Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission
Jones, born in Bowie County, Texas, on December 15, 1839, was the son of a prominent physician and a member of the Texas Republic Congress. The following year the family purchased a plantation in Lafayette County, Arkansas, and moved to the town of Washington.
Jones served in the Third Arkansas Regiment during the Civil War and rose to the rank of colonel. He was shot just below the heart at Corinth, but miraculously survived. Jones was the last Arkansas governor to serve in the Confederate Army. Following the war he set up a law practice in Little Rock with James K. Jones, no relation, who later became U.S. Senator from Arkansas. In 1864 he married Margaret Hadley of Ashley County. The marriage produced three sons and two daughters.
From 1884 to 1888, D.W. Jones served as state attorney general. During his tenure he filed suit against Iron Mountain Railroad for unpaid taxes. His action resulted in a compromise settlement that added a quarter-million dollars to the state's Treasury. Jones so impressed Iron Mountain that in 1895 it hired him as an attorney and lobbyist, and Jones was instrumental in defeating a bill that year which would have established a railroad commission.
Ironically, the next year Jones campaigned governor as a free-silver, anti-railroad progressive. He grasped the significance of the agrarian uprising that begun in the late 1880s. Jones also realized that dividing the poor along racial lines through such efforts as Jim Crow laws could not assure Democrats success at the polls. In his view the party needed to embrace the concerns of the poor, especially poor whites. His instincts proved correct. After demolishing conservative Democratic opponents in the primary, he triumphed over his Republican and Populist challengers by a vote of almost two to one in the general election of 1896.
With politics similar to those of William Jennings Bryan, Jones was arguably Arkansas's first "progressive" governor. Once elected he proposed a remarkable array of important legislation, including a measure to remove the more grossly unfair aspects of the 1890 election law; the creation of a commission to regulate the railroads; a limit on the amount of interest which could be charged for loans; banking reforms; a reform school for juvenile offenders, and the construction of state-owned north-south and east-west railroads to be built with convict labor. Not all of Jones's proposals passed but enough were enacted to alter the political landscape of the state.
Jones left the governor's office after two terms and unsuccessfully challenged James Henderson Berry for the United State Senate.
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