Thursday, August 21, 2008

Park Ranger Stan Jones


Park Ranger Stan Jones
by Doug Evans

During my many years of living in, growing up in, and working in Mount Rainier National Park, I was privileged and honored to know some of the finest people in the world. Each was special for his or her own personal and unique qualities and abilities. Some stand out in my memory for also being interesting and unusual characters. Stan Jones was one of these. Stan was truly a real character.

Stan entered on duty as a park ranger in March, 1945. He and his lovely wife, Olive, were assigned to NPS quarters #23. They were both vivacious friendly people and quickly became popular members of the Longmire community. Stan sported a perpetual broad grin, was frequently amused and chuckling. But, one thing did not please Stan: Pacific Northwest weather. Stan was born and raised in Douglas, Arizona, on the Mexican border, and yearned to get back to his beloved Southwest desert.

Stan’s great passion was country western music. Never shy, he always brought his guitar to social gatherings and, without encouragement, would begin to play and sing. Even though he could not read a note of music, Stan composed many of his own songs, including the lyrics. At these occasions, groups would often begin to disperse, politely drifting off to the kitchen or bathroom. Nobody seemed to appreciate Stan’s talents. But, this did not discourage Stan.

Before Christmas Stan organized the Longmire young folks to go caroling. We met in the back dining room of National Park Inn around the ancient upright piano to practice. Stan’s inability to read music was so total that he could not strike the first note on the piano to give us the proper pitch. So, obviously, his musical composing and performances were strictly by ear.

Finally the NPS gods smiled down on Stan and he was offered a transfer to Death Valley. He was ecstatic, he thought he was going to park ranger heaven. Once there, his habits didn’t change. One evening while on duty with a film crew from Hollywood, Stan immodestly pulled out his guitar to entertain the group. He impressed and amazed some of these folks by playing one of his own compositions: “Ghost Riders in the Sky”. Some from this group introduced Stan to the right people in Hollywood, and Stan’s NPS career was soon over. With hit recordings by stars like Vaughn Monroe, Sons of the Pioneers, Marty Robins, Johnnie Cash, et al, Ghost Riders was on top of the charts for many months. Finally Stan had found an appreciative audience. How wrong we at Longmire had been back in 1945.

That was just the beginning. Stan went on to write many songs for movies and to act in many of them: “Wagon Master”, “Rio Grande”, “The Searchers”, “The Horse Soldiers”, and many more. He acted regularly in the television series “The Sheriff of Cochise” and wrote many of the episodes.

In summer 1957, Stan returned to Mount Rainier while working on a new LP album, “Songs of the National Parks”. He came to our house for dinner one evening; we were living in quarters #23, the same house that he and Olive had occupied back in 1945. He brought his guitar, of course, and played his original version of Ghost Riders for us and some of his new songs for the National Parks album.

PHOTO: This snapshot was taken that evening in ’57 of Stan with my two children, Dan and Sue, and my younger brother, David.

Stan died prematurely in 1963 at age 49 and is buried in Douglas, Arizona. He was elected to the Western Music Association Hall of Fame in 1997.