faction gathered to protect him. Chief Jones assembled the militia at Antlers and as the Locke supporters continued to assemble, an armed conflict seemed

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unavoidable. A clash did come late in March, primarily provoked by bad whiskey among the members of the militia and much shooting was done but nobody was killed or seriously injured. The windows were shot out of the Baptist Church and the Masonic hall. Jacob B. Jackson belonged to both organizations. It was a sort of comic opera affair but dizzy enough to enlist the attention of Indian Agent Bennett who again hastened to the scene of the trouble. A small detachment of United States troops was dispatched to the front where they were welcomed by both sides. The soldiers remained a few weeks and then "marched down the hill again." The Government at Washington was becoming annoyed by the disorderly posture of affairs among the Choctaws and a delegation headed by Green McCurtain was dispatched to the capital to cushion over the Antlers insurrection. Congress created the Dawes Commission on March 3, 1893 and so government of the Indians, for the Indians and by the Indians was soon to become a pathetic memory.

The story of Wilson N. Jones and particularly of the campaign of 1892, invites a more intimate acquaintance with Jacob Battiest Jackson,10 his political opponent. The two men were quite the antithesis of each other. As Jackson's career is followed, one is enabled to debunk many of the things said and written about the full blood Indian. He was a member of a band of Indians known as the Sixtown Indians who were adopted into the Choctaw Nation. They were originally known as the Bay Indians and lived in southern Mississippi. There were at one time about three thousand members of this tribe, and there existed, at an early date, much prejudice between this band and the real Choctaws. Jackson was a full blood Indian, was born in southern Mississippi about 1848 and came to the Choctaw Nation in the West in 1850. He was of pious Christian parentage, they being members of the Baptist Church. Holbatubbee, his father, died during the removal journey and Elizabeth Jackson, his mother, died in 1864 in Cedar County,



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Choctaw Nation. Young Jackson attended the neighborhood tribal schools, spent four years at Ft. Coffee Academy and, on August 13, 1862,11 enlisted in the Confederate army in the Civil War. He served as a private in Company G commanded by Capt. Coleman E. Nelson in the 1st Regiment of Choctaw Mounted Rifles and served faithfully until the war was concluded. Upon his return home after the war, the young man was appointed sheriff of Skullyville County and at the ensuing election was elected to succeed himself. Political and social conditions were in a much demoralized state at that time and the unafraid young sheriff greatly contributed to a reestablishment of law and order in his bailiwick. He resigned his office in 1867 when he obtained employment at Little Rock, Arkansas, which enabled him to attend school there and in 1869, he enrolled for a year at King's College at Bristol, Tennessee. The Choctaw Council, appreciating his ambitions and ability, in 1869 made an appropriation which enabled him to enter Roanoke College, at Salem, Virginia in 1870 where he remained for four years and completed his education.

In 1874 he began the practice of law at Skullyville and in 1876 was elected senator, which position he held until 1881. He was chosen to the senate again in 1884 and in 1889 was elected National Secretary, being reelected in 1891. During his career in the Council, he was a persistent advocate of improved educational advantages for the Choctaws. It was through his urgent effort that Chief Jackson F. McCurtain established the Orphan Schools. To him, as chairman of the school committee, credit was due for the building of the new Spencer Academy.

Jacob B. Jackson became the candidate of the National party for chief in 1892 being pitched against Wilson N. Jones who was running for reelection on the Progressive ticket. He was defeated by a narrow margin following a memorable campaign during which many illogical things were done, and some of them by his supporters, but to these delinquencies, Jacob B.



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Jackson was by no means, a party. Like the patriot that he was, he bowed submissively to the action of the Council when it declared the election of his opponent. To the reign of terror and revenge which ensued for several months after the election, he, in no wise, contributed.

Jackson again aspired to be chief, in 1894, but was defeated by Jefferson Gardner. He rallied the Full Blood Nationals as their candidate against Green McCurtain in 1896 and, had the McCurtain opposition united in his support, he would have been elected because Green McCurtain was chosen by a plurality vote. The grim prospect of the allotment of the tribal domain was an issue and to this, Jackson was vigorously opposed. Mr. Jackson ran again, in 1900, when Gilbert W. Dukes was elected. He served as a delegate to Washington in 1895.

The Atoka Agreement became the issue in the campaign of 1898 when Green McCurtain became a candidate for reelection on the Tuskahoma ticket. The opposition crystalized as the Union party and nominated Wilson N. Jones as its candidate. Political alignments rapidly shifted and the man who had been the McCurtain candidate in three of the most hectic campaigns ever held in the Choctaw Nation, now became McCurtain's opponent. Another interesting feature of this campaign was that Jones was actively supported by Jacob B. Jackson, his opponent in the militant campaign of six years previous. Both Jones and Jackson were vigorously fighting the Atoka Agreement but probably for diverse reasons. Jones deprecated tribal allotment because it would destroy the open range. Jackson fought it because of its departure from the communal ownership of lands to which the Indians were so inured. McCurtain was elected. The Indian had about reached the end of the trail and the peculiarities of his race were in the process of final obliteration. In the light of later experience, some doubt may be expressed as to whether or not the allotment, in severalty of the lands of the Five Tribes, was not

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prematurely undertaken by the Government. The full blood Indians were its real, depending wards and, as yet, were unable to fully understand the full sense of the change. Jacob B. Jackson knew his people and sincerely spoke with no apologies in their defense, and be it said to his credit, that his education at institutions in the States, in no wise disturbed his conservative belief in the right of his people to lead their own cloistered, communal lives until they were capacitated to alter them voluntarily. The full blood Choctaws believed in him as is evidenced by his repeated calls to their leadership. A new county was formed by the National Council on October 21, 1880, and was named Jackson County, in his honor.12

Jacob B. Jackson was a consistent Baptist, and a Mason. He used no intoxicants. He married Levicy, a daughter of Thompson Westley, in 1878, who was born in Kiamichi County, in 1806 and passed away on September 20, 1880. The Great Father summoned the faithful soul of Jacob B. Jackson to the "Spirit Shore" in June, 1909. He rests in the family burying ground some four miles west of Shadypoint, Le Flore County, Oklahoma, where his grave is marked. The Choctaws uncover in memory one of their ablest and truest leaders.

The collection and disbursements of the so-called Leased Land monies, from the Government, occurred during the Jones administration. With a profligacy which had tainted the famous Net Proceeds adjustment, many unnecessary attorneys' contracts for its collection had postponed the payment of the appropriation by the Government.

The Dawes Commission entered the picture in 1893 and while they were courteously received by Chief Jones and the entertainment committee, he had appointed, it was quite manifest that the chief and his people were hostile toward the allotment of their lands.



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The administration of Wilson N. Jones was evidenced by the advancement made in educational facilities among the Choctaws. A boarding school for boys was established near Hartshorne and named Jones Academy in honor of the chief. A similar school for girls was founded near Tuskahoma, the capital, and appropriately named Tuskahoma Academy. Peter J. Hudson, then a young minister recently graduated from an eastern institution was placed in charge, following out the Jones policy of placing all Choctaw schools in charge of Choctaw educators. A school named Tuskaloosa Institute was authorized for the education of the freedmen and two older schools, Armstrong Academy and Wheelock Seminary were set aside as orphans' homes and as schools for boys and girls respectively. The deep interest in matters of education manifested by Chief Jones is worthy of comment, when his own delinquency in educational advantages, is recalled.

Upon his retirement from office, Mr. Jones established his residence in Sherman, Texas, where he acquired a handsome home. It was from his new home that he thereafter continued to direct his business affairs. Despite the fact that he resided at Sherman, Texas, most of the time, he never considered that he had abdicated his citizenship in the Choctaw Nation. He was among the leaders who formed the Tuskahoma party in 1896 when Green McCurtain was first elected. He boldly entered the political fray in 1898 when he ran for chief on the Union ticket and when he and Jacob B. Jackson composed their differences and fought side by side to defeat Green McCurtain for reelection.

He had now approached the shadows of evening. With a farewell pause, the old chieftain spurred his phantom pony down the long, long trail and across the open range to the Last Roundup and only the sad winds sweeping the open prairies whispered "I am the Resurrection and the Life." Wilson N. Jones passed away on June 11, 1901 and rests in the family burying ground by the side of Willie, on the old cattle ranch

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west of Cade where his grave is marked by an imposing memorial.

Early in life, Wilson N. Jones married a daughter of Colonel Pickens, a well known Chickasaw leader. Their two children died in infancy, soon to be followed by their mother. In 1855, he married Louisa Le Flore and to this union four children were born, two of whom, a son William W. and a daughter Annie grew to maturity. The latter died in her senior year at college and Willie subsequently met a tragic death. Louisa Le Flore Jones died in 1864 and in 1876, Mr. Jones married Mrs. Isabelle Curtis, a widow, who survived him. She was a daughter of Colonel Heaston of Benton County, Arkansas. He had two children by this last marriage, both of whom preceded their father in death.

Wilson N. Jones rode roughshod to success but was a character of extraordinary intelligence, unflagging energy and tensity of purpose. He will go down in history as one of the ablest and most successful of Choctaw chieftains. He was a good financier and at the time of his death was reputed to be worth $250,000. By the terms of his last will, the major portion of his estate was to go to the erection and maintenance of a hospital at Sherman, Texas, for citizens of North Texas and the Choctaw county. The will was vigorously contested by relatives and remained in litigation for many years. Not until 28 years after his death were the terms of the will finally complied with, when on June 27, 1929, the trustees of the estate made the purchase of the Sherman hospital and gave it the name of the Wilson N. Jones Memorial Hospital, in his honor.

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