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.
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