Tuesday, June 27, 2017

130 Year Old Blues Man Buried Near Charley Patton at Holly Ridge Cemetery


In December 1994, the residents of Holly Ridge buried Bill Jones, believed to have been the oldest Mississippian at 130 years old, in Holly Ridge Cemetery—the gravesite of Charley Patton.

Jones took with him memories of two floods, the notorious gangster Jesse James, and Indians living in tents near the Delta plantation on which he was born.

Although there was no official documentation, Jones is believed to have been born on Dec. 13, 1863 as the son of a slave at Swain Station, now Longswitch, west of Holly Ridge. Two years ago, Gov. Kirk Fordice honored him as the oldest person in Mississippi.

In an interview around that time, Jones offered this reason for having lived such a long life: "I ate a little, smoked a little, and drank a little, but I left wild women alone.''

Jones described himself as "always working.'' From an early age, he worked on farms and railroads, and he helped build up the Mississippi River levee.

"He worked the levee when it broke in 1908 up at Scott, and in 1927 when it broke in Greenville,'' said Frank McWilliams, an Indianola attorney whose family had been close to Jones for years.

As a young man Jones saw Jesse James kill a man at what is now called James Crossing, 15 miles south of Greenville on Mississippi 1.

Later he lived in Greenville and worked in Dunlieth, where he was a member of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. A farmer, he had his own horse team and played the blues on his banjo.

Jones became an "infamous'' member of the Dunleith-Longswitch community, McWilliams said. Even Columbus and Greenville Railway trains would stop at his house to visit.

"The engineers used to get off and visit with him, and bring him whiskey,'' McWilliams said. "He wasn't but 110 then.''

In 1985, friends persuaded the 121-year-old man to move to Heritage Manor.

Always independent, Jones insisted on doing things for himself.

He participated in ball games, fishing trips, and even visited the casinos in Greenville.

Jones had certain routines he loved -- a cigarette after breakfast, four ``toddies'' a day. He was proud of his collection of caps, which he hung on the branches of a tree in his room when he wasn't wearing them.

Jones was so active and involved, Grissom said, that ``we thought we had him forever.''

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