Addison “Old Add” Jones

Jun 9th, 2014 | By | Category: Arts & Entertainment, The West
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1845?-1926 Addison Jones was a legendary cowboy and cattleman who earned respect for his skills on the vast ranges of the American southwest. His exploits and expertise were celebrated by his peers in a popular campfire ballad.

Texas Horseman

Jones was likely born sometime in 1845, either in Texas or Mississippi. There are no documents or reliable accounts to verify details about his young life. He came of age on the Littlefield ranch (LFD), a cattle operation that sprawled across parts of Gonzales County Texas, and eastern New Mexico. The Littlefield family had moved from Panola County, Mississippi, where they had owned a plantation, and it is unknown as to whether Jones was a slave there, or was brought on as a slave or a free hired hand once the family had resettled in Texas. Whatever the case, he adapted quickly to the demands of ranch life, and was a valued cowhand at LFD when still a young man.

In the mid- and late 19th century, cowboy life on the southwestern plains could be lonesome, brutal, and impoverished. The prospects for black cowboys were bleaker still, with substantive limits placed on the quality of work they could find and the money they might earn. Often, ranches welcomed black hands only to pawn off the labor and tasks that were most menial, demanding, and dangerous. Among the riskiest duties of a cowhand was to break new horses, especially wild broncos that were strong enough to trample a man or drag him to his death should he fail to bring the horse under control with a lasso. It was in taming broncos that Jones first gained distinction among his fellow cowboys.

A short but powerfully built man, Jones is said to have been able to combine his strength and agility with a kind of skilled husbandry when dealing with horses. Stories told by his fellow cowboys reflect a rare ability on his part to reassure a wild bronco and to earn the animal’s respect—rather than its fear—while holding its neck fast in a rope. Tales abound in cowboy lore of the southwest region about how Jones was the only cowboy ever to ride certain horses that were eventually deemed unbreakable. His horsemanship and his refined and precise lasso skills placed Jones in high regard at LFD, and he was treated as a top hand who suffered none of the segregation or humiliation that was typical of life for black cowboys. Jones showed his gratitude with his loyalty, and worked his entire career with LFD, driving and branding cattle, maintaining the range, and rounding up stock.

Cowboy Life and Lore

Every indication is that Jones was respected beyond the borders of the LFD ranch as well, but he still had to exercise caution. Ranch hands and cowboys often were sent from one operation to another, effectively on loan, in a loose agreement that allowed cattle entrepreneurs to assist each other and separate their herds during major roundups. When cowboys from other ranches were working at LFD, they were expected to treat Jones with the same deference and camaraderie they would extend to any white cowboy However, when he traveled on behalf of the ranch, there were occasional tensions. One story tells of a white cowboy striking Jones from behind when he drank water from the same trough Whites were using. Known for his strength and speed, Jones refused to escalate the conflict, knowing that he couldn’t fight a white man away from his home turf surrounded by other white cowboys, and expect the outcome to be fair.

Throughout the southwest cattle region where Jones worked as a cowboy, he was usually called “Negro Add,” which simply became “Old Add” as he proved himself a worthy horseman and cattle driver, and was widely accepted into the community Among the skills that he became widely admired for was the deciphering of the various brands and marks on cattle that distinguished ownership. Howard “Jack” Thorp, a professional songwriter who was noted for collecting various western and cowboy ballads, passed through the southwest cattle country in 1889, and camped with Jones and several other cowboys while they were working on the range. Thorp noted Jones’ facility with brands, and penned a quick poem in his honor called “Whose Old Cow?” Later, Thorp adapted the poem into a song that became popular around range camps and ranch yards.

In 1899, Jones married Rosa Haskins, a laundress, domestic servant, and cook in Roswell, New Mexico. In the best clue as to the year of Jones’ birth, his age at the time of his marriage was officially recorded at 54. Legend has it that the ranching community showered the couple with wedding gifts, but they all chose similarly and sent the newlyweds more than a dozen cooking stoves. After his marriage, Jones spent more of his time in Roswell proper, and was a familiar and popular face around town. Some of the lore that surrounds his roping skills, such as chasing down and lassoing a runaway horse cart, are said to have taken place in the southeast New Mexico town. Eventually, his life ended there. He died on March 24, 1926, in Roswell.

Because of his skills and his fortunate union with the LFD, Jones was able to excel at his given trade and to earn more responsibility than many of the other African Americans attempting to make a life in the sparse ranching lands of the southwest. By proving his value in helping to run a large cattle operation, he was offered the general respect of a widespread group of white landowners and cattle drivers, and lived an exceptional life of hard work, campfire camaraderie, and adventure.

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