Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Outdoorsman, Writer, Photographer, and Game Warden Otto Jones [otd 01/08]

Outdoorsman Otto Jones.
J. H. Hawley photo.

Photographer and journalist Otto M. Jones was born January 8, 1886 on a ranch near Dillon, Montana. Two years later, the family relocated to a sheep ranch about twelve miles northwest of Boise City. They moved into the city about 1892.

Rather than attending high school in Boise, Otto went to a military academy in Virginia for a year and then spent two years in prep school at Washington State College (now University). He traveled around a bit, and then settled for two years in Ashland, Oregon. During this period, Jones began making his living as a writer, publishing articles on hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

In 1909, Otto returned to Boise, where he began to collect photographs of outdoor life and scenery to illustrate his articles. By 1902, his stock of photos had “more than twenty-five hundred negatives” on file. The Library of Congress catalog notes that several hundred of his vintage images are archived in their files.
Fisherman and lady photographer on Big Creek. Otto M. Jones photo, Library of Congress.
Jones was an outstanding skeet shooter, winning or placing high in many city and regional matches. He also served as an official for professional boxing and wrestling bouts. (Professional wrestling was then "straight," not a show.) His sports knowledge and credibility were such that the Idaho Statesman reported (April 26, 1916), “One of the best drawing cards for the Friday night wrestling match … will be the referee, Otto Jones.”

Otto’s sporting articles, with photographs, appeared in national publications, such as Field & Stream magazine. He also submitted material to the Idaho Statesman in Boise. For a time, he “owned” a page or two of the Sunday edition. His spread for Sunday, April 21, 1918 was about “Motor Touring” in the West. His text surely invoked nostalgic memories for many still-living pioneers. His comments about the old mining camps ring true today. He said, “These fast disappearing camps fairly teem with sentiments and reveries for the traveler who halts long enough in his whirling pilgrimage to explore and conjecture as to the life of the ghost towns … ”
Shotgun Rapids, Salmon River, Idaho. Otto M. Jones photo, Library of Congress.
In January 1919, Idaho Governor D. W. Davis appointed Jones to be the top state Fish & Game Warden. As game warden, Jones published an appraisal of wild game conservation in the West. Although he had only estimates, the impact of large predators on the game population was a major concern. He did have numbers for predation of domestic livestock, which were often turned loose to graze on mountain and forest rangeland. A kill rate of 4-5% amounted to hundreds of thousands of animals each year. In hindsight, one may conclude that the predator population was kept artificially high by the presence of so much relatively easy prey.

But most ranchers trailed their herds onto fenced lowland pastures to be fed through the winter. At that point, attacks on game animals would increase substantially. Jones recommended a more effective program for predator control, but also had harsh words for ranchers whose herds over-grazed the mountain forage: “It is foolish to expect wild animals to subsist on ranges that have been eaten into the ground by domestic stock during the summer months.”

Jones held the Idaho Game Warden position into 1923. After that, he continued to freelance and also held educational and contract photography positions in Oregon and Washington. He passed away in August 1941 from an apparent heart attack.
References: [Hawley]
“First Idaho Game Law when Buffalo Ran Wild,” Idaho Statesman, Boise (March 11, 1919).
“Otto M. Jones, Photographer, Dies at Home,” The Seattle Times, Washington (August 27, 1941).    
Otto M. Jones, “Problems Encountered in Big Game Conservation,” Bulletin of the American Game Protective Association, Vol. 11, No. 2, New York, New York (April 1922).   
"Sports Magazine is Planned," Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon (July 24, 1924).

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