Herbert M. Jones

Herbert Monroe Jones was born July 22, 1914 in Phillipsburg, Missouri. His father, an oil-drilling superintendent, worked for Shell Oil Company. In 1925, Mr. Jones was 11 years old when the family moved to Klulong, in Sumatra, Indonesia, a town he describes as being “carved out of the heart of the jungle.” It was a big change for the Missouri paperboy.

In 1931, serendipity took the family to Las Vegas. The youngest of three children, Mr. Jones worked summers in high school and college at jobs generated by the construction of Boulder (Hoover) Dam. It was the Great Depression. His first job was as a mess hall waiter for a dam concessionaire; he graduated to a “puddler,” and a power hose man—the last two being difficult, dangerous jobs involving the concrete pour of the dam itself. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940, he was steered to law school at the University of Arizona-Tucson when his brother’s friend, Howard Cannon, said that he needed to get “some useful law.” Arizona, Cannon said, had the best mining and water law instructors in the country.

Mr. Jones’s early career path was not in a straight line, but zigzagged throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. In World War II, Mr. Jones saw extensive action in the Pacific—experiences he still would not talk about at the time of his oral history. In December 1945, he returned home an Army colonel. He remained in the reserves, which resulted in a transfer to the U.S. Air Force, redeployment after law school in the Korean action, advancement to the rank of major, and appointment as staff judge advocate for Nellis Air Force Base.

After graduating from law school in 1947, Mr. Jones started work as a deputy district attorney in Las Vegas, followed by private practice with his brother Clifford. He describes his first years in private practice as working the “mud detail,” a.k.a. the divorce trade. Work was his trademark. Still a staff judge advocate at Nellis, he talks about working at his private practice at night.

The long, hard hours of work continued for numerous years at 15-16 hours a day, six days a week. Still, there was family, and Mr. Jones speaks fondly of his wife and children, the deaths of his only daughter and his wife, and remarriage. He recalls an active social and civic life as Las Vegas grew.

Mr. Jones is a lively storyteller with war stories about traditional law as well as “British war brides” and the Krupp Diamond theft. He recalls the growth of Nevada gaming from a local business to a global corporate interest, and the “eye in the sky.” He comments on what it means to be an advocate for clients, and he adamantly defends Las Vegas; to him, it is not “Sin City,” but a town of churches, Boy Scouts, and Rotary Clubs.

At the time of Mr. Jones’s oral history interview, he was ninety years old, and enjoying his status as a founder of one of Nevada’s oldest and largest law firms, the Jones Vargas Law Firm. After Mr. Jones’s death in 2008, his partner, Joe Brown, said that Mr. Jones was a “model of gentlemanly conduct, humility, exemplary behavior and integrity—a lawyer’s lawyer.”

For readers who are interested in examining the unaltered records, copies of the recorded interviews are available in the Special Collections department of the UNR Library.

Patrick Carlton conducted this oral history interview with Nevada attorney Herbert M. Jones on August 23, 2004, at Mr. Jones’s office in Las Vegas, Nevada, as part of the Nevada Legal Oral History Project, a joint effort of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society (NJCHS), the Nevada Judicial Historical Society (NJHS), and the UNOHP. Begun in 2001, the project was intended to record the life stories of leading members of Nevada’s legal profession and to educate the public about law and the courts by making those stories widely available through various media.

Members of the boards of NJHS and NJCHS compiled and vetted lists of potential narrators, ultimately selecting representatives from both the state and federal benches and bars. The UNOHP, under the direction of Tom King and his successor Mary Larson, recommended interviewers, most of whom were professional oral historians, and donated equipment and transcription services. Brad Williams, of NJCHS, coordinated the project from its inception. Susan Southwick, of NJHS, oversaw that group’s participation. Patricia Cooper-Smith completed the copyediting and introductions. Alicia Barber, Director of the UNOHP since 2009, supervised the project’s final publication and dissemination. The project was made possible by a generous challenge grant from the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, with matching funds provided by the U.S. District Court for Nevada Attorney Admissions Fund, the Washoe County Courthouse Preservation Fund, and the Nevada State Bar. Thanks go to Susan Southwick and the Board of Trustees of NJHS, and to Patrick Carlton, who interviewed Herbert M. Jones.

Interviewee: Herbert M. Jones
Interviewed: 2004
Published: 2013
Interviewer: Patrick Carlton
UNOHP Catalog #227

This introduction is reprinted with permission from the University of Nevada Oral History Archive, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno. The full oral history transcript was created for the Nevada Legal Oral History Project. Click here for the full oral history transcript.

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