Major Wiley Jones
Waco City Alderman 1890s Volunteer Fire Chief 1866-1872 Texas Ranger Statewide Leading Horsebreeder Owner of Pacific Hotel and Cotton Belt Hotel
Wiley Jones was born July 17, 1829 in Blount County, Alabama. At that time, his father, Aquilla Jones, was a congressman and sheriff in that state. Aquilla was well-known for his love of high quality horses and is the same Aquilla Jones for which the town of Aquilla north of Waco was eventually named. In 1848, the whole family moved to Texas where Wiley’s grandfather, Sam Jones, had owned and lived on property in Milam County since 1835.
Initially, the Joneses lived on Sam Jones’ property east of Cameron in Milam County but eventually Aquilla bought land that reached from the Mcgregor area on north up to nearly Hillsboro. Aquilla gave his son, Wiley, a great number of thoroughbred horses and between the two of them, a reputation spread across Texas for the fastest and strongest horses coming from the Joneses out of the Waco area during the 1850s and 1860s. Later in life, Aquilla donated land near Mcgregor along Harris Creek for a cemetery and built a schoolbuilding to be used for education and for church services by multiple denominations. He and his wife became the first to be buried there in Harris Creek Cemetery.
With the horses he received from his father, Wiley grew a horse-raising business on some of the Jones property along the Bosque River near present day China Spring. He did very well for himself despite the occasional theft of livestock from nearby native people. He also fought against Comanches as a part of Jack Conner’s Texas Rangers Company.
During the Civil War, Wiley initially served in the 5th Texas Cavalry but then was re-assigned as an agent of the commissary department. This capacity saw him acquire and produce 10,000 head of cattle per year to feed soldiers until the end of the war. At the close of the war, he purchased the old Herring House and made it a small hotel for people visiting Waco.
It is unclear when Wiley Jones first became involved in firefighting efforts in Waco but we do know that in 1866, he was elected chief of the Waco Fire Department. He served in that capacity for at least seven years. Long after retiring as a volunteer firefighter in 1880, he was known to show up at city fires and get to work just as he had always done. It is interesting to note that for a man who was lauded by Wacoans for doing such a good job of establishing and developing several good fire stations in town, he did not have much luck with fires himself.
In 1874, his Herring House Hotel at 2nd and Franklin burned down. One of his employees was said to have been sleeping when the fire erupted. Upon waking, she ran out into the street screaming, “Lord have mercy! It’s the end of the world!” A few years later in 1878, another house owned and rented out by Wiley Jones, this one at 4th and Franklin, burned down while he was with his crew fighting a cotton fire on the other side of town. one of his horse stables in Whitney burned down. Then, in 1882, a horse livery in Whitney owned by Brother Jones burned down.
In April of 1882, Jones finished building a new hotel where one of the previously
rented houses once stood. This one was called the Pacific Hotel at 4th and Franklin and is today remembered for having been the first Waco hotel with an elevator. He later sold the hotel to Bart Moore and it was remodeled and renamed the Metropole Hotel. In 1888, Jones built and owned the Cotton Belt Hotel which was another Waco staple for many years. It was on 3rd street and he had to relocate his famed Wiley Jones Stables which had been there for more than twenty years. He owned the Cotton Belt Hotel until his death.
Jones was elected as a city alderman in the 1880s and also served as the president of the Waco Fair Association which put on annual fairs much like we expect today but on a smaller scale. In 1871, his son, Travis Fleming Jones, was the first telegraph operator in Waco. The town of Travis in Falls County was later named after T.F. Jones.
By 1892, Jones had moved his personal residence outside of Waco. He had been living in a home at 13th and Austin Avenue but decided he missed the countryside and went out near Perry, southeast of Waco. As his luck would have it, the new Perry homestead burned in 1893 and most of his possessions were lost in it.
On March 11, 1902, Brother Jones was taking his usual afternoon walk around downtown Waco with one of his prized horses. It had become common for him to take a horse with him on his walks because their quality was such that he would leave out walking with a horse following and return with no horse but a pocket full of cash. That particular Spring day had a different outcome. The horse became spooked for reasons unknown and kicked him so hard that he immediately fell dead. He was buried at Oakwood Cemetery two days later and the papers suggested that a funeral so big had not been seen in Waco for many years.