the wonders of digital technology. We can call, text or email anyone
anywhere with our cell phones. We can accomplish miraculous things
on our tablets, laptops or desktops. All is fantastic until something
goes wrong. And that possibility can make us anxious.
Learning to cope with progress has been a problem since the beginning
of the industrial age, though it probably has grown more acute with
each new invention. Around 1899, Panhandle ranch wife Bena Jones
had a brief, if unsettling, run in with high tech.
That spring, a company in Liberal, KS had begun connecting ranches
in southwestern Kansas, northwestern Texas and Oklahoma by running
telephone wires along barbed
wire fences. As a Kansas newspaper noted, "It had been demonstrated
that a fence
wire worked perfectly for a telephone connection."
Since most ranches were miles from railroads or telegraph offices,
cattlemen liked having a communication system that did not involve
mailing a letter or saddling or harnessing a horse. With a telephone,
a rancher could not only stay in touch with his neighbors, he could
conduct business and keep abreast of market conditions.
"The plan is one of untold advantage to stock owners," the newspaper
concluded, "and will be pushed until the complete benefits have
Born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1866 a decade before Alexander Graham
Bell displayed his telephone at the U.S. centennial exhibition in
Philadelphia, Bena grew up in Topeka, KS, where her parents had
moved when she was a child. At 19, she married Joseph Jones, whose
family had immigrated from Wales when he was eight. They, too, settled
in Kansas, but in 1880, Jones left home for Mobeetie
on the eastern edge of the Texas
In 1885, back in Topeka, Jones married Bena. Returning to Texas
by stagecoach from Dodge City, they took up residence in Mobeetie.
Five years later, Jones bought a ranch in Hansford
County, but he and Bena continued to live in Mobeetie.
After their first child was born in 1892, they moved to the ranch
six miles south of present Gruver.
Hostile Indians and the buffalo were gone, but the
Panhandle was only sparsely settled. For the Jones family, food
and supplies lay a long wagon ride away in the community of Hansford.
On one of those trips from their ranch to town, Bena encountered
something she had never seen before: A telephone line. The line,
actually two wires, ran along a barbed wire fence. At each gate,
the phone wires were strung overhead between tall posts.
All that would have been merely of passing interesting to her if
the road leading to town did not pass through one of those gates
with the phone wires overhead. Studying the situation, Bena developed
Leaving her children in the buggy, she walked cautiously to the
gate, opened it real fast, and hastened back to the wagon. Snapping
the reins, she shot the buggy through the gate like a horizontal
bolt of lightning. Pulling her horse to a halt about 200 feet beyond
the gate, she reversed the process, carefully and quickly closing
the gate as her children waited safely in the distance.
Her fear was logical enough and reflected some pretty sophisticated
thinking for the day. The telephone lines, she worried, might be
radiating a dangerous electrical charge that could be harmful to
anyone exposed to it. That, of course, is a worry that continues
to this day in regard to now ubiquitous cell towers.
When Bena got to the store in Hansford,
she told the proprietor of her concern. He assured her she faced
no danger from the new method of communication.
Telephone lines were not dangerous, but a raging blizzard was. The
first winter on their new ranch had been so cold the young couple
had to stack their furniture on one side of their ranch house and
move their horses into the other side. Otherwise, the animals would
have frozen to death.
One day as the Jones children played outside during a more temperate
time of year, they heard horses and tinkling bells. Peeping over
the stone wall of their corral, the children saw Indians riding
down the hill toward their ranch house.
Though a war party had not been in the area for more than a decade-and-a-half,
Texans had not forgotten their 60-year struggle with the Comanches
and other war-like tribes. The children ran to report the "attack,"
but their father took the news calmly. He knew the reservation Indians
from Oklahoma meant no harm and let them camp on his land for several
days. In turn, the Indians invited the Jones family to join them
for a meal.
When the children outgrew the small country school near their ranch,
Jones moved his family to Guymon. But he continued to run the ranch
in Hansford County
until his death at 57 in 1919. His widow kept the ranch running
for another 40 years. She died on Jan. 4, 1951.
Long before then, telephone lines had been relegated to poles.