Jones County is on the West Texas prairies, bounded on the north by Stonewall and Haskell counties, on the east by Shackelford County, on the south by Taylor County and the city of Abilene, and on the west by Fisher County. The center of the county lies at 32° 45' north latitude and 99° 54' west longitude. The county was named for Anson Jones, statesman of the Republic of Texas. Anson is the county seat. The county is crossed by U.S. highways 180, 83, and 277, State highways 6 and 92, and the Burlington Northern Railroad. Jones County covers 937 square miles of rolling plains with elevations that range from 1,600 to 1,900 feet above sea level. Annual rainfall is twenty-five inches. January's average minimum temperature is 31° F; July's average maximum is 97° F. The county has a growing season of 223 days, soils are black to sandy loam with clayey subsoils, and between 51 and 60 percent of the land is considered prime farmland. Jones County is in the rolling plains vegetation area, with tall grasses and mesquite trees. It is drained by the Clear Fork of the Brazos River and its tributaries.
In the years before Anglo settlement, several nomadic groups roamed the area that would eventually become Jones County, including the Comanche, Kiowa, and Tonkawa Indians. Caddos and Delawares camped along the Clear Fork, and Wichitas occasionally hunted in the area. Large herds of bison provided food and other necessities for these Indian groups. The earliest White settlement of Jones County was in 1851 when Fort Phantom Hill, near the site of present Hawley, was established as one of a line of forts from the Red River to the Rio Grande. These military outposts guarded the frontier and furnished protection to Forty-niners following the Randolph B. Marcy trail across Texas. Supplies were hauled from Austin. The fort was abandoned in 1854, and in 1858 the location was made a station on the Butterfield Overland Mail route from St. Louis to San Francisco. Jones County was established on February 1, 1858, from Bexar and Bosque counties. During the Civil War Indian raids forced the frontier back to the east, and the area was not settled for another fifteen years. In 1872 the military post was reestablished, and a settlement was made on a stream four miles distant. The actions of Ranald S. Mackenzie and federal troops removed the Indian threat in the mid-1870s. Buffalo hunters were followed by bone haulers, and the last buffalo was seen in the county in 1879. Owners of herds of longhorn cattle moved in to take advantage of the grass-covered range. In 1873 Creed, John, and Emmett Roberts and Mode and J. G. Johnson established ranches in the area of Fort Phantom Hill. Other early ranches included the T-Diamond, established in 1876, and the Ericsdale Ranch of the Swenson Land and Cattle Company, established in 1882 (see SMS RANCHES). In 1880 John Merchant built a mesquite corral at the site of the future county seat, and Henry Foster put up the first wire fence in the county. The population of Jones County reached 546 that year, and when the county was organized in 1881 Jones City was declared the county seat. In 1882 the name of the county seat was changed to Anson.
Farmers arrived in the county soon after the ranchers, and the area had 1,191 acres in cultivation by 1880. The population increased more than seven-fold during the 1880s, reaching 3,797 in 1890, while the number of cultivated acres increased to 60,120. In spite of occasional drought conditions, farmers grew cotton, corn, wheat, and oats. By 1900 Jones County had a population of 7,049 and 820 farms and ranches. Cattle ranching continued to grow alongside of farming, and the number of cattle increased from 20,779 in 1890 to 39,924 in 1900. The county experienced its most spectacular growth between 1900 and 1910, when the population increased to an all time high of 24,299 and a total of almost a quarter million acres were brought under cultivation. This dramatic growth was made possible by the extension of several railroads into the county. In 1900 the Texas Central Railroad built from Albany across the northeast corner of the county, leading to the growth of two new communities, Stamford and Lueders. The Wichita Valley Railroad built south through the middle of the county in 1907. In 1911 the Abilene and Southern built from Anson to Hamlin, a new community in the northwest corner of the county. Cotton had become the dominant crop by the early 1900s. Acreage devoted to cotton increased from just over 25,000 acres in 1900 to 110,458 acres in 1910 and 245,298 acres, more than two-thirds of the land in cultivation in the county, in 1930. Farm tenancy rates grew with the increased dependence on cotton. While only 21 percent of the county's farmers rented their land in 1890, by 1910 57 percent were tenants, and by 1930, when tenant farming reached its peak, 68 percent of the 2,800 farmers were tenants. The county population fell slightly between 1910 and 1920 to 22,323, then rose once more to 24,233 in 1930.
Oil was discovered in 1926 at the Noodle Creek oilfield southwest of Anson. While there was never a boom in the county, productive new fields continued to be opened in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and by 1990 a total of 206,770,955 barrels of oil had been produced. Several oil-processing plants were opened in the 1930s, and the development of the oil industry helped mitigate the effects of the Great Depression. While the value of farms dropped over 40 percent between 1930 and 1940 and there were 700 fewer farms at the end of the decade, the county population fell only slightly, to 23,378. In 1937 the construction of Fort Phantom Hill Dam was begun on Elm Creek near the southeast corner of the county. The area covered by the reservoir was annexed by the growing city of Abilene. The county economy became more diversified in the 1940s, as cattle ranching regained some of its importance and farmers increasingly turned to crops like sorghum and wheat. As the population slowly declined and the number of farms continued to drop, farm tenancy declined to 42 percent by 1950 and 36 percent in 1960.
In the 1970s, for the first time in the county's history, manufacturing made up a sizable part of the economy. In 1972 thirteen establishments employed 2,000 workers. Agriculture remained important. In 1982, 94 percent of the land was in farms and ranches, with 52 percent of the farmland under cultivation and 4 percent irrigated. Primary crops were wheat, cotton, sorghum, hay, and oats, and primary livestock and products were cattle, sheep, wool, and hogs. The industries with the most employment were agribusiness and trucking, oil and gas extraction, and the manufacturing of gypsum products. In 1990 the county remained a center of cotton, wheat, and cattle production. The most important minerals produced were oil, sand and gravel, and stone.
The population of the county continued to fall in the middle decades of the twentieth century, declining to 19,299 in 1960 and 16,106 in 1970. It recovered somewhat in the 1970s to reach 17,268 in 1980, then declined again to 16,490 in 1990. Since the 1870s the population has been overwhelmingly White. Blacks made up about 2 percent of the population in the 1920s and 1930s, rising to about 5 percent in 1950 and declining to 4 percent in 1990. The county was about 3 percent Hispanic by 1930 and almost 17 percent by 1990. From their first presidential election in 1884 through 1992 the voters in Jones County have generally chosen Democratic candidates. They supported Republican candidates in 1928, 1952, 1972, 1984, and 1988.
Education has always been an important part of the history of Jones County, which by 1905 had forty-two schools serving 3,000 pupils. Educational levels improved dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century. While only 13 percent of the population had completed high school in 1950, some 58 percent were high school graduates in 1980. In 2014 Anson, the county seat, had 2,293 residents of the county's 19,936 total inhabitants. Other incorporated communities included Stamford (2,964 in Jones County, partly in Haskell County), Hamlin (1,992 in Jones County, partly in Fisher County), Hawley (602), and Lueders (333 in Jones County, partly in Shackelford County). The portion of the city of Abilene that extends up into Jones County from Taylor County has 5,145 residents. Jones County offers a number of historic events and recreational opportunities. At the site of old Fort Phantom Hill two events, the Cowboys' Christmas Ball and the Texas Cowboy Reunion, draw visitors. The Texas Forts trail passes through the county, and there are recreational parks for boating and fishing on several of the county's lakes and reservoirs, especially around Lake Phantom Hill.