in the Events of the Life of F.F. Jones
by Frank Fernando Jones

by Edgar V. Epperly

This monograph, Reminiscences by Frank F. Jones, is a poignant little book. Privately printed in the deepest twilight of Jones' long life, it was his attempt to validate his accomplishments against the charge that he had plotted the Villisca axe murders. Printed in 1940 when Frank Fernando Jones was eighty-five years old, Reminiscences chronicles the events in his sojourn he judged significant.

Frank Jones heeded Horace Greely's admonition and went west to grow up with the country. Born in New York State in 1855, he moved to Michigan, then to Illinois, finally arriving at Villisca, Iowa in 1875. Villisca was a raw community then, being only one generation removed from the frontier. Young Frank broke prairie sod, but soon found "keeping school" more to his liking. In 1882 he left the academic life to become a bookkeeper, then merchant, banker, and finally politician.

As with many self-made men, he was confident, aggressive, and absolutely convinced of his personal self-righteousness - All that ended on the night of June 9, 1912. When the Villisca killer's eight victims were discovered the next morning, community suspicions immediately focused on F. F. - suspicions that would destroy his public career and tarnish his private life.

During the decade that followed the murders, Jones found himself harassed by rumors, besmirched by the foulest of accusations, and enmeshed in litigation. These charges drove him from public office and his businesses, and darkened his retirement years. His austerity and self-righteousness prevented him from acknowledging these many attacks, but it was obvious to any observer that his hopes and dreams had turned to dust.

This book is his attempt to resurrect those dreams and justify what he perceived to have been a successful, even noble existence. In it he, while tracing his many accomplishments, recounts the conspiracy mounted against him. This section gives Jones' personal view of the corrupt James N. Wilkerson, his seamy accomplices from the Kansas City underworld, and the ghastly plot they hatched against him for money and personal gain.

Whatever one might think of F. F. Jones, these reminiscences reveal an arrogant, priggish fellow supremely confident in his values and satisfied with his accomplishments. That a monstrous event like the Villisca axe murders should rise up to strike all this down was to him unbelievable. Nonetheless, it happened, and this book is his final attempt to justify his life in spite of the nightmare he had lived since 1912.

Edgar Epperly, Ed.D.

1855-1880 (Excerpt)

Frank Fernando Jones Was Born In

Steuben County, N.Y., U.S.A.,

August 25, 1855

This is the land in which to be born

Where Freedom greets you with every morn,

And gives you your chance to do your best

For Uncle Sam and all the rest.

Lucky Youngster! To be born in

This "Good old U.S.A."

Lucky again when his birthday was announced -

August 25, 1855

Lucky again to have lived during eighty-five years

Of the world's greatest progress.


Previous to 1855, the United States, as a nation, was using new ideas and new ideals in its processes of development. It had an established boundary to a vast territory, the additions to which had been acquired by purchase rather than by conquest. This territory was known to contain natural resources of immense value. It had a growing population of intelligent and aggressive citizens, with a leadership of able and resourceful men who were not afraid to wreck old traditions, when necessary, and pioneer new enterprises in a new country in a big way.

Added to our natural growth in population, nearly a quarter of 1 million immigrants were landing on our shores annually, most of them at New York City. Thus laborers, miners, shopworkers for employment in the eastern states. Still larger numbers of these "new comers" were "moving on," some of them to pioneer our frontiers, while others "followed the rails" to become farmers and shop keepers, and, growing up with the Great West, to help develop pioneer enterprises into well ordered and prosperous communities.

Writing of this period, H.G. Wells, in his Outline of History, calls attention to an unusual number of very important revolutionary movements in evidence about the middle of the nineteenth century.

He mentions social, mechanical, industrial, and economical movements as already under way. He calls attention, also, to radical changes in religious beliefs and new trends in political and governmental functions.

In point of time, Mr. Wells makes this the starting period for many of these changes that soon were dominating the "Picture of Progress" in America and in the world.

It was right into this confusion of prospective changes that this birthday occurred - August 25, 1855.


It is agreed that the world made more progress in the succeeding eighty-five years of American achievement and history than it ever made in any like period to time since history began. At the beginning of this period we had a few very important inventions to start with - the cotton bin, the steam boat, the sewing machine, the telegraph and ocean cables, both undeveloped as yet, and out in Illinois we had C.H. McCormick, who had invented a reaper that could do the work of ten men, waiting for railroads, settlers, and wheat fields...


People Places Archive About News Membership Links Contact

Website design, text, and photographs Copyright, The Villisca Historical Society, Inc. All Rights Reserved.