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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Pardner Jones
Gunman of Hollywood

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

People who know how to make a bullet go exactly where they want it to can use that ability for good or bad. Either way, there can be money in it.

"He is seldom heard of himself," the Associated Press reported in 1927, "but twelve hundred times he has held the life of some screen star or featured player within the crook of his trigger finger."

One reason that this interesting but virtually forgotten character who passed himself off as a Texan could be labeled as "seldom heard of" even at the height of his Hollywood career lay in the fact that at birth he had been saddled with the most common of surnames - Jones.

Hundreds of thousands if not millions of fine people have the last names of Jones, but from the standpoint of a self-promoter or researcher, a person could hardly have a worse surname. Keeping up with the Joneses is tough.

If Ed Jones had been branded with a more distinctive handle, it would be a lot easier to learn about him today. As it is, of all the billions of web pages out there in Cyber Space, only two semi-substantial reference to Jones surfaces in an online search.

Back when the information highway was just a dirt road, the showman in Jones must have realized he needed to enhance his name a bit for better recognition. What he - or someone -- came up with was "King Fisher" or "Pardner" Jones.

Jones' use of "King Fisher" is not too surprising. Jones claimed to have been born in Del Rio, not far from the South Texas range of outlaw-lawman John "King" Fisher. Fisher and former Austin city marshal Ben Thomas were gunned down in San Antonio in March 1884, probably about the year of Jones' birth. King Fisher, unlike most Texans named Jones, had strong name recognition in late 19th century and early 20th century Texas.

The truth is that Edward Zachariah Jones was born June 17, 1875 in Alabama, not Texas. At some point, Jones did head west and well could have spent some time in the Lone Star State.

At some point, he ranged farther west. He told folks that he grew up in New Mexico and Arizona. That's where he learned to shoot, which led to his unusual way of making a living. Known as the "gunman of Hollywood," Jones did stunt shooting for Western filmmakers, often using real bullets.

A heavyset man with a handlebar moustache, Jones said he had been a deputy under Wyatt Earp, but when Earp packed a six-shooter, Jones was too young for that line of work. But somewhere along the line, it's incontrovertible that Jones learned how to shoot and shoot good. Tinsel Town liked -- and needed -- someone like that.

In 1923, Jones worked as technical advisor during the filming of a screenplay based on Emerson Hough's "The Covered Wagon," the first Western epic. Produced by James Cruze and shot in Utah, the film rejuvenated the Western, restoring the genre to life from one of its many near-death experiences over the years.

Cruze sought and achieved realism in his movie, and Jones helped make that happen. The Texan also provided a little Old West reality off screen.

During the filming of a buffalo hunt, a cantankerous bison charged the horses pulling a wagon containing chief cameraman Karl Brown and his camera. The wagon overturned, dumping Brown in the path of an infuriated buffalo.

As Photoplay Magazine later reported: "Old Ed Jones, a movie actor, a puncher and a dead shot, calmly…shot between horses, men, cameras and wagon - a space about a foot in diameter - and brought down the buffalo. It saved Brown's life probably and that's how they had buffalo meat the first day in camp."

When "talkies" put the writers of sub titles out of business in 1927, the principal sound associated with an appearance by Jones became the crack of gunfire.

"When a director wants realism in a sequence where bullets are supposed to be flying perilously close to the principal characters he calls on Pardner Jones," the AP said.

Indeed, Jones was the go-to guy for shooting hats off actor's heads or cigars out of their mouths. A la William Tell, he also could make instant apple sauce, albeit with a bullet instead of an arrow. His crowning achievement came when actor Tom Mix let Jones "smash with a bullet the works of a watch he carried over his heart."

(That makes a good story, but surely it had been faked. In the real world, a watch is not all that bullet-proof.)

In addition to shooting, Jones also handled bit parts, his filmography listing 37 movies, from "The Man from the East" in 1914 to "The Arizona Wildcat" in 1939. Jones also facilitated horseback scenes and wrangled horses and cattle on location. During that 25-year career, movies went from silent black-and-white one-reelers to sophisticated color films with sound.

No matter his common name and lack of star status, Jones must have made good copy for Hollywood press agents, the screen magazines and the tabloids. He died in Los Angeles on Feb. 7, 1958 at 82.

One thing is for sure about Ed "King Fisher" or "Pardner" Jones - he was a Texas wannabe who could at least shoot like a Texan.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" October 6 , 2016 column

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