STAN JONES (1914-1963) * actor / cowboy / singer / songwriter:
Writer of the cowboy evergreen 'Ghost Riders In The Sky':

(Jukka Joutsi * latest additions: 15.4.2020).

A) Stan Jones (June 5, 1914 - December 13, 1963) was an American songwriter and actor.
Stanley Davis "Stan" Jones was born in Douglas, Arizona, and grew up on a ranch. When his father died, his mother moved the family to Los Angeles, California. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, competing in rodeos to make money.
However, he dropped out in 1934 to join the United States Navy. After his discharge, he worked at many jobs, including as a miner, a fire fighter, and a park ranger. In his free time he wrote songs, and eventually more than 100 were recorded. His most famous, "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky", was written in 1948 when he worked for the National Park Service in Death Valley, California.
Assigned as technical advisor to the filming of The Walking Hills, he became friends with director John Ford, who opened his way into Hollywood.

Jones wrote almost entirely Western music. He composed songs for several Western movies by Ford and others producers, including The Searchers and Rio Grande. He also played small parts in several westerns.

In 1955 Jones began writing for Disney Studios. He was co-writer of the theme song for the television series Cheyenne, and in 1956 was hired to play Deputy Harry Olson in the syndicated television series Sheriff of Cochise (1956-1958), which starred John Bromfield as law enforcement officer Frank Morgan.
After its first season, Sheriff of Cochise was renamed by Desilu Studios owner Desi Arnaz, Sr., as U.S. Marshal. Jones wrote again for John Ford's Civil War film The Horse Soldiers, in which he made an uncredited appearance as Ulysses S. Grant. The following year, he returned to working for Disney Studios.

Jones married twice and had several children. He died in Los Angeles in 1963 at the age of 49. He was buried at Julia Page Memorial Park in his hometown, Douglas, Arizona. In 1997, he was posthumously inducted into the Western Music Hall of Fame.

B) An impressionable 12 year old rode to the top of an Arizona hill one afternoon with an old cowboy friend by the name of Cap Watts to check a windmill quite a ways out of town. A big storm was building and they needed to lock the blades down before the wind hit. When finished, they paused to watch the clouds darken and spread across the sky.
As lightning flashed, Cap told the boy to watch closely and he would see the Devil's Herd, their eyes red and hooves flashing, stampede ahead of phantom horsemen. Cap warned the youth that if he didn't watch himself, he would someday be up there with them, chasing steers for all eternity. The terrified boy jumped on his horse and took off for the the safety of home. Years later, he recalled that scary, dark afternoon and on his 34th birthday, Stan Jones sat outside his Death Valley home and wrote "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky."

Born in the southeastern Arizona town of Douglas in 1914, Stan grew up surrounded by cattle ranches, cowboys and the beauty of the desert. In later life he often went back to get away from the stresses of Los Angeles.

As a boy, he told and wrote ghost stories for his classmates. One neighbor recalled, he would finish his stories along about the time she had to be home for dinner. And she would sometimes be too scared to walk the block or so to her house. She remembered him as a handsome boy with wavy blond hair and dimples. He had a lot of friends.

He moved to California and lived with a sister while he went to college. His love of learning and adventure took Stan all over the West. He worked in the big copper mine in Jerome, Arizona, and traveled to the Pacific Northwest where he drove a snowplow, worked as a logger and ate smoke as a firefighter in the forests. During WWII, Stan was a field director for the American Red Cross in Bend, Oregon. There he met and married a beautiful co-worker. According to Olive Jones, their 20 years together were always a challenge and always interesting.

Because of his love of the outdoors, Stan joined the National Park Service. A mid-July job transfer brought him to the desert of Death Valley, where he wrote many of his songs. He used an old Martin guitar his wife Olive had bought him as a surprise. She had hidden it in a closet and one day a falling coat set the strings vibrating. Stan said he "heard the angels sing" when the sound came through the door and, once he found it, the guitar was seldom out of his sight.

When they moved to Death Valley, they found a temperamental air conditioner, no radio, TV or phone - just a two-way radio, and when the car occasionally broke down, the only transportation was the old Park Service truck. Stan told Olive she would soon have the desert in her blood and in spite of the inconveniences, it was true. Most evenings they sat outside and watched the desert sunset and often Stan found something to write about.

The Park Service made Stan its representative to Hollywood film crews when they came to Death Valley. After a long, hot day of filming, cast and crew members often sat around and listened to Stan's songs and stories. They encouraged him to get a publisher in Los Angeles. His songs made the rounds and Burl Ives was given one about a "ghost herd in the sky" which he liked enough to record. When the master was finished, someone called Vaughn Monroe and played it for him. Monroe rushed to Los Angeles, cut the record himself and released it before Ives' came out. The rest is history - the song became one of Monroe's biggest hits.

Dozens of other singers released the tune and a few years later, when asked on a Sons of the Pioneers radio show which version he liked best, he didn't hesitate in saying the Pioneers'.

Veteran Cowboy actor George O'Brien introduced Stan to his friend and mentor, the legendary director John Ford. When Ford heard Jones' music, he insisted he write the score for the movie Wagonmaster. The Sons of the Pioneers were chosen to do the vocals, but did not appear in the movie. Jones then wrote much of the music for Rio Grande. Ford also gave Stan a chance to act in this movie. He was the sergeant who presented the Regimental Singers (a.k.a. the Sons of the Pioneers) to John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara and appeared in other scenes.

Jones also wrote most of the music for John Wayne's favorite Western, The Searchers.

When Stan quit the Park Service, the Jones moved to Lake Tahoe and he would drive to L.A. when required. As more projects became available, the need to have a place close to work necessitated a move to the coast. Stan and Olive found a beautiful home overlooking the growing Tarzana area where one of their neighbors was Rex Allen.

Walt Disney Studios hired Stan to do music for many of their movies and TV shows including "Spin and Marty." Stan occasionally appeared on them and on "The Wonderful World of Color" singing a Western song. Disney released a number of these songs on albums as well.

There were other movies, TV, and independent albums and in the mid-50's he teamed up with writers and a producer to do the TV series "Sheriff of Cochise" starring John Bromfield. He created the show, co-starred in it, and wrote some scripts and music. He also wrote and recorded for the Standard School Broadcasts, a program radio stations broadcast into schools around the country.

Stan never went anywhere without a book and his thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. He worked on a manuscript for a book on glaciers and was writing a novel based on Queen Nefertiti of Egypt.

In his brief career, Stan Jones wrote over two hundred songs. About one hundred were recorded, including "Song of the Trail," "Saddle Up." "Lilies Grow High," "Cowpoke," and the TV theme 'Cheyenne." The numerous awards including gold records still line the walls of the Jones house in silent testimony to the millions of records sold over the years.

Stan Jones died of cancer in December of 1963, at age 49, and at his request, was buried in a small cemetery in his hometown of Douglas. A tall pine now shades his grave from the Arizona sun. The marker under it has perhaps some of the most moving and descriptive words he ever wrote. Taken from his song "Resurrectus":
I'll see him in the sunrise ~ And just as day is done ~ No more to walk in darkness ~ For I know now my cares are none..

It's hard to say how many hundred of songs were left unwritten and stories left untold. But the words and music he gave us made an indelible impression on the minds of the world. There are few places one goes where the haunting melody and lyrics of "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" are not recognized and loved and that is an eternal legacy of which one can be very proud.

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A SELECTION OF STAN JONES' SONGS TO ENJOY:
(Many thanks to Robert Wagoner, Anne Greb, Bob Costa, O J Sikes and Michelle Sundin for sharing these Stan Jones songs with us. The singers are in parentheses):

• Abraham Lincoln (The Tall American) (?) (Fess Parker)
• All Wild Things (The Sons of the Pioneers)
• Along the Yellowstone (Rangers' Chorus*)
• Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory) (Fess Parker)
• Buffalo w: Ken Curtis and Stan Jones, m: Ken Curtis (Sons of the Pioneers)
• Burro Lullaby (The Reinsmen)
• 'Cause I'm in Love (Bob Wills with vocals by Carolina Cotton)
• Cheyenne (Sons of the Pioneers)
• Chuckawalla Swing (Sons of the Pioneers)
• Coffin in the Cabin (Stan Jones and the Sons of the Pioneers)
• Cottonwood Tree (Ken Curtis and the Sons of the Pioneers)
• Cowpoke (Johnny Western and the Sons of the Pioneers)
• Creakin' Leather (Stan Jones)
• Deep Water (Stan Jones)
• The Desert (Ranger's Chorus ~ The Rangers Chorus includes Lloyd Perryman and OJ Sikes)
• El Diablo (Stan Jones)
• Footsore Cavalry (Sons of the Pioneers from the soundtrack of "Rio Grande" 1950)
• Goodnight, Little Wrangler (Fess Parker)
• Grand Canyon (Sons of the Pioneers featuring Ken Curtis)
• Hannah Lee (Johnny Western and the Sons of the Pioneers)
• Horse Soldiers (theme from the soundtrack)
• Hunter's Return (Stan Jones)
• Indian Spirit Chant (Stan Jones with the Sons of the Pioneers)
• Jim Marshall's Nugget (Thurl Ravenscroft and the Sons of the Pioneers)
• The Lilies Grow High (Sons of the Pioneers)
• The Marshall's Daughter (Tex Ritter)
• My Gal is Purple (Sons of the Pioneers, solo by Ken Curtis)
• No One Here but Me aka "No One Here but You" (Sons of the Pioneers)
• Ole Kit Carson (Fess Parker)
• Owl Lullaby (from a Lucky U program)
• Patrick Henry (The Patriot) (Fess Parker)
• Pony Express (Ranger Chorus*)
• Prayer of the Frontier Doctor (Rex Allen)
• Ranger's Hymn (Rangers' Chorus*)
• Resurrectus (Sons of the Pioneers, solo by Ken Curtis)
• (Ghost) Riders in the Sky (sung by Stan Jones, Sons of the Pioneers featuring Bob Nolan, April, 1949, Sons of the Pioneers, June 1959, featuring Tommy Doss)
• Rollin' Dust (Sons of the Pioneers)
• Saddle Up! (Sons of the Pioneers, solo by Tommy Doss)
• The Searchers (Sons of the Pioneers)
• The Searchers (Sons of the Pioneers) "complete" soundtrack, courtesy of Roberto Costa
• Sedona, Arizona (Stan Jones)
• The Sheriff of Cochise (The Prairie Chiefs)
• Siren of the Sea (Dennis Day)
• Snooze in the Quiet Air (Stan Jones)
• Song of the Trail (Sons of the Pioneers, solo by Tommy Doss)
• Song of the Wagonmaster (Sons of the Pioneers, solo by Ken Curtis)
• Sons of the Mountains (Rangers' Chorus*)
• Sons of Old Aunt Dinah (w: Lawrence E Watkin, m: Stan Jones) "The Great Locomotive Chase"
• Texas John Slaughter (Stan Jones)
• Too Young to Marry (Stan Jones)
• Wagons West (Sons of the Pioneers)
• Wedding Day (Stan Jones)
• Whirlwind (Gene Autry)
• The Woodsman's Prayer (Sons of the Pioneers, solo by Tommy Doss & duet with Lloyd Perryman)
• Wooly Lamb Song (Stan Jones)
• Wringle Wrangle (Stan Jones, Rex Allen, Bill Hayes, Fess Parker)
• Yellow Stripes (Sons of the Pioneers from the soundtrack of "Rio Grande" 1950)
OTHER SONGS BY STAN JONES:
• Awakening, • Big Sky, • Charlie Caterpillar, • Dancing Girl, • Golden Strings, • Gurney was Here, • I Forgot to Remember, • I Left My Love, • In the Shadow of My Heart, • The Jolly Rovers, • Key on the Tail of a Kite, • Knight in Bright Armor, • Lover's March, • Packin' the Mail, • Puffin Billy, • A Red Rose in a Garden, • Roll Along, • The Sea is a Woman, • Snowbells and Echoes, • The Snowflake Waltz, • The Soul of Big Jack Dunn, • Storm, • Surrender of Appomattox, • Sweet Little Lark, • There's No One Here, • Triple R Song, • Two Hoots, • Windmill, • You and Me and My Ole Hound Dog, • You Mean So Much to Me.

Keeter Stuart, grand nephew of Stan Jones recently released a CD of himself singing and playing his uncle's songs.

C) (Jukka Joutsi, 29.8.2010): STAN JONES in my own collection:

A quick look at my record collection - I could find the following Stan Jones' compositions covered (not a complete list of my collection, yet):

Andrew Jackson (Old Hickory) - Fess Parker (1964),
Burro Lullaby - Stan Jones (1962),
Cheyenne - Johnny Western, The Sons Of The Pioneers 1957,
Chuckawalla Swing - Sons Of The Pioneers (1950),
Cottonwood Tree - Stan Jones (1962),
Cowpoke - Don Walser (1994),
Creakin` Leather - Stan Jones (1962),
Deep Water - Stan Jones (1962),
El Diablo - Stan Jones (1962),

Ghost Riders In The Sky - Alvin Crow (1993?), Bob Wills (1967), Eddie Dean, Ira Allen (1994), Johnny Cash (1979), Johnny Western, Lorne Greene (1964), Marty Robbins (1969), Michael Martin Murphey (1993), Riders In the Sky (1987), Sherwin Linton (1994), Sons Of The Pioneers (1959), Stan Jones (1962), Willis Brothers with Johnny Bond (1976), Vaughn Monroe.

Hannah Lee (High Are The Gallows) - Johnny Western (1961),
Hunter`s Return - Stan Jones (1962),
No One Here But You - Sons Of The Pioneers (1949),
Ole Kit Carson - Fess Parker (1964),
Patrick Henry (The Patriot) - Fess Parker (1964),
Prayer For The Frontier Doctor - Rex Allen (1959),
Resurrectus - Sons Of The Pioneers (1951),
Rollin` Dust - Johnny Western (1961), Sons Of The Pioneers (1950),
Sedona, Arizona - Stan Jones (1962),
Snooze In The Quiet Air - Stan Jones (1962),
Song Of The Wagon Master - Sons Of The Pioneers (1950),
The Lilies Grow High - Johnny Western, Sons Of The Pioneers (1954),
The Marshall`s Daughter - Tex Ritter (1953),
The Searchers - Johnny Western (1961), Sons Of The Pioneers (1956), Tex Ritter (1958),
Too Young To Marry - Stan Jones (1962),
Wagons West - Sons Of The Pioneers (1950),
Wedding Day - Stan Jones (1962),
Woolly Lamb Song - Stan Jones (1962),
Wringle Wrangle - Stan Jones (1962),

D) Information needed:
(Stewart Kantor, 23.1.2011): I was shopping today in vintage store in Sunnyvale, California and found an album (33 1/3) 10”.
This album had no cover. The label on the album says “Audiodiscs Recording blank”. Someone has written on the label: 'Chevron Concert #32 (SoTex)'. When you listen to the record, it mentions that the program is the 'story of the American West' as interpreted by Stan Jones’ musical direction. Do you know anything about this recording? I can’t find anything on this anywhere.

(JJ, 23.1.2011): All I can say without seeing/hearing the record - I guess it might be a radio transcription record, a serial where Stan Jones is asked to take care of the musical part of the project.

(Keeter Stuart, USA, 23.2.2011): My name is Keeter Stuart. I’m a songwriter and performer and a member of the WMA. Stan Jones was my great-uncle. I’d very much like to get a copy of the Stan Jones concert for Chevron that you have. Is this in CD form? Please let me know. Thanks very much. I understand that you are a big fan of his songs and music. Well, so am I! I hope all is going well in your life. Keep the music alive…. listen to me singing some of Stan’s songs.

E) Memories from Melody Miller Sokolow:
(Melody Miller Sokolow, Oregon, USA ~ e-mail, 24.1.2015): I was reading about Stan Jones and just wanted to say that I and my family Lived down the hill from Olive and Stan. Stan and my Dad, Frank Miller, were very close friends and my Dad and all Stan's friends shared the same. My Dad, still around at 96, in a nursing home in North Carolina, had a group "The Easy Riders" and he has a bunch of gold records for things like "Memories Are Made of This", "Marianne" and "Greenfields".
But, I vaguely remember something of Stan, I was six when he passed. I seem to think it was lung cancer as he smoked so much. But that house still stands and I believe that Olive still lives there. I tried to contact "SJ"' or Stan Jr. on Facebook, but I guess he wasn't interested. We were very close for many years growing up with Olive up there in that house. It sure was unique, I believe Stan designed it or something. It had a darkness, which could have been due to her grief, and rich and deep in memories and heaviness.......I remember that. Anyway, I just wanted to say hello and share. Very best to you, Jukka -- Melody Miller Sokolow, Oregon, USA.

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(Bruce Eder, 2020): The name Stan Jones doesn't pop up in too many country music reference books, but most fans of cowboy songs and Western movie soundtrack music, not to mention the music of Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers, Vaughn Monroe, and Johnny Cash, know his name, as the author of "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky."

Stanley Davis Jones was born in Arizona in 1915 and became a forest ranger. He had an interest in music, could sing a little and play a guitar, and occasionally wrote songs in his spare time. In the fall of 1948, he was assigned as a technical advisor on a Columbia Pictures movie called The Walking Hills, starring Randolph Scott and Ella Raines and directed by John Sturges, when the crew was doing their location shooting in Death Valley. During a slow point in the work, Jones pulled out his guitar and started singing some of those songs and was told by Scott and the rest of the crew that the songs might go nicely in Western movies and that he should try and sell them to the Hollywood studios.

Jones followed their advice and tried to publish some of his songs (including "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," which owed its melody to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"), only to have them turned down by the music companies that he approached -- one even said that "Riders" was too dirgeful and funereal. He recorded that song and a few others on his own, and composer Eden Ahbez (best known for the hit "Nature Boy") heard "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" and brought it to Burl Ives, who cut it for Columbia Records. It was later picked up by Bing Crosby, Gene Autry, and Vaughn Monroe, as well as dozens of others, and Jones had a new career and major Hollywood representation.

By 1950, Jones was writing songs for major motion pictures, including Ford's Rio Grande, starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara -- Ford learned of Jones' songs when actors Harry Carey Jr. and Ben Johnson brought him and his music to the director in person, during shooting -- where they were sung by the Sons of the Pioneers, and he was being looked at by Walt Disney Studios, where he signed on as a composer and recording artist. He wrote and recorded individual songs and began releasing albums in 1961 with Ghost Riders in the Sky, followed by Creakin' Leather a year later and the concept album This Was the West.

Jones' other credits include the beautiful theme music to the Warner Bros. television series Cheyenne, written in collaboration with Hollywood veteran William Lava -- indeed, some viewers say the title theme was the best part of the program -- and the title theme from the landmark John Ford Western The Searchers. "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" remains one of the most popular and often-covered post-World War II country & western songs, constantly re-recorded and old recordings constantly revived.

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Book Review * Ghost Riders In The Sky: The Life Of Stan Jones, The Singing Ranger * By Jim Burnett - April 1st, 2015.

Over the years park rangers have demonstrated some impressive talent, but when it comes to securing a place in entertainment history, few can compete with Stan Jones. He was working as a ranger in Death Valley National Monument in the late 1940s when a series of serendipitous events led to a remarkable new career, and his story is told in an entertaining new book, Ghost Riders In the Sky: The Life of Stan Jones, The Singing Ranger.
If you were to compile a list of the most-recorded songs in the American music industry, "Ghost Riders In the Sky" would certainly find a spot on your tally. The story behind the success of that song, and the remarkable career of the man who became known as the "singing ranger," is nicely told by Michael K. Ward in a book that will appeal to a variety of audiences.
Anyone who enjoys glimpses into the lives of park rangers in bygone eras, or a peek behind the scenes at the entertainment industry in the second half of the twentieth century, will find something to like in Michael Ward's book.

Arizona Desert Roots

Born in 1914, the future ranger grew up in Douglas, Arizona, and spent much of his free time as a child and youth roaming the surrounding desert and mountains. This book is a biography, and the first four chapters of the book provide the necessary background to set the stage for the rest of the story, including a look at the various stories about Stan Jones' inspiration later in life for his song about "ghost riders."
During his late teens and early 20s, Jones bounced around a variety of jobs and homes in the West, and a brief stint in the peacetime Navy in the mid-1930s proved invaluable in one respect: an honorable discharge that allowed him to apply for an NPS job ten years later.

He "Jumped At The Chance" For A Job With the NPS

When Jones heard about a ranger position which had come open in late 1944 at Mount Rainier National Park, Ward writes that "...Stan jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity for him to land a job back in the woods, where he could utilize skills gleaned from his most memorable adventures as a youth..."
He landed the job, and anyone interested in a glimpse at life in the National Park Service during the late 1940s will enjoy Chapters 5 through 10 in Ward's book. They describe Jones' life as a ranger at Mount Rainier National Park and then at Death Valley National Monument; both the similarities and the contrasts with jobs in modern-day parks are striking.
Stan Jones and his wife Olive arrived at Mount Rainier in February 1945 and "soon became popular and active members of the local community." It seemed that Jones had finally found his calling.
According to Ward, "Stan Jones and the National Park Service constituted a nearly perfect match. Rangers of that era did it all, from mundane maintenance chores to dangerous rescues, relying on inner grit, horse sense, and dedication to duty as they confronted any task that might call their way. Stan's diverse mix of blue collar experience combined with his warm, open personality and love of the outdoors made him an ideal public servant."

A "Fascination With The Glory Days Of The Old West"

Stan may have been an ideal fit for his job, but his musical talents were developing as well. His wife Olive had encouraged Stan's creative skills and his "fascination with the glory days of the Old West," and had given him a Martin tenor guitar.
Jones was a natural storyteller, and he began use that instrument to transform his cowboy stories into cowboy songs. A friend later recalled Stan's passion for music, and notes that "he loved to strum his guitar and sing cowboy songs, requiring only the slightest or even no encouragement to drag out his guitar and perform."
The author's descriptions of NPS life at Mount Rainier during and immediately following World War II are both entertaining and enlightening. Stan's first year of "rangering" included a visit to the park by President Truman, a postwar flood of visitors, rescues on the mountain, problems with bears, crowds of winter sports enthusiasts at Paradise, snow removal on roads and rooftops, and when other duties slowed the crafting of an apparently endless stream of routed cedar signs for use throughout the park.

Back To His Desert Roots

In August 1945, after just over a year at Mount Rainier, Stan Jones opted for a transfer away from snow and the sign shop, and made a move to a much different world at Death Valley National Monument. He and his wife Olive were soon assigned to the Emigrant Ranger Station, and the personable couple soon "developed a network of friends, mainly miners and ranchers from areas adjacent to the monument."
Better still for Stan, the Stovepipe Wells Hotel was only nine miles away, and was soon providing a "welcome venue in which Stan could entertain visitors and locals with his song-writing talents." Even Jones' "day job" provided chances to share his music. The ranger's duties included presentation of programs about the park's natural history, and at the end of his talks, "he invariably picked up his guitar to treat the visitors to a few of his 'cowboy songs.'"
Most of his ranger tasks were more prosaic, and he "roamed the vast desert monument in his patrol pickup... ready to dig out vehicles stuck in the sand, cool overheated radiators, pursue lawbreakers, search for lost hikers, or simply be a friendly, knowledgeable contact to the visiting public."

"Hollywood Converged On Death Valley"

In 1947 Stan Jones sat down one day at the Emigrant Ranger Station and wrote "Ghost Riders in the Sky." His timing, in retrospect, was very good, because in May of 1948 Hollywood converged on Death Valley.
Three major motion picture companies set up shop in the park and leased facilities at both the Furnace Creek Ranch and Stovepipe Wells Hotel. The list of arrivals included some of Hollywood's biggest names of that era: director John Ford and actors John Wayne, Ward Bond and Harry Carey, Jr.
Ward's book offers some interesting perspective on the relationship between the NPS and major movie production companies over a half century ago. He notes that "The NPS regulatory grip wasn't quite as rigid back in the 1940's... Nonetheless, Superintendent Goodwin made sure that a park ranger was on board at all locations to 'check on any violations of Park Service rules.
At times those duties fell to Stan Jones, and Chapter 7 of Ward's book includes a hilarious tale of an incident involving director John Ford, John Wayne and a barrel cactus. In one scene in the movie, Wayne was trying, without success, to squeeze water from a chunk of pulp taken from the desert plant.
"You Can't Get Water Out Of That Kind Of Cactus!"
Ward sets up the story nicely: "Unaware of John Ford's disciplinary measures on his movie sets, Stan, in his typically relaxed and breezy manner, piped up, 'You can't get any water out of that kind of cactus!'"
"Ford, unaccustomed to being interrupted in the middle of shooting a scene, yelled "Cut!" and tensed like an angry pit bull. He slowly turned in his chair and barked, 'Who the hell said that?' Ranger Jones, unfazed, stepped forward. 'I did, Mr. Ford. That barrelhead cactus has some moisture in it but you'll never get it to drip into that canteen."
Ford, using the colorful language for which he was famous in the movie industry, demanded to know who Jones was, and what made him an authority on cactus. '"It's my job, sir,' replied Stan, resplendent in his Park Service uniform and flat hat. 'No water in that cactus."'
The rest of the exchange, as told by Ward in Chapter 7 of the book, makes a great tale. Neither Jones nor the famous director could know at the time that the encounter would set the stage for a future business relationship.
As soon as Ford's work in the park was completed, Stan Jones was assigned to keep an eye on a second movie being filmed at Death Valley. "At night," Ward relates, "Stan Jones morphed into a singing ranger...treating the cast and crew to his growing repertoire of original songs."

An Enthusiastic, Captive Audience

"...In the nine days that the ...company was ensconced at Stovepipe, Stan had an enthusiastic, captive audience to entertain. Chief among his many new fans was leading man Randolph Scott. It was Scott more than anyone else who was convinced that 'Ghost Riders in the Sky' could become a hit song, and it was ...his urging...that gave Stan the gumption he needed to head to Los Angeles and try to get his songs published."
Yet a third assignment to keep an eye on a movie company followed, and this one led the personable Jones and the actor Gregory Peck to "take a shine to each other on the set"; they would end up "as life-long friends."
After the departure of the movie companies, Stan resumed his routine ranger duties, but kept his resolve to have his songs published. In late August, he took two weeks of annual leave, and headed to Hollywood to try to sell some of his songs.
The eventual outcome would be what the author describes as "implausible" and "unimaginable," but at the end of his trip, Stan Jones returned to Death Valley to resume his ranger duties. He had "no reason to believe (his trip) would amount to much," but Michael Ward's account of the way "Ghost Riders in the Sky" found its way to the hands of recording artist Burl Ives and on to stardom deserves to be read in its entirety in the book.

So, how successful was "Ghost Riders in the Sky"?
The song's initial release in February 1949, sung by Burl Ives, attracted some attention, but a second version by Vaughn Monroe in March 1949 "took the American airways by storm." By April 15 it was on the Billboard charts of the top songs in the country, where it remained for 22 weeks, even reaching the coveted "number one" spot.

"Selling At A Record-Breaking Pace"

An article in Billboard on April 23, 1949, noted that Vaughn Monroe's song was "selling at a record-breaking pace..." and RCA Victor Records was "going all-out promotion wise, and will have a dirigible over the (New York) city Saturday, flashing the platter title and playing the record over a p.a. system..."
Ranger Stan Jones' "cowboy song" had traveled quite a distance from its birthplace on the porch of the Emigrant Ranger Station at Death Valley.
The stunning success of Ranger Jones and his song were mentioned in the Superintendent's report from Death Valley for April 1949, which noted that "Newsweek and Time wrote him up and Life sent photographers (to the park) for an illustrated article..."
Jones was quickly exhausting his annual leave to handle his music-related activities, and it was becoming clear he'd have to make a decision between his NPS job and the uncertainties of long-term success in Hollywood.
In an era when television was in its infancy and recorded music meant phonograph records played on a turntable, the ultimate test of a song's success was whether it merited a spot on a popular Saturday night radio program, "Your Hit Parade." The nationally broadcast show played the top ten songs of the week, and on May 21, 1949, Stan Jones' wildest dreams came true when Frank Sinatra introduced the number one song in the country, and "tore into Stan's song like it was his very own."
Aided by that validation, Stan Jones decided to take his chances with the entertainment business, and he resigned from the NPS on June 21, 1949. The gamble paid off. On July 7, RCA announced that Vaughn Monroe's recording of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" had sold an unprecedented 1,800,000 copies in just the previous two months.
Stan Jones went on to a successful career which included work in radio, television, film and music with Walt Disney, John Ford and other Hollywood icons, and those years are nicely covered, with plenty of entertaining anecdotes, in the second half of the book. Jones never, however, lost his love for the national parks.

Still A Ranger At Heart

In the late 1950s,"still pining for the days when he wore 'the uniform, the badge and the insignia as a Ranger, Stan temporarily hung up his cowboy garb and donned once again the famous flat hat worn by National Park Service rangers. Building upon the core repertoire of songs he had written for his Ranger Chorus concerts earlier in the decade, he developed a combined spoken and musical tribute to the Park Service Songs of the National Parks ."
The Walt Disney Music Company released the album in 1958, and the cover included images of the Grand Canyon and Old Faithful, the official arrowhead insignia of the NPS, a photo of a smiling Stan Jones in his full-dress Park Service Uniform, and a message from NPS Director Conrad Wirth. The agency was clearly happy to be associated with the "singing ranger."
Jones composed a letter touting the album to bookstore partners at parks around the country, and wrote, "I, personally, may or may not be known to you. I removed the uniform, the badge and the insignia as a Ranger some nine years ago this month. I have done many things and been many places, but I still find in my own heart that I really never have disassociated myself with the Service."
The singer continued his involvement in the entertainment industry into the early 1960s. He died of cancer in December 1963, at the age of 49.

Sixty-Plus Years And Still Going Strong

In the sixty-plus years since its initial publication, hundreds of versions of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" have been recorded by individual artists and groups representing almost every conceivable musical genre. You'll find YouTube versions of the song by everyone from Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson to the Boston Pops, from Elvis to the Norman Luboff Choir, and The Brothers Four to Lawrence Welk.
Michael Ward notes the seemingly timeless appeal of a song that knows no geographical limits in his book's final chapter:
"The 2007 film, Ghost Rider, based on a Marvel Comics character, features a great rock-and-roll version of 'Ghost Riders in the Sky' performed by the Australian alt-rock band, Spiderbait. As of this writing there are more seven million hits on the YouTube videos that combine scenes from the film and Spiderbait's recording of 'Ghost Riders.'"
"'Ghost Riders in the Sky' remains deeply infused throughout myriad American musical traditions," Ward concludes. "Barring a cataclysmic collapse of western civilization, it's here to stay."

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