Ninety Years of Faith
An Interview with Eugie Jones Thomas May 19, 1976
by Yvonne A. Jenkins
"I have always worked and I have always been happy. I don't worry or grieve. I have lived a good true life - a Christian and faithful life. You have got to have faith." This philosophy of life has been the guideline of Eugie Jones Thomas, the granddaughter of John Simpson Chisum, for 90 years. Seated on a screened-in porch, gazing out at the sailboats on Lake Grapevine, Eugie recalled her childhood days as one of the ten children of Bob and Almeady Jones.
John Dalford (nicknamed Bob) Jones was born June 26, 1850 and was brought to Texas by his slave master, Leazur Alvis Jones (5-28-1822 to 3-30-1877) from Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1962. Traveling with Leazur Jones were his slave wife, Elizabeth (9-26-1827 to 4-28-1877), and children Ellen, Josie, George Anne and Jim. Leazur had left his first wife, who was white, Mary Brown in Fort Smith with children, Alice Jane, Blake T., Martha Luellen, Richard C., Roxie Geneva and Captain Jinks (for whom Jinks Jones was named). Leazur Jones was buried in Greenwood, Arkansas and Elizabeth was buried in Medlin Cemetery along with children Josie and George Anne.
Bob Jones was freed in Texas near the Medlin community where he stayed in a small house and herded a few sheep as a means of livelihood. He obtained fifty acres of bottom land on which he began a farming and livestock business that had increased to 2,000 acres (all free and clear) at the time of his death of December 265, 1936. Living alone in the Medlin community left a lot to be desired and a friend of Bob's suggested they go to Bonham, a place noted for pretty girls and lively Saturday night dances. Riding horseback, Bob and his friend arrived in time for the big Saturday night dance. Eugie recalls that "Daddy was a good dancer, full of life and liked to holler during the square dances." On this evening he was attracted to Almeady Chisum, which led to an exchange of letter between the two. In 1874, Bob traveled once again to Bonham and returned with Almeady as his bride to Medlin.
Almeady, called Meady, was the second born to John Simpson Chisum and Jensie Chisum. Chisum, was born August 16, 1824 and came from Tennessee as a small boy with his parents and settled in Paris, Texas. There he lived until as a grown young man he purchased land in Bolivar, Denton County, Texas, to establish his ranching empire. Prior to leaving for Bolivar and while in Bonham, a family traveling to the California Gold Rush spent the night with Chisum. With them was a very pretty young mulatto girl, named Jensie. The family was pressed for money to purchase the needed supplies to continue their journey to California and agreed to sell Jensie to John S. Chisum. After some bartering, a selling price of $1400.00 was agreed upon.
Chisum took Jensie to his Bolivar ranch and kept her for his wife and cook. Two girls, Harriett and Meady (April 13, 1857) were born in Gainesville where Chisum has taken Jensie to a boarding house for the birth of the children. Eugie recalls her mother saying that she was born where the Courthouse now stands in Gainesville.
Much has been written about;the Cattle King of the West, John Simpson Chisum, by famous historians, but little has been written about this man's life in relationship to his grandchildren. Meady described to Eugie, Chisum's many kindnesses to her and his protectiveness for their well being. After many Indian raids at the Bolivar ranch, Chisum moved his cattle operation further west - but he returned Jensie, Harriett and Meady to Bonham. There he set them up in a house and gave Jensie money to care for the two girls. Chisum returned to visit them on several occasions. Meady also described to Eugie an account of Chisum's generosity when each year he would give a big party for his ranch hands. He brought alot of pretty girls from Fort Worth and Dallas to the dance party that would sometimes last for a week. Chisum died December 2, 1884 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and was buried beside his parents in Paris, Texas. Jensie and Harriett are buried in Bonham in unlocated graves.
If you drive east from Roanoke on Hiway 114 and turn north toward the Grapevine Lake, you will soon come to "Bob Jones Road." Winding for several miles you come to the end of the road and to the land that has been in the Bob Jones family since 1868 - so certified by the Family Land Heritage committee on September 1, 1974. A certificate signed by Secretary of Agriculture, John C. White hangs on the wall in one corner of Eugie's living room. A proclamation signed by Governor Dolph Briscoe rests prominently on a corner table. Eugie points with pride to the oil painting of her grandfather, John S. Chisum and to the photograph of Bob and Meady Jones that joins other family mementos in the room.
Bob Jones was an exceptional person - bringing to his family and community - a heritage of work, education, family pride, self improvement and a live of the land. Meady also expressed the same feelings, stating to Eugie prior to her death on April 10, 1949, "don't ever sell the home place - we must have a place for the children to come back to."
Of the ten children born to Bob and Meady Jones, only two now survive - Eugie and her brother Jinks, age 80. All are buried in the Medlin Cemetery with the exception of two girls - Alice and Emma - who are buried in the People's Cemetery in Fort Worth. Other children were Jim, Virgie, Artie, Harriett, June and Emory.
As most families in the last part of the 19th century, Bob and Meady were self-sustaining farmers raising a vegetable garden and orchard, chickens, hogs, milk cows, sheep and planting cotton and corn for the livestock. Bob supplemented his income by raising horses. Many of his deals were made with Richard Randolph Litsey - with only a handshake as collateral. Debts were always settled when his "crops came in."
Eugie is the self-proclaimed "tom-boy" of the family, preferring to be at her father's side in the field, herding sheep or cows - anything to stay out of the kitchen. But she did not miss out completely on the domestic side of life, Meady saw to it that she helped with drying the fruit from the orchard and corn for the livestock and helping with the community canning club that went from house o house on different days of the week. Hog killing time was not only a big event but a family affair - all had to help when 4 to 6 hogs were butchered. The meat was "put down" in a salt cure and Bob developed his own style of smoking the meat with hickory chips which was utilized for over fifty years at the annual Jones Picnic that Bob hosted for family and friends. The picnics featured good barbecue, baseball and lots of music and dancing.
Being the only colored family in a community might have presented problems to some people but not to the Bob Jones family. The Jones family was raised among and with the white families. White tenant farmers worked on the Jones Land. Social events and religious gatherings were shared. Eugie recalls that she felt no hostility or discrimination other than the fact that she could not go to school. That did not stop Bob Jones. After the school term was over in the city - Dallas - Bob hired a private teacher to come and live on his farm and teach his children spelling, history, English, arithmetic and geography. At one time he bought a home and lot in Denton and each spring, Meady and the children moved to Denton so that the children could attend school. Later Bob built a one room school house next to his home so that there could be school year round.
In 1902, the Mount Carmel Baptist Church was established with both church and school activities being held in the building. The Jones children walked the three miles to finish schooling through the 8th grade and Artie served as the organist for the Mt. Carmel Church. The church burned in 1948, thus ending an era of worship at the pioneer church.
Growing up in the early 1900's meant being with your family - working, having a good time, going to church, square dancing and for the girls - learning needlework. At age 90, Eugie doesn't watch much TV because of her eyes, yet she spends a great deal of her time with needlework. A quilting frame hangs from the living room ceiling until such time as Eugie can get back to her hobby. Of all the many modern conveniences that have been invented during her lifetime, Eugie was the most impressed with electricity and gas - "cause that meant that no more wood had to be cut." In 1914, five of the girls and two of the boys joined forces with Meady to buy a new Ford. Predictably, Eugie was the first to learn to drive and the first place the family went in their new car was to church. The automobile had me influence on the Jones family than did the coming of the railroad in 1881 and the establishment of Roanoke. Eugie doesn't recall any problems with the Indians, although there were many arrowheads to be found on brother Jim's place.
Eugie married McKinley Thomas on July 11, 1926. Today, Mr. Thomas continues a "truck-farming" operation on the 37 acres that are left of the original home place. Bob Jones had divided his land among his children and Eugie "swapped" with brother, Emory, so that she retained the "home place." Thomas drove the school bus to I. M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth for the Jones children to be able to continue their education. In 1976, a great-grandson of Bob Jones' will graduate from Northwest High School in the same school district that would not educate his children.
In 1948, the family home burned destroying many of the family records. Eugie and McKinley rebuilt their present home "just up the hill a piece" from the original homesite. Tragedy struck again in the early 1950's with the advent of the construction of the Grapevine Reservoir which would take all of the Jones' land. Long court battles ensued and it seemed that Eugie had lost. She would never sign any documents or cash any of the land payment checks. She adhered to Meady's desire - "don't ever sell the home place." One day the mail carrier brought a letter from Washington, D.C., stating that Eugie could have her land back, but that the government also wanted all of the money returned. This presented no problem for Eugie, she just went to the bank and returned all the uncashed checks to the government. Grapevine Reservoir was built but it hasn't bothered Eugie too much. There is a good fishing hole at the end of her road, but she keeps it open so that people can get to the "place where the fish always bite."
Eugie says that some people let money ruin their lives, but to her - "deep roots" are more important as she looks forward to attending a Jones family reunion and to baking her favorite vanilla and lemon birthday cake - a chore she has been doing since her 14th birthday in 1899.