Friday, October 9, 2009

Edna Ferber, White Hats and My Family Tree

Recently, I've been corresponding with a third cousin who found me via my ramblings on the Internet. One of our common ancestors is our great-great grandfather, Frank Wiley Jones (1859-1942). If I had the time, I'd write a book about him. He led an interesting life.

Born in North Carolina, Frank and family moved to Texas when he was a baby. He led the cowboy life as a young man, eventually driving cattle on the Chisholm Trail. He also managed a ranch for a widow and ended up marrying her eldest daughter. After the birth of their first daughter, Frank and wife Carrie moved to what is now Oklahoma, acquiring land through Carrie's Chickasaw heritage. During the process of having five more daughters, Frank gave up the cowboy ways and settled in to life as a business man. The one constant through all of Frank's life was the white hat he wore every waking hour of every day.

During one of the emails from my newly-found third cousin, she mentioned that her grandmother said that Frank was interviewed by Edna Ferber for her book Cimarron and he was even credited as a source.

Curious, I asked my librarian friends to look on their shelves to see if they had the book and could find Frank's name in the front or back. None did. I ordered the book myself through interlibrary loan just for my own amusement.

The copy of the book in my possession does not list Frank as a source. However, the subject matter indeed reflects the type of life Frank led as he moved his family from Texas to the land that would eventually become Oklahoma.

In the introduction of Cimarron, Ferber says her characters are imaginary, made up of many bits, pieces and observations that when sewn together create a picture of the spirit of the time.

I'm only a quarter of the way through the pages, but it is quite possible my great-great grandfather was interviewed for this book. He's not one of the characters, but his voice may have helped paint the landscape of the tale. And though the leading man, Yancey Cravat, physically doesn't not resemble the real Frank Wiley Jones, there is one similarity I just can't shake.

At the beginning of Cimarron, Yancey Cravat is described as wearing "always, a white felt hat, broad-brimmed and rolling."

Well what a coincidence. My great-grandfather did, too. Always. Until the day he died:

Carrie Colbert Jones and Frank Wiley Jones
early 1940's, Oklahoma


  1. That is so AWESOME! Gave me goosebumps.

  2. I think you *should* write that book. ;-)

  3. He would make a great book!
    Where was he born in N.C.? I don't have any Joneses, but had a Frank Wiley Maness in my family. His mother had lived next to the Wiley family in Randolph County.