Silver Tailings: The Jones Boys Headstone Mystery

It was a slow procession of mourners and curious onlookers that walked the dirt trail through the Gold Hill Cemetery on the historic Comstock. They were all there to bring an end to a mystery nearly 40-years in the making.

Traditionally, the story of how the two boys died, claims their father, Robert Jones, told them to go out and look for a missing cow and not to come back until they found it. But newspaper accounts of the day report they were on their way home for the holiday.

Either way, Henry T., 14, and his nine-year-old brother, John Jr., were out in the freezing cold Christmas Eve of 1871, when they died. It was another three days and nights before their frozen bodies would be found jus’ four miles from their ranch on American Flat.

The Jones family owned several ranches in addition to the one on American Flat, near Gold Hill. One was near Rattlesnake Mountain where Longley Lane and South McCarran Blvd. in Reno intersect and it was there that the boys were staying. 

The father sent word to them to come up to American Flat for Christmas and to bring two cows and two calves with them. So the two set out with the cattle and their dog but the weather was against them. 

They spent that night at Brown’s Station, now the Damonte Ranch not far from U.S. 395 and Geiger Grade. The next day they set out again but decided against going up the Geiger Grade route and instead decided to go down into Washoe Valley and then up what is now Jumbo Grade.

When their dog arrived at the ranch without the boys, their father began searching for them. Unfortunately, he went down Geiger Grade and stopped by Brown’s Station only to learn the boys had chosen the other route. 

The boys were buried in the Gold Hill Cemetery and a marble marker was erected with the words, “death wrapped them in a snowy shroud. Then, sometime after 1974, their tombstone was stolen. 

“The story of the Jones boys tombstone epitomizes the plight of our historic cemeteries with so much vandalism and destruction and theft from these cemeteries,” said Comstock Cemetery Foundation Chairman Steve Frady.

Four years later,  a woman in Petaluma, Calif., found a marble grave marker broken into two pieces laying in a ditch near her home. It was decided to move the old grave marker to the Two Rock Presbyterian Church Cemetery where it rested against the stump of a eucalyptus tree for years.

Years later, a local historian took an interest in the damaged headstone, by then stained black and green with algae and mold, and reached out to researchers across the region. That’s when somebody saw an image of the headstone on the Comstock Cemetery Foundation’s website.

For years, the foundation used an old photo of the stone as its logo.

Until the stone was recovered, no one knew of the four other names on the back. All they had to go with was an old photo that just showed the boys names, and that’s why it has always been known as the Jones boys’ grave.

They include George F., 6, and Cora E., 4, who both died September 29, 1877; Alice E., who was 2 when she died on July 10, 1878; and 14-year-old Diana, who died of suicide in September 1878.

“We had no idea that was on the back of the stone,” Frady said about the other inscriptions.

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