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Searching the cemetery: ‘Everything is findable’

Madera County Historical Society

Raymond, Calif., around the time that Henry Jones shot himself in the town’s blacksmith shop.


Henry S. Jones is buried in the Raymond Cemetery. My grandson, Milo, and I ran across his grave on one of our cemetery excursions. Since his marker didn’t tell us anything about him but his birth and death dates, we decided do some research just to see what we could find out about this man who lay almost anonymously beneath this tombstone. It didn’t take us long to discover that “Everything is findable.”

Henry Jones should have been a happy man. He had a good job as a hostler in the town of Raymond, where he and his bride had set up housekeeping. They had been married by Justice of the Peace Joe Barcroft on May 25, 1904. He was 26; she was 19.

Henry and Ida had their first child, Roy, a year after they were married. Their second son, Ronald, came along in 1907, and that’s when things turned sour. Ida inexplicably took off for San Francisco, leaving her husband to care for their boys.

Henry was distraught. When folks inquired about Ida, he simply said she had become an invalid and was being cared for in a San Francisco hospital.

Henry’s mother, Cloa, helped him care for the children. She had been a widow for some time and welcomed the chance to assist her son in his hour of need. It’s a pity she wasn’t able to keep him out of the saloons.

In the spring of 1908, Henry turned to drink as never before. For the last two months of his life, he rarely drew a sober breath. When he lost his job at the stables, he was pushed over the edge. That and the loss of his wife sent him into a spiral of despondency; he would kill himself.

He went around town trying to borrow a pistol, but no one would loan him one, so he decided to ride down to see Julius Vignolo who lived near the old Buchanan Road southwest of Raymond.

Henry went to C.R. Babcock’s stables and rented a rig. He rode down to Vignolo’s, who loaned him a revolver. Armed with the weapon, Henry rode back to Raymond to return the horse and buggy. While Babcock unhitched the horse and took it inside, Henry just sat staring in the buggy. A few minutes later, Henry got down and went into the blacksmith shop next door. Babcock followed him until he heard a shot. Henry threw up his hands and fell to the ground. He had shot himself in the chest with Vignolo’s pistol.

They sent for Dr. Myers, but it was too late; Henry Jones had killed himself with a shot to the heart. Coroner Jay rode up from Madera to conduct an inquest and ruled it suicide. He searched Henry’s pockets and found a letter purporting to be from a doctor in San Francisco. It had informed Henry that his wife needed an operation, and that there was little hope of success. Jay buried Henry in the Raymond cemetery, and Cloa Jones, Henry’s widowed mother, took charge of his two boys. Roy and Ronald stayed with their grandmother and started school in Raymond. Then in January 1913, Cloa Jones was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage and died.

The town of Raymond went into mourning — not so much for Cloa, but for her grandsons, Roy and Ronald Jones. Who would care for them? Then a very strange thing happened. A woman by the name of Josephine Elam came out of nowhere. She was the maternal grandmother of the boys, and she wanted custody of them. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief. With their father and no doubt their mother dead and their paternal grandmother now gone, the boys would have someone to care for them. Superior Court Judge William Conley made it official with an order making Josephine Elam, the maternal grandmother, their guardians.

Mrs. Elam told the court that she was a widow and lived in San Francisco. She said she intended to raise the boys there, and then she dropped a bombshell. She and Roy and Ronald would be living with their mother, Ida Elam, who was still alive and well!

So off they went, and the folks in Raymond were left scratching their heads. Ida wasn’t dead after all and apparently never had been sick. The letter from the doctor to that effect had been a ruse. She had left Henry after Ronald was born and gone to San Francisco with no intentions of returning.

So Henry Jones killed himself over Ida all right, but it wasn’t because she was an invalid. It was because she had abandoned him, and here’s the kicker. When Josephine brought her boys to live with her, Ida was working as a machine operator in a cap factory.

As a matter of fact, they were all still living with her in 1930 — the mother, Ida, the grandmother, Josephine, 25- year-old Roy, and 23-year-old Ronald — snug as bugs in a rug.

Josephine died in 1958; Roy died in 1969, and Ronald died in 1989. Now get this; Ida died on July 18, 1985 at the age of 99! The “invalid” had outlived all of them but Ronald.

The next time I take my grandson, Milo, exploring the Raymond Cemetery, I think we’re going to take Henry some flowers. He deserves it.

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