CHARLES GASHAM JONES
“FORGOTTEN” FATHER OF OKLAHOMA CITY
During and shortly after the land run days of 1889, throngs of people poured into the new Oklahoma Territory searching for the opportunity of a new beginning and a better life. Although drought, severe winters, crop and bank failures plagued them in the beginning, most of the settlers who had “stuck it out” would realize the opportunity that they had dreamed about.
News of the land run had spread across the country and tales of vast acres of fertile farmland for the taking was the talk of the day. A young enterprising farmer, rancher and mill operator in Greenup, Cumberland County, Illinois by the name of Charles G. Jones was intrigued by this opportunity and decided to sell his holdings and move to the new Territory in December of 1889. This was a bold move for a married and established thirty four year old, but this man had no fear of failure. Born only a few miles from the farmstead of Abe Lincoln, at age eight, he was counted on by his family to assist in supporting his mother and seven brothers and sisters due to the death of his father. By the time he was fourteen, he was shipping stock to Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis and would later become recognized as an established young rancher and farmer in the area.
Upon moving to the new Territory, he settled in Oklahoma City and built the first flourmill in the Territory. The mill was originally designed to use waterpower that would be provided by the construction of a canal from the Canadian River along an old creek bed that ran through the City. Charles Jones and Henry Overholser invested a lot of time and money into this project. The canal project failed to divert the river water due to the sandy, permeable soil present in the bottom of the canal. The mill was then converted to utilize a modern steam powered roller process and produced products that won first premium at the 1893 World’s Fair (Colombian Exposition) in Chicago. He also won first premium that year for wheat grown in the “Nine Mile Flat” area northeast of Oklahoma City. These awards firmly established the Oklahoma Territory as a great wheat producing area. Ironically, this crop may have never come to fruition if it were not for C. G. “Gristmill” Jones. He persuaded the Rock Island and Santa Fe railroads to provide seed wheat for many of the new settlers in 1892, since there was not enough seed wheat available and most settlers were broke. Some were not as severely affected by the drought and harsh winters as others but most of the new Territory farmers would have perished if this had not been arranged. The flourmill burned down in 1897 leaving Jones broke and deeply in debt. Most would have taken advantage of the bankrupt law but he chose to pay off all of his debts and did so within a few years. During this same period, Mr. Jones was elected to the First Territorial Legislature in 1890 and re-elected as Speaker in 1891 on the Republican ticket. He was instrumental in adopting the laws that would govern the Territory. He also drafted Oklahoma’s first paving law which eventually made Oklahoma City a modern city with miles of paved streets. He was first elected Mayor of Oklahoma City in 1896.
After his mill burned in 1897, Charles Jones turned all of his interest to railroads. He had a vision to extend the railroad from Sapulpa to Oklahoma City, create a hub around Oklahoma City and then southwest to Quanah, Texas. Virtually broke, he did not have the money to travel to St. Louis to promote his project. Mr. Jones finally persuaded Henry Overholser to loan him $150 to make the trip. Jones and Overholser had teamed up on many ventures in the past and this was no different. Jones provided the legwork and organizational skills while “Uncle Henry” provided a large part of the financing. He became President of the St. Louis and Oklahoma City Railroad (later known as the Frisco Railroad and present day Burlington Northern) in 1898 and began to realize his dream. Also, he served his third term in the Territorial Legislature in 1898 as chairman of the ways and means committee and railroad committee. His association with the railroad made him a wealthy man. In those days, having the railroad run through your town meant certain prosperity. The town of Glaze was so appreciative to have the railroad through their town that they changed the town’s name to Jones City in his honor in 1898. Along the way he founded and platted many town sites and later sold lots in these sites to stave off his debt he incurred in building the railroad. He founded and platted the town of Mustang in 1901 and started the first bank in the town. Also in 1901, he was elected to his second term as Mayor of Oklahoma City. He had total control of where the railroad would be built but he was not for sale. Stories had been told that while laying the track between Lawton and Snyder, he was offered a large sum of money to lay the track through Mountain Park. He refused and stated that he would make more money from the town site of Snyder and the grade was better. Another story told was that after listening to an early pioneer woman describe the hardships and sacrifices her family had endured in order to help establish the town of Altus, he decided to run the railroad through the town. He was largely responsible for building over 500 miles of railroad within the borders of the state. During this time he continued his love for farming by owning and operating a 700 acre fruit farm near Mustang and an 800 acre farm near the town of Jones City. The farm near Jones City produced two trainloads (twenty eight cars) of oats, corn and watermelons in 1906 and was the largest shipment of agricultural products ever produced in the state at the time.
Building the railroad through southwest Oklahoma and his vast farming interests demanded much of Mr. Jones time until 1905 when he chose to champion an unpopular cause-Single Statehood. Prior to statehood, there was a strong belief that the Oklahoma Territory should enter the Union as a state but not to include the Indian Territory. Even though Jones had a limited education, he believed that a proper education was one of the most important things in life. He knew that if the Indian Territory was left out of statehood that there would be no schools and no educational means to teach the white man’s world to the Indians. It was thought that statehood could mean the end of the American Indian and their culture. Even though that would be tragic, Charles Jones felt it would be even more tragic not to include the Indian in plans for statehood and not to provide them with the necessary means for survival. He was somewhat alone in his belief for a single state when he decided to chair the Committee for Single Statehood but as he continued to voice his opinion, his supporters grew and the Twin Territories were admitted to the Union as a single state in 1907. Jones had made many trips to Washington to petition the President for statehood. Governor Haskell honored Mr. Jones for his work toward Single Statehood by asking him to represent Mr. Oklahoma Territory in the mock wedding between Mr. Oklahoma Territory and Miss Indian Territory on Statehood Day. The support Mr. Jones gave to this cause was also costly. Some who opposed Single Statehood never forgot their defeat and probably prevented C. G. Jones from being elected Governor in 1910.
The following is an excerpt from an article written about C. G. Jones in 1910. Mr. Jones had just made an address to a little gathering in one of the counties that was unorganized until the coming of statehood, when a little old white haired Cherokee woman approached him and said, “Mr. Jones, I have heard of you, I have read of you, I have followed your work in the struggle to obtain joint statehood, that we might have the benefits of civilization, that we might have public schools, and that the riches of this section should be devoted to giving an education to the children of this Territory who have had no opportunity to learn, have been denied the advantages that the children of the states possess, and who have been growing into manhood in ignorance. You have led the fight that has brought statehood, and it is the happiest time of my life to know that my seven grandchildren can now go to school, for it has been the principal wish of my life to see these little grandchildren have a chance to get an education.” With tears streaming down his cheeks, this strong man said: “Madam, what you have just said to me repays me for all the time, all the money I have spent, for all the sacrifices I have made, and for the personal disappointments I have encountered in this prolonged struggle to get statehood and its attendant blessings for the people and their descendants.”
Love for his fellow man was probably the biggest asset in Charles G. Jones’ character. He always had a sympathetic ear for struggling humanity. The humblest man in the state could get a hearing at his office as easily as the greatest. He was a man who got things done. Ninety days prior to the opening of the first State Fair of Oklahoma, Mr. Jones became the first President of the State Fair Association, raised over $100,000 and had all the buildings built and opened on time. He felt that having a place to exhibit the products and resources of the entire state was very important in that first year of statehood. Governor Haskell honored him for his contributions towards establishing a state fair in Oklahoma by having Mr. Jones and his young son Luther “throw the switch” to officially begin the first State Fair of Oklahoma. Jones also served in the State Legislature the first two years after statehood. He was instrumental, from the very beginning, in moving the Capitol from Guthrie to Oklahoma City. As soon as the statewide election was held and affirmed the move, Governor Haskell ordered that the State Seal be brought immediately to the Huckins Hotel in Oklahoma City. No one seems to know how the State Seal got from Guthrie on that Saturday night to Oklahoma City the next day. Some stories center around the following theory. Since the townspeople of Guthrie constantly guarded the Capitol building, it is believed the seal left the building wrapped up in laundry and was transported to Oklahoma City by train or by automobile (one other account is it left by mule). The automobile (a new Cadillac) that carried three State officials to retrieve the State Seal, was provided by the Oklahoma City Trade Club.
Jones was largely responsible for implementing and completing the construction of some 2800 schools in the old Indian Territory within two and one half years after statehood. His interest in education had already led him to contribute large sums of money in establishing Epworth University in 1904 (presently Oklahoma City University) while he served as President of the Oklahoma City Trade Club (presently the Chamber of Commerce). He was running for a third term as Mayor of Oklahoma City in 1911 at the time of his death. Mr. Jones’ association with the diversified interests of the Territory and State had been so interwoven with its growth that his public record had been co-existent with the early day record of Oklahoma. C. G. Jones loved Oklahoma and Oklahoma loved C. G. Jones. On the afternoon of his funeral, all state government offices and all Oklahoma City government offices as well as most businesses were closed and over 1,200 people attended the services. The Chancellor of Epworth University conducted the funeral services and he was eulogized by such men as Henry Overholser, John Shartel and Anton Classen. They all agreed that no man had given more to ensure the success of the State of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City than the Honorable Charles G. Jones.
Information compiled and written by Randall E. McMillin, VP of OKCCHS Board of Directors
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----CHARLES GASHAM "GRISTMILL" JONES Time Line----
Born: November 3, 1856, Cumberland Co. Illinois
Married: Tena Stafford prior 1889 in Illinois (died 1901)
Married: Nettie Wheeler 1909
Children: 1 son- Luther Jones, born 1895
Died: March 29, 1911
1890-Built first flourmill in O.T. (Oklahoma City)-Steam power/roller type
1890-Served on First Territorial Legislature-Oklahoma Co. Representative
1891-Elected to second term in Territorial Legislature-Speaker
1893-Chicago World’s Fair-1st Place- Flour and Wheat-grown in Nine Mile Flat, N.E. of Oklahoma City
1896-First Term as Mayor of Oklahoma City
1898-Elected to Territorial Legislature
1898-Glaze, O.T. changed name to Jones City, O.T. in his honor
1898-Became President of the St. Louis and Oklahoma City Railroad
1901-Founded and platted the town of Mustang, O.T.
1901-Elected Mayor of Oklahoma City
1905-Chairman of Single Statehood Committee
1906-Produced largest shipment of agricultural products to date from 800 acre farm near Jones City
1907-Founded and became first President of Oklahoma State Fair Association
1907-Served on First State Legislature
1908-Elected to second term in State Legislature
1910-Instrumental in moving State Capitol from Guthrie to Oklahoma City
1911-Running for Mayor of Oklahoma City at time of death