EAST MANATEE — Doug Jones, a rodeo cowboy and former owner of Wishful Thinkin’ Farms in Myakka City, died Wednesday at Blake Medical Center. He was 68.
His death came only a few days after participating in the 22nd-Annual Cracker Trail Ride, which commemorated the Florida cross-state cattle drives of more than a century ago. He had been in ill health for several years, said friends and family members.
Although Mr. Jones was too weak to ride a horse in the Cracker Trail Ride from East Manatee to Fort Pierce, he did accompany the riders across the state, said David Reed, association president.
“I’m happy that he was able to go along,” Reed said of his friend and former Cracker Trail officer. “The weather was perfect and the ride was well organized.”
Like many others, Reed began visiting Wishful Thinkin’ Farms when his children were young, but an outing there was never just about paying $10 to ride a horse.
“He would stand on the porch and spin his tall tales, talking about his cowboy days and growing up in Okeechobee. He was pretty much a character that a lot of people got to know and enjoy,” Reed said.
With his white beard and moustache, and black hat, many thought he looked like a cowboy Santa Claus, a role he embraced at area Christmas parades aboard his white mule, Frankie.
In 2002, Mr. Jones said in a Herald interview that his farm represented freedom from stress. “I look at the city as an ant hill, everything going nowhere fast. I see the farm here as a big old swamp, nice and slow.”
His wistful longing for simpler days was a theme throughout his life.
In 1993, Wishful Thinkin’ Farms hosted the Rendezvous of the Hunters’ Moon, which celebrated the 1840s pioneer life.
“When you come here, you’re going to forget about the roads and traffic,” he said in an interview. “This is primitive. People pitch tents and teepees and get back in time.”
One of his friends from the Cracker Trail remembers barrel racing with Mr. Jones. “Doug would beat me all the time on his white mule,” Carol Phelps said.
His last roundup on the Cracker Trail was poignant.
“He would come out with his lawn chair, sit around the camp fire and fall asleep listening to the music,” Phelps said. ”He was very stoic for his condition. ‘Forget your aches and pains, stay on the road and keep going’ was his philosophy,” Phelps said.
His daughter, Karen Perry, remembered that Mr. Jones was always “telling us ‘to cowgirl up. To take care of those horses, look after those riders.’”
April Jones remembers how proud she made her father, a Green Beret during the Vietnam War, when she enlisted in the Army and graduated from Basic Combat Training.
He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Marie Jones, daughters April T. Jones and Karen Perry, and grandchildren, Alysha Parker, Derek Parker and Skylar Parker.
A celebration of life is planned for 11 a.m. March 14 at Myakka United Methodist Church.
James A. Jones Jr., editor, can be contacted at 708-7916.