My great-great-great-grandfather Martin William “Gobbler” Jones was one of White County’s most unique pioneers. He was born August 4, 1784, in North Carolina and wound up in Texas. He distinguished himself during a brief stay in Arkansas by helping found the Old Royal Colony and being elected to the State Legislature. On July 12, 1804, 23 days before his 20th birthday, Martin Jones married Rhoda Hodges in Jefferson County, Tennessee, and settled there. Rhoda was born on January 20, 1791, and therefore was only 13 at the time of her marriage. The first of 12 children was born the following year. John Hodges Jones was born on November 30, 1805; Clisby Riggs Jones on February 19, 1808; Jesse Riggs Jones on August 2, 1810; Mary Elizabeth Maribe Jones on March 26, 1813; Enoch Calvin Jones on January 30, 1816; Martin William Jones Jr. on April 24, 1818; Phetna Mariah Jones on September 15, 1820; Jasper Hamilton Jones in 1823; Franklin Crawford Jones on January 23, 1826; William Marion Jones on August 18, 1828; Calloway Taylor Jones on May 18, 1831; and Rhoda Ann Jones in 1832. We know Martin and Rhoda Jones were still living in Jefferson County in 1806, because he was listed as a buyer at the estate sale of Elijah Witt. However, in 1820 they lived in Jackson and Bedford counties of Tennessee. My great-great-grandfather Jasper Hamilton was their last child born in that state. Three years later, in 1826 when Franklin Crawford was born, the family was living in Jackson County, Alabama.
The Preemption Act of 1830 gave anyone who had cultivated or improved any public lands in Alabama in the year 1829 the privilege of filing a Preemption Claim on their lands and obtaining a patent at the minimum price fixed on government lands at $1.25 an acre. In Jackson County, Alabama, on September 20, 1830, Martin Jones bought 80.02 acres in the West ½ of Northwest ¼ of Section 2 (Certificate #3260). The Jones family did not stay long after that transaction, because they were in Arkansas Territory when the 11th child, Callaway Taylor Jones, was born the following spring.
Martin Jones was one of the founders of Old Royal Colony, and here he acquired land. He built what might have been the first bridge across Cypress Bayou. White County records show the following: “Ordered by the Court that the Clerk issue scrip to the amount of $100 to Martin Jones as part of the amount for building a Bridge across Cypress Bayou.” And: “It is ordered by the Court that Martin Jones be allowed the sum of $45 for addition built to Cypress Creek Bridge and that County Scrip issue for the same.” Also: “On final settlement with Martin Jones for building Cypress Bridge is the sum of $11.87 and County Scrip for the same.” Records also show that “In the town of Searcy, Martin Jones Sr. bought Lot Number 10 on 4 October 1841. He also bought Lot Number 6 for $25.” When Arkansas became a state, Martin Jones was elected the first Representative of White County. He served from 1836 to 1838. A story in “Historical Reports of Arkansas” states, “Martin Jones could neither read nor write and was crude of manner and dress. Another report states, “When the Arkansas Legislature was in session, if Martin Jones did not like the way things were going, he would stand up, gobble like a turkey and walk out.” This earned him the nickname of “GOBBLER” for the rest of his life. There was a story that he got his nickname later in Texas, for chasing a turkey around a stump in Angelina County, Texas. However, he was called “GOBBLER” long before he set foot in Texas. Dr. Robert A. Watkins was Arkansas’ first Secretary of State, and his young brother-in-law Charles E. Nash worked in his office. Watkins was out of the office most of the time so Nash and State Auditor Elias N. Conway conducted most of the business of the office. Charles E. Nash later became a physician. He wrote reminiscent histories in the form of articles, pamphlets and books. One of his books, entitled “Pioneers of Arkansas, 1822 to 1840, With Reminiscences,” from which is taken the following comments connected with The Arkansas Legislature of 1836: “The Arkansas Legislature of 1836 was composed of some of the best talent the State has ever produced, while there were others equally ignorant. Many amazing incidents occurred, some of which I recollect to this day. There was an old man named JONES from Searcy. It is unnecessary to say he was dressed in the old copperas-dyed jeans, as this was all the go outside of Little Rock. All farmers, lawyers and doctors were clad in this homemade fabric, nothing else was allowed in those days. He wore a coonskin cap; his hair long, and from its appearance had not been combed for a year. I discovered in his vest pocket, a comb, such as we use in these days to comb the mane and tail of our horses. It was a homemade affair, cut with a penknife out of a buffalo’s horn. Jones did not know a letter in a book and had to make his mark when signing a receipt. While I was much annoyed by the members coming into the office to get books, I was spared this annoyance from him. He told me himself that he was elected because he could mimic a turkey gobbler to perfection, which gave him the advantage of all the turkey hunters in the county.” This description by Charles E. Nash is the only one ever found on Martin William “Gobbler” Jones and we have never found a photo of him.
Wherever they stopped for a while, Martin Jones and his family helped hew from the wilderness a town or settlement, always leaving a place better than they found it. They always owned their own property. They were self sufficient, and relied on themselves. At the time Martin was born and in the places he lived, survival took priority over trying to get to a distant school to learn to read and write. The history of White County, Arkansas, could not have been written without including Martin Jones and his family; neither could have the counties of Polk, Angelina, Nacogdoches, Cherokee, Smith, Leon and others in Texas be written without the contributions of this family. When the Jones family arrived in Arkansas Territory, it was a wild and woolly place, and a person had to be tough to survive there, and to prosper as the Jones family did.
Martin and Rhoda’s third child, Jesse Riggs Jones, was the first of the family to go to Texas. He and his wife Messaline Burks arrived there in 1834. He fought in The Texas War For Independence. He and his family finally settled in Polk County, Texas, where he established JONES PRAIRIE. Martin and Rhoda’s seventh child, Phetna Maria Jones, who became the wife of Simpson D. Burks, died at Old Royal Colony on November 28, 1845, and was buried there in a graveyard that is now lost. Simpson Burks and his two children then went to Texas with Martin and Rhoda and the rest of their children. They settled first near Jesse Riggs’ family in Polk County. Their oldest child, John Hodges Jones, and his family also settled there. Gobbler, several sons and sons-in-law obtained land grants in Angelina County as “Third Class Citizens.” A requirement was that the recipient had to be a resident of Texas before February 19, 1846. Gobbler’s family did not leave Arkansas until after the death of their daughter Phetna Maria on November 18, 1845. So, it is obvious that the family moved to Texas in the winter of that year. Martin Jones’ survey of 360 acres included part of what would become the town of Jonesville, the Jonesville Cemetery and north past the Texas & New Orleans Railroad and east for about a mile. In his usual fashion, Martin Jones got a town built and jumped into the middle of local politics. After 57 years of marriage, his wife Rhoda Hodges Jones died on April 11, 1861, and was buried in the Jonesville Cemetery, about a block from their home. Martin’s home burned in 1867 and, in a twist of friendship, he wound up living in the nearby home of one of his former slaves. The old black man had stayed and worked for Gobbler after the Civil War ended. Gobbler was 93 when he decided it was time for him to get some religion. He was tied into a chair, lowered into the river and baptized. Martin William “Gobbler” Jones died on August 8, 1879, at the age of 95 and was buried beside Rhoda. She and 9 of their 12 children preceded him in death. I started research on him in 1973, and each year I become more proud.
(The author is a member of the White County Historical Society who lives in Healdton, Oklahoma.)